Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Bess letter reveals new detail about Houdini's death

One of the most remarkable artifacts on display in Houdini Unchained: The Legacy of Harry Houdini at Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center is a 2-page letter written by Bess Houdini during the final weeks of her life. This is when Bess, ill with tuberculosis and weighing only 72 pounds, was convalescing at the Cedar Lodge Sanatarium in Los Angeles. In the letter Bess describes her surroundings:

It is a glorious place – huge pools with gold fish – fountains – and beautiful patio with swings and sun shades – then the awful horrors – half dead men and women in wheelchairs – nurses – doctors and sick people – that's all I see all day.

Bess then goes on to deliver what I consider to be a bombshell:

I did manage to navigate to the bathroom by myself until this morning – then I fell – now I've got a nice big egg on my head – and a scolding from my nurse. Even that did not "squash" me until I saw a big huskie put an oxygen tent next to my bed – I screamed – I saw my beloved Houdini – then Ed Saint die whilst using this – and the memory was too much for me.

Some interpret this as Bess saying she saw a vision or even the ghosts of Houdini and Ed Saint, but that's not what I read. What I read is she is recalling the very real memory of the deaths of Houdini and Ed and that they both died in oxygen tents.

So Houdini died in an oxygen tent!!!

This is the only mention of this that I've ever heard and it certainly creates an entirely different vision of Houdini's final days and hours. Below is what an oxygen tent looked like in the 1920s.

You can read the full, heartbreaking, Bess letter at Houdini Unchained: The Legacy of Harry Houdini at Muzeo until January 22, 2023. Or you can read it as a member of my Patreon by clicking below.

Speaking of Houdini Unchained, on Sunday, October 30, I will be at Muzeo giving impromptu tours and answering questions from 12:30pm to 3:30pm. So if you're in the Anaheim area and haven't yet seen the exhibition, come on by!


  1. She clearly refers to the image as 'a memory.' But, yeah, I had to read it a second time.

  2. Phenomenal! And definitely referring to the gentleman's actual deaths.

    I wish I could fly out to Anaheim for this.

  3. Yes. I agree with you. When I was going through items and read the letter the first time I quickly bought it - thinking Bess saw a vision. But then reread it. But glad I did!

  4. The plan was for Bess to fly back to New York to be with her sister. She was too weak to survive the flight so she rode the train with her sister back to New York. We know she didn't even make it out of California, but at least she didn't die alone.

  5. Here is another account of Houdinis death via Bess 7 weeks after.

    1. That was incredible!!! Thank you for the link!

    2. Incredible letter indeed! I don't recall ever reading this.Thanks for the link.

  6. The cobwebs have cleared up a bit and I now realize that Bess letter to the magician went thru a Potter auction years ago. I remember reading the contents from the lot description.

  7. Wow! Excellent sleuthing there. Thanks for sharing.