Wednesday, March 29, 2023

ALL the Houdini wax cylinder audio has been saved!

This is news that I've long dreamed of being able to report. This may be the biggest news I've ever reported here on WILD ABOUT HARRY. Little did I dream that I would play a role in this moment of Houdini history, but a role I did play! But to share this news right, I need to tell the whole story.

One of the great treasures inside David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas are the original wax cylinders containing the only known recordings of Houdini's voice. These were discovered in 1970, and only two of the three Houdini cylinders were ever transferred to a playable media. (Only a short clip has ever been released.) The cylinder said to contain Houdini and his sister Gladys reading poetry written by their father was never transferred and has not been heard since 1970. There are also five other cylinders in the collection with no record of what's on them. So there's still a lot of mystery surrounding these cylinders.

For the past two weeks I've been doing work and research inside the museum. I shared some of my adventures here. But I was keeping a secret this whole time. Mike Caveney was also at the museum. Years ago Mike and I pitched David on the idea of making new digital transfers of all the wax cylinders. The purpose was to finally hear the fabled poetry cylinder, document what's on the mystery cylinders, and digitally preserve all the recordings for the future. David tasked us with investigating how this could be done safely.

It's been a long journey, years in fact, but all roads lead to Dr. Michael Khanchalian, aka "The Cylinder Doctor," who just happens to live 20 minutes from Mike. Not only can Michael repair damaged cylinders, but he has developed a player that can safely play old recordings. He was clearly the man for the job. So we once again pitched the idea to David.

Any reluctance on David's part was understandable. He has the original cylinders and the original tape transfers from 1970 (which, ironically, may no longer be playable), so why risk damaging the cylinders or discovering they had gone bad or, worse, that some slippery collector in the 1970s had pulled a switcheroo and he actually owned nothing. The value of these cylinders could be wiped out entirely. But David Copperfield is dedicated to preserving magic history, and if there was a chance of capturing a new piece of Houdini's voice, he would take the risk. He gave us the go-ahead and trusted us to get the job done.

Lifting the heavy glass off the display case in the museum to retrieve the cylinders was pretty nerve-wracking. And it was about to get worse. Mike had left the museum by the time all the arrangements had been made, so it fell to me to bring the cylinders to Los Angeles. Without revealing what I was doing to anyone besides those in the museum, I loaded all eight cylinders into my car and made the trek back to LA, battling a three-hour traffic jam and two hellacious downpours along the way. But I made it!

The next day (March 16, 2023) Mike and I arrived at Michael Khanchalian's beautiful home. He has an amazing collection of players and cylinders and is clearly an expert and enthusiast in this field. "He's the John Cox of wax cylinders," joked Mike. After a fabulous tour of his collection, we got down to work in his "lab."

The first three cylinders, which had come from David's vault and were labeled as containing Houdini's voice, did not contain Houdini's voice. Michael knew this instantly as he could tell they were commercial recordings and not the type of "blank" cylinders one would use for recording. Instead what we heard were vaudevillians Will Oakland ("When You and I Were Young, Maggie"), Billy Murray & Ada Jones ("Whistling Coquette") and a musical march (Queen of Sheeba). It was fun to hear these sounds from the past, but it was a little disconcerting, and the switcheroo theory was dancing in my head. But we still had five cylinders to go.

The cylinder labeled "Pa's Poems" (in Houdini's handwriting) was up next. Michael was encouraged by what he saw. At least this was the correct type of "blank" cylinder. This was the moment of truth. Houdini history was about to be made, for better or worse.

Michael slid the cylinder on his player, carefully calibrated the needle, hit the record button (we were making direct transfers to CD, no computers or hard drives involved), and lowered the needle. Then this happened.

Houdini's powerful voice boomed out over the room in a recording that had not been heard in 53 years. He introduces "an original German recitation" of poetry written by his father, "Reverend Doctor Mayer Samuel Weiss," to be spoken by his sister, "C. Gladys Weiss." There is a fantastic candid moment when Houdini is about to state his father's birthday and he has to ask Gladys, "What was the year?" It's very faint, but it's there, and we all looked at each other in delighted disbelief at what we had just heard.

