It's one of the great white whales of Houdinidom. Was there ever a poster for his Vanishing Elephant illusion? This has long been the stuff of dreams and April fools jokes. But while doing research at the Harry Ransom Center last week, I discovered that, yes, there absolutely was a Vanishing Elephant poster!
The proof is found in a letter from Birchet "Kit" Clarke to Houdini dated March 7, 1918. The 85-year-old Clarke was a former press agent, Harry Kellar's manager, and a real character (I'll have more on him in time). His letter begins:
My dear Houdini:-The red poster came along this morning and is now decorating the wall before my easy chair where I can easily gaze upon it and see Jennie vanish into the upper air like "the baseless fabric of a vision."
There can be no doubt about what Clarke is talking about here. A great deal of Clarke's correspondence at this time references the Vanishing Elephant, and the name of Jennie cinches it. Clarke's description of a "red" poster with Jennie vanishing "into the upper air" brought to my mind the prototype Vanishing Elephant posters also held by the Harry Ransom Center (below). I posted about these a few years back and at that time wondered if they ever became real posters. I think we now have our answer!
Unfortunately, we still don't know what this finished poster looked like. But maybe one day one Clarke's copy or another might surface like "the baseless fabric of a vision."
Want more? You can read Kit Clarke's full 3-page letter, which includes an epic takedown of the Williamson Brothers, as a Scholar on my Patreon.