|Photo: McCord Museum|
The confession of acclaimed trumpet medium Annie M. Benninghofen was a major coup for Houdini and a real blow against spiritualism. On April 15, 1926, Houdini held a press conference at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago with Benninghofen who admitted that she had practiced fraud for 30 years. Houdini and the medium then gave a demonstration seance for the gathered reporters exposing her techniques.
Houdini added, "They are all just alike. I have yet to meet a real medium. Mrs. Benninghofen is the greatest of all of them I have met, and she admits that her work was a fraud."
Mrs. Benninghofen appeared with Houdini onstage during his 3 Shows in One on the evening of April 16. Houdini then featured her as part of his show for the entire following week (April 19-25). That's the week we see advertised above. I love that it promotes it as "The Greatest Sensation Since the Confession of the Fox Sisters!" Also notice the mention of Cecil Cook. Houdini had busted her a year earlier.
Houdini and Mrs. Benninghofen took a series of photos together at the Butler studio in Chicago. You can see several of those photos affixed to the sidewalk stand. Below is another less common photo from the McCord collection.
|Photo: McCord Museum|
When Mrs. Benninghofen completed her week with Houdini at the Princess, she gave him her spirit trumpet along with sworn statement that it was used for fraud. Today there are several Houdini owned spirit trumpets in private collections, but I'm not sure which is the famous Benninghofen trumpet. If anyone has any info on that, I'd love to hear it.
Thanks to the McCord Museum for helping unlock these stories with their magnificent images.
UPDATE: Brandon Hodge of The Mysterious Planchette has come forward with what he believes to be the Benninghofen trumpet, and I think he's right! Brandon writes:
I know lots of folks make big claims about Houdini items, but I have long suspected I own the Benninghofen trumpet. I have two trumpets acquired from the Dunninger estate (which had many Houdini-associated items), and one is not only the same configuration as the Benninghofen trumpet (the fully rolled bell-edge is a rare feature on historical trumpets), but has the same slightly darker/mis-matched pieces.
The second or third photo on the sidewalk stand is in the J.C. Cannell book Secrets of Houdini. When I acquired that book at the age of 12, I looked at that photo of HH with Benninghoffen and wondered what that was about. A strange looking woman, and a trumpet. There was no context to explain it.ReplyDelete
Christopher gives a great account of the press conference, but he doesn't mention her appearing with Houdini in his show. Not sure any bio does.Delete
Benninghoffen isn't in Silverman. She went under his radar for some reason. The days of pre-Internet research couldn't have been easy for a writer.Delete
I'm sure Silverman was aware of her. I'm thinking he just elected to not include her or it was cut for length.Delete
I thought I read somewhere of it going on auction or being in someone's collection. The HH spirit trumpet I have via Bess-George Hippisley, is the same size/style but banged with dents. There was nothing in the correspondence of mine having a Benninghofen connection.ReplyDelete
A fellow on Facebook believes he's the owner of the trumpet we see in the photo. It has the same alternating color pattern. He bought it at a Dunninger auction. Probably the Potter & Potter auction that had Dunninger items.Delete
Quite a few candidates out there. The American Museum of Magic has a trumpet. The Magic Circle does as well. Both display them with a pic of Mrs. Benninghofen. Be nice if the guy on FB posted a pic of his trumpet. The pic he posted of Houdini and Dunninger is a photoshop (made back in the day, probably by Dunninger himself).Delete
Oh, I just noticed Brandon did post a pic of it! (I was distracted by that Dunninger pic.) Hey, I think that is it! I've updated above.Delete
The Benninghofen trumpet started with Anne, she gave it to Houdini in 1926, then Dunninger acquires it after HH dies, then Brandon purchases it. It has a small round ball on the outer bell rim. This is where Harry is touching the trumpet with his index finger.Delete