Gladys then recites the poem in German. Gladys was blind, so she's doing this from memory. As Houdini says on the recording, the poem was "taught to her" by their father. I believe she makes a mistake and starts over after a small gap in the recording. Houdini then comes back on and says he will repeat the poem "in case you did not understand it." This seems to be his true speaking voice and not the "presentational" voice he uses on the other recordings. He then proceeds to recite the poem also in German. He speaks faster and, to my ear, more confidently in German, with great flair and rolling R's. Gladys signs off with the date, October 30, 1914, which is a day after the other recordings were made. The fact that this recording was made on a different day has never been documented.

Next up were the two full recordings of Houdini's Water Torture Cell patter. As with the poetry cylinder, each of these run just over four minutes. The quality of these transfers is much clearer than what exists currently. For years I believed Houdini says "I, Houdini" as his sign off. I've been wrong. "Harry Houdini" is now sparkling clear. There was also a big surprise waiting at the end of the first speech. After Houdini signs off, the cylinder seems to end. But then Gladys comes back on and "certifies" that she heard her brother "make this record" on October 29, 1914. This certification was never transferred in 1970 nor have I ever seen any mention of it. It's possible it was missed or the machine they used couldn't pick it up.

Speaking of the machine(s) from the 1970s, our expert Michael said he was amazed the recordings weren't destroyed back then, as you can't play these Edison Blanks on a regular machine. They are much softer and the weight of the needle can wipe them clean. Several times he said it was miraculous that the recordings survive and in such great fidelity.

The final two cylinders were commercial recordings of German songs. It was still exciting to hear these as all the cylinders belonged to Houdini and it's wild to hear the music he played at home for pleasure.

Over the next few days I prepared notes and transcriptions of all the cylinders and reunited them with their correct cases. I was helped in this by magician Jessica Jane Peterson who became the fourth lucky person to hear the poetry recording.

I then drove the cylinders back to Las Vegas and played the new recordings for David. He was thrilled by what he heard. He instantly picked up on all the same moments that had so excited us in LA, especially the moment when we hear Houdini's more natural speaking voice. Even before the recordings ended he was working on the next steps. Audio work will be done to clean up the recordings and the German will be translated. It was mission accomplished and everyone was delighted and relieved!

I took myself out to dinner that night and thought about what had happened. Not only had I finally heard the "Pa's Poems" cylinder, but I now understood it was always the most precious and personal recording of them all. Houdini loved and and honored his father and you can hear that. He loved his sister and you can hear that. The family language was German and you hear that. If Houdini ever came back, this would be the cylinder he would want to hear. Preserving it was more important than I ever understood. I felt like I had done a service for both Houdini and David Copperfield, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the amount of trust that had been placed in me.

I then sent David a text with one last request. Could I share this momentous news? His response came back quickly: "Sure."

As I said, David didn't need to do this. This headline could have easily read, "The Houdini wax cylinders are no more." But this is what makes David Copperfield a titan of magic. He took the risk, extended extraordinary trust, and now deserves the credit for saving this important piece of Houdini history. Maybe even the most important piece. When and where the general public might hear these I can't say. But the fact that we can now hear them was the purpose of this incredible journey.

Thanks to David Copperfield, Mike Caveney, Michael Khanchalian, Jessica Jane Peterson, Glenda Wellendorf, and everyone who helped bring Houdini (and Gladys Weiss) back to life. 

Want more? You can view additional images from this adventure as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon by clicking below.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Talking Houdini (and lasagna) on All Access Magic

Today I had the pleasure of appearing on the All Access Magic podcast with Ryan Edwards and Blaise Serra. The show streamed live, but you can watch the archived stream on YouTube. As you'll hear, I met Ryan and Blaise on a tour of David Copperfield's museum last week. You'll also hear me tease some big news that I will be dropping tomorrow. This was a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy.

