Monday, October 4, 2021

Houdini arrives in Providence

It was 95 years ago today that Houdini opened his "3 Shows in One" at the Providence Opera House in Providence, Rhode Island. He had originally been booked to appear the week of September 20. But he was extended for a third week in Boston, so that pushed the Providence engagement to the week of October 4, 1926. This would be his tenth and final appearance in the city.

The Providence Journal gave the opening night show an enthusiastic review in the Tuesday, October 5th issue. Below is that review in full.

Click to enlarge.

The show ran nightly with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. According to Billboard, it played to capacity business all week long.

There were also some notable events that happened off stage this week. Houdini met with H.P. Lovecraft and C.M. Eddy to discuss their collaboration on The Cancer of Superstition. He lectured to students at Brown University. Bess was also stricken with food poisoning near the end of the run, causing Houdini great worry and to stay up nights. This is typically seen as the first on a series of unfortunate incidents that would culminate with Houdini's death on Halloween 1926.

I have a particular fascination with this Providence engagement as earlier this year I acquired an original window card advertising this very week. I first shared the card during a special S.A.M. Houdini birthday celebration on Zoom back in March. Magician Dave Thomen recently shared a clip on Facebook, and I was excited to see this as it provides a look at the card pre-restoration. Not bad for 95 years old!

The Providence Opera House was located at 115 Dorrance Street at Pine Street. It was built in 1871 and could seat over 1400 people. For many years it provided family friendly entertainment and was one of the most prestigious venues in Rhode Island. It closed on March 14, 1931 with a final performance by Providence-born George M. Cohen. It was demolished soon after.

Below is Dorrance Street today. The long featureless black building on the left is where the Providence Opera House and the Narragansett Hotel once stood.

Thanks to Bill Mullins for his research tips. For more on the history of the Providence Opera House check out Rhode Tour.



  1. Facebook is down so my embedded video isn't working at the moment. Let's hope it never comes back. :)

  2. I'm most taken with the description of his "droning" voice. I realize he's projecting and being precise on the Edison recording, but it's the last thing I'd call "droning" is that voice. As well, after the "Diary" revelations, I have to wonder if any of the spiritualists were plants.

    1. "Crude" also seems an odd word to use in regards to his voice.

      I thought that about the spiritualists as well. I wonder if he used plants to spice up the Q&A with a few confrontations?

  3. "Thick and powerful arms" This tells us he was detaching his sleeves to expose his bare arms. Part of his presentation that stayed in the show.

  4. Great post, John, and thanks for sharing the review. It seems to be a nicely detailed account of the performance, so it's certainly fascinating to read, despite the weird comment about Houdini's voice (if one were enjoying a magician's illusions to the degree that this reviewer apparently did, it's seems incongruous to make any comment about his voice, good or bad). The audience members during the spiritualism portion certainly come across as plants, but who knows. The topic was certainly hot enough at that point that they could have been legit and vocal for good reason (from their perspective). Fun stuff!!