Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Houdini arrives in Galveston (at last)

When Houdini ran away from home at age 12, he sent a postcard back to his mother saying he was going to Galveston, Texas. He never made it. Later in life, Houdini annotated the postcard and explained that he got in the wrong boxcar and wound up in Kansas City instead.

Even Houdini doesn't seem to remember why he was going to Galveston, writing on the card, "I was on my way to Texas?" But in looking at the history of the city in the 1880s, one can see that it was a port town with a steady influx of immigrants and a large jewish community. I suspect young Ehrich got a hot tip that there was ample work for young Jewish men in Galveston, and he was heading there to make money for the family.

It would take 37 years, but Houdini finally did make it to Galveston. During his second tour of Texas in 1923, he played the Galveston Opera House (right) on November 6. It was a one-day stop with a matinee and evening show.

This was an unusual engagement. Houdini was actually headlining at the Majestic in Houston this week. He and his fellow performers on the Majestic bill travelled to Galveston for this one day only, then returned to Houston. Al G. Field's Minstrels filled in at the Majestic while the vaudevillians were in Galveston.

The Galveston Daily News reviewed the show on November 7 (Vaudeville Brings a Crowed House). The final paragraph was devoted to Houdini.

Houdini, magician and mystic marvel, whose name did not appear on the program, did several amusing tricks. He escaped from a straightjacket in less than a minute, gave a demonstration of spirit writing and presented other tricks no less interesting.

In his book Houdini's Texas Tours 1916 & 1923, Ron Cartlidge says Houdini conjured a message from a recently deceased black pastor from Galveston during his spirit slates trick. Notice he didn't do his Water Torture Cell. I'm sure that remained back in Houston. I'm not sure why his name didn't appear in the program. He certainly appeared in the advertisements, as you can see at the top of this post.

This wasn't the only time Houdini played a one-day side engagement during his Texas tour. While playing Fort Worth later that month, Houdini travelled to Corsicana for a one day appearance at the Ideal Theatre on November 20, 1923. So it appears Karl Hoblitzelle and his Interstate Amusement Company had their own unique way of doing things, and that turned out to be a good thing for Houdini. It gave him the chance to finally visit the city of his runaway dreams.

Happily, the theater Houdini performed at in Galveston still stands and is beautifully preserved. It's still a popular venue for live performance. Below a video that gives a great look inside. You can visit their website at thegrand.com.

Want more? You can read related clippings for Houdini's engagements in Galveston, Houston, and Corsicana as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon. Just click below.


  1. Great Texas stuff! We owe the late Ron Cartlidge a debt of gratitude for his work on Houdini's Texas tours.

    1. He discovered so much. But he did miss the Corsicana engagement. Makes me wonder if there are other one-day engagements waiting to be discovered.

    2. What did HH think of Texas? Were there published opinions?

    3. He liked Texas. Click on the first related link. There's a nice quote in that story.

    4. A great read and a nice revisit! Those older posts become new again! I think Houdini lectured or performed in almost every State