Barrymore Film Center adds Houdini to their Walk of Fame

The Barrymore Film Center in Fort Lee, New Jersey, recently held a VIP reception to unveil their Walk of Fame Class of 2023. Look who made the list this year:

Marion Davies
James Young Deer 
Francis Doublier 
Douglas Fairbanks 
D.W. Griffith 
Harry Houdini 
Florence Lawrence 
Frances Marion 
Lewis J. Selznick 
Mack Sennett 

The BFC is a 260-seat cinema, museum and archive, dedicated to Ft Lee's role as the birthplace of cinema.  Their Walk of Fame honors pioneers of early cinema and can be viewed in their sky gallery.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Second Houdini tribute rises in Laurel Canyon

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending The Kiwanis Club of Burbank's Annual Gala at the Houdini Estate in Laurel Canyon. It was terrific event and I had a great time giving Houdini talks and answering questions for attendees. You can see photos and coverage at MyBurbank.

It seems every time I return to the Houdini Estate something has been added or changed. This time I was excited to see the Houdini sculpture "Rise", which had been located inside the estate and has always been one of my favorite works of Houdini art, now stands outside the entrance just off Laurel Canyon Blvd. This means it can be seen as you drive past the property. 

Not long ago a large bust was added outside the Willow Glen entrance. So whether you're traveling North or South through Laurel Canyon you get a glimpse of the estate's namesake.

"Rise" was created by Brannon Wright in 2013.

Speaking of the Houdini Estate, I am now on their list of recommend vendors and entertainers. That means if you want a Houdini historian at your special event, just give me a shout! Like the Kiwanis did.

Thanks to Cari Pelayo and The Kiwanis Club of Burbank for allowing me to be part of their magical event.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

What was Adams Press?

You may have noticed the name Adams Press on many of Houdini later publications. Sometimes the address for Adams Press shows Houdini's own address. Sometimes not. So what exactly was the story with Adams Press?

Our great friend Joe Notaro provides the answer in two posts at his blog, Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence. Follow the links below and all will be revealed.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

What's in the box?

What are these two Houdini Nuts up to and what's in the box? If you are a member of my Pateron you already know. I will be sharing the big news here on WILD ABOUT HARRY this week. But if you can't wait, know you have one more day to join my Pateron on a 7-day free trial Houdini birthday special where all is revealed.

In the meantime, you may want to get a refresher by reading THIS POST. Shhh. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

Get a 7-day FREE trial membership to my Patreon

In celebration of Houdini's 149th birthday I'm offering a special gift. For the next two days (March 24-25) you can join my Patreon on a 7-day FREE trial. You'll be able to see some of the content I've posted over the past eight months--including my recent posts from inside the Copperfield collection--and be able to grab this month's PDF reward all for FREE. 

Just head on over to my membership page and click "Start Free Trial" under the Handcuff King level.

You'll have access to the site for 7 days, after which time you'll be billed $5 for another month unless you cancel. But I'm hoping you'll stick around. As you will see, there's a lot of great Houdini content with more to come. And you'll be supporting me and WILD ABOUT HARRY and everything else I'm working to bring you.

So what better way to celebrate Houdini's birthday than with a gift for yourself? Hope to see you inside!


Thursday, March 23, 2023

Houdini's overboard box footage identified at last!

Here's one that has stumped me for years. The below footage is the only surviving film of Houdini doing his overboard box escape. But the date and location of this stunt has long been a mystery. Now thanks to a clue buried in a Houdini-Harry Kellar letter at David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts (where I am typing this), I finally know when, where, and why Houdini did this escape.

This escape took place on June 30, 1917 in Westport (Saugatuck), Connecticut, during a special Red Cross charity drive at the home of Frederick E. Lewis II. Houdini is being lowered into Long Island Sound here. The below from the June 27, 1917 Bridgeport Times announces the event and Houdini's escape.

At the moment, this is Houdini's last known public overboard box escape.

Thanks to David Copperfield and the Westport Museum for History & Culture for their help solving the mystery of this famous footage.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Grand Rapids suspended straitjacket escape date?

This is a clipping from the Grand Rapids Herald showing Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape from the Grand Rapids Savings Bank building in 1916.

According to Michigan Day by Day, the date of this clipping is November 20, 1916, which would mean Houdini did this stunt on November 19, 1916. However, that's problematic as Houdini was in Columbus on this date. His week at the Empress Theater in Grand Rapids began on November 27. So I'm thinking the website made an error. However, I've been unable to accurately date this clipping or the escape as the Herald and other Grand Rapids papers are not on 

Any research bloodhounds want to take up the search and help me nail down the date of Houdini's Grand Rapids straitjacket escape?

The Grand Rapids Savings Bank building still stands today. It was built in 1916 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. We love a surviving Houdini location!

UPDATE: Our good friend Gary Hunt has solved the mystery. This stunt took place on Wednesday, November 29, 1916. Thank you Gary!


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Peter Monticup shares his Houdini collection

For Houdini's birthday week, Peter Monticup of shares his Houdini collection. Peter has posted a video and also provides links to images. There are some rarities here (the Weird Tales flyer caught my eye) and it's fun to see someone so enjoy their Houdini collection.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Houdini bares all for Fair Harvard

During Houdini's run in Boston in May 1908 he gave a special performance for students at Harvard University. But there was a slight snafu. This is a story that appears in several Houdini biographies, but it's nice to read a primary source and see there was a bit more to it. The below account is from the May 7, 1908 Boston Globe:

Click to enlarge.

While the article doesn't explicity state that Houdini did the escape naked, I think it's pretty clear that he did!

Even after he left town the campus still seemed to have Houdini fever. It even inspired some pranksters, as reported in the May 22, 1908 Boston Globe:

Click to enlarge.

You can read more about Harvard's infamous "Med Fac" society HERE.


Friday, March 17, 2023

My incredible week inside the Copperfield collection

For the past week I've been living a dream inside David Copperfield's incredible International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. I was invited to go through all his Houdini material (or as much as I could do in a week) for the purposes of research, organization, and to generally flip out at the tidal wave of rarities and share my discoveries with David. It was an honor to be given such generous access to the world's largest magic collection.

I still haven't processed everything I saw and experienced, but being swept up in the world of David Copperfield and all the talented people who work with him gave me a taste of what it would have been like to spend a week with Houdini himself.

I kept my patrons updated with semi daily reports from inside the walls, which includes a list of 12 wild Houdini rarities I uncovered. You can read those posts below if you are a member of my Patreon or would like to join. Enjoy!

Thanks to David Copperfield, Glenda Wellendorf, Chris Kenner, and everyone at The Magic of David Copperfield and the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts for an unforgettable experience. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Swedish Houdini book for kids

Here's one from all the way back in 1998 that I only recently discovered. Houdini och hans bästa trick (Houdini and his top trick) by Dan Höjer is a Swedish book for young readers from publisher Rabén & Sjögren. It runs 45 pages. I've not seen the book itself, but from the cover art I assume it's illustrated.

You can find Houdini och hans bästa trick on various Swedish retail websites including

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

No posts ahead

Just a heads up that there will be no posts for the next week or so as I will be focusing all my Houdini energy on a very special project. But I won't let any "breaking" news slip past. If you want to know what I'm up to, check out my Patreon. Stay wild!

Photo from the McCord Stewart Museum.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Houdini hangs with Franz

The Facebook page for Houdini Unlocked, the new traveling exhibition from Appleton's History Museum at the Castle, shared this image yesterday. It has me excited for a few reasons. First, I've not seen it before. Also this appears to be Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Washington D.C. on April 19, 1916. I just did a post about this escape and said I had never seen a photo. Well, I have now!

But there's another aspect to this photo that has me excited. You can clearly see Franz Kukol among the men (he's in the bowler hat and holding a camera). This is two years after Franz was supposed to have left Houdini and returned home to Austria to serve in the military. Just further evidence that he did not leave. It's also interesting to see that he's still sporting his Kaiser Wilhelm-style mustache. This is the only time I've ever spotted Franz in any photo or film of a suspended straitjacket escape.

According to the great Patrick Culliton, Franz remained with Houdini to the end using the name Frank Williamson. You can catch up on that story via the related links below. And if you want to see film of this escape, check out my Patreon.

For more information on Houdini Unlocked visit the official website.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Houdini Lives Again (again) at Morley's Magic Theater

Magician Scott Morley and his wife Britni will once again present Houdini Lives Again at their Morley's Magic Theater in Butler, New Jersey on March 24, 25 & 26. Below are details.
March 24th was Houdini's birthday, so this weekend is the perfect time to pay tribute to his life and magical impact. 

Step back in time one hundred years for Houdini Lives Again - a theatrical recreation of the legendary magic and escape act performed by Harry Houdini and his wife Bess from 1894-1926. 

A full hour of mind blowing magic, unique stage illusions, and impossible escapes! Take a walk through history with the Houdinis as they go from side show entertainers, to Vaudeville stars, to having their own show on Broadway! Turn of the century songs, costumes, and language frame this exciting show that also features live music, circus skills, puppetry, and audience participation! Perfect for all ages
You can buy tickets for Houdini Lives Again at the Morley's Magic Theater website.

Thanks to Ken Hallgring for the tip and Scott Morley for the images.


Sunday, March 5, 2023

Houdini among History's "Dueling Daredevils"

The new series History's Greatest of All Time with Payton Manning will count down the Top 10 greatest daredevils on Season 1, Episode 5, "Dueling Daredevils," set to premiere tomorrow. Looks like Houdini is in the mix. Also our friend Dean Gunnarson, a GOAT daredevil in his own right, is one of the experts. How will Houdini rank? Hopefully this episode will be unlocked on the History website.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

The story behind Hardeen's outdoor Metamorphosis

Today I have a treat to celebrate Hardeen's 147th birthday. Below is the famous film of Hardeen doing Metamorphosis on an open street. If you've not seen this, it's pretty terrific. So let's start with the show!

I've always enjoyed this footage for what it is. But I've also often wondered if this was a typical Hardeen street stunt. Houdini never did Metamorphosis as an outdoor stunt as far as I know. So I decided to do a little digging and discovered the full story!

Turns out this was a one-shot performance in answer to a challenge (of sorts). This is when Hardeen was appearing at the Prospect Theater in Brooklyn during the week of April 21, 1929. The story begins in the pages of The Standard Union:

Click to enlarge.

Hardeen took up the challenge! In fact, if you look closely in the film, you can see a sign that says "Standard Union Challenge." His street performance took place on April 24, 1929. The Standard Union provided coverage the following day:

Click to enlarge.

So there we go. Turns out this footage shows Hardeen not only doing Metamorphosis, but saving magic itself!

Still can't get enough Dash? Click on over to my Patreon and listen to his famous 1939 radio interview on WNYC. As a birthday gift, I'm unlocking this post so anyone can listen for FREE.

Happy birthday Hardeen!

Friday, March 3, 2023

The Magic of Kiwanis at the Houdini Estate, March 25

The Kiwanis Club of Burbank will hold its annual charity gala at the Houdini Estate in Laurel Canyon, California, on Saturday, March 25. There will be food and magicians. I will also be there to talk about Houdini and the history on the house. It looks like a great event for a good cause, and a perfect way to experience the Houdini Estate.

March 25, 2023 6pm - 10pm (Doors Open at 5pm)
Guests are invited to join us at the mystical estate of Harry Houdini.
Upon arrival, guests will be checked in and carted to the main event area where tours of the estate will be cycled throughout the evening and an abundance of photo opportunities will be available. Throughout the grounds magicians will be performing 15 minute shows for guests to be amazed and awestruck. Guests' tastebuds will be hypnotized by the culinary magic performed by Chef Charly and Independent Chefs from Local and National restaurants.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Potter & Potter 'Houdiniana' auction April 8

Potter & Potter Auctions have announced a new "Houdiniana" auction for April 8, 2023. Always exciting to see a Potter auction with this name. Expect some Houdini treasures to be on the block.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The Houdini Birth Research Committee's Report PDF

This month I'm offering my patrons a free PDF of The Houdini Birth Research Committee's Report by Lawrence Arcuri. In 1972 the S.A.M. decided to officially settle the matter of Houdini's birth place with an investigation. Magico Magazine sold copies of their final report. This is a scan of the report that I bought back in the day. I've also added some extra material. I don't believe this has ever been made available as a PDF, so it's a true exclusive! As with all rewards, it will be available for one month only.

The start of the month is a great time to join my Patreon. You will unlock 76 exclusive posts with 414 images and be set to receive all the great content and rewards going forward. You'll also be supporting all the work I do here at WILD ABOUT HARRY and some other very exciting Houdini projects I have in the works. We're currently 62 members strong. Hope you'll join us.

If you are already a member of my Patreon, please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.