Wednesday, May 31, 2023

New Houdini musical to have reading

Broadway World reports that a new musical, Houdini Among the Spirits, will be presented at two private industry readings on June 5 and June 6. These presentations are part of The York Theatre Company’s Developmental Reading Series.

Tony Award-nominee Robert Cuccioli will portray Houdini and Gordon Stanley is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Book and lyrics are by Chris Ceraso with music by William Zeffiro. The director is Eric Parness.

In the years following World War I, magician Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became great friends in search of a world-healing truth. In the half-dozen years leading to Houdini’s mysterious premature death, they became bitter rivals in a supernatural quest. Come on this journey!

A Houdini musical on Broadway is something I have longed to see. Several attempts have fizzled. Here's wishing this new production luck!

Monday, May 29, 2023

Milt Larsen, 1931-2023

Sad news today. Milt Larsen, who co-founded the Magic Castle in Hollywood with his brother Bill, has passed away at age 92. Arlene Larsen released a statement that went out to members today:

My beloved husband, Milt, passed away peacefully last night in his sleep after 92 magical years. I was fortunate enough to have spoken with him right before he went to bed, and he was in great spirits. He led an incredible life, and I want to especially thank Randy and Kristy Pitchford for making Milt’s last year so special for him. In the coming days and weeks there will doubtless be opportunities for us all to celebrate Milt’s life.

In the meantime, I ask for some time to grieve in private and for no gifts or flowers to be sent to our home. Thank you all for your love and support. Milt will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

It just so happens that I was at the Magic Castle last night having a wonderful evening with Bruce Averbook, Mike Caveney, Patrick Culliton, John Gaughan, and other magic friends. At the end of the night Patrick and I dropped into the Houdini Room. There, as always, we looked at the photo of a 6-year-old Milt performing magic for Bess Houdini.

Milt was always happy to share his memories of Bess as "a very nice lady." Well, Milt was a very nice gentlemen. His contributions to the world of magic cannot be overstated. He was loved and will be missed.

So hello to Harry, Bess, and the rest of the gang, Milt!


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Houdini Jeopardy! triple stumper

On May 11 Houdini again showed up on Jeopardy! The category was Grandma for $1600. But this one was a triple stumper as none of the contestants could come up with the answer...I mean the question. This was a tough one!

Josephine Weisz was the mother of Houdini's father, Mayer Samuel Weisz. She is not the "Grandmother" we see buried in the Machpelah cemetery family plot. That is Cecelia Weiss's mother, Hannah Heller Steiner.

To see the full board check out the J! Archive website where you can also see all mentions of Houdini on the show going back to 1985.

Thanks to Janet Davis for the alert and pic.


Thursday, May 25, 2023

A tour of Houdini's Cleveland

Two weeks ago I gave a lecture on "Houdini in Cleveland" at the Magic Collectors Expo 2023. After the conference I spent a day visiting many of the locations I featured in my talk. While it's all still fresh in my head, here's my fact-finding tour of Houdini's Cleveland.

Houdini's first appearance in Cleveland was the week of March 12, 1900. This was during his first Keith's vaudeville tour before he traveled to Europe. He appeared at the Empire Theater which stood at 750 Huron Road. Today Cleveland's beautiful art deco AT&T Building stands at that address.

During his 1900 engagement Houdini escaped from manacles at the Central Police Station on Champlain Street. This was one of his nude tests. That station was razed in 1925 to make way for Terminal Tower which still stands today in downtown Cleveland.

Houdini returned to Cleveland in 1905 and 1908 playing B.F. Keith's Theater at 619-625 Prospect Avenue. In 1908 he was more than a little chagrined to find he was not the headliner. Instead Julius Steger & Co. in the skit "The Fifth Commandment" was the featured performer. "Is this week the first step toward oblivion?" Houdini wrote in his diary.

The Prospect Avenue Keith's closed in 1923 and today a modern office building stands on the site. Or at least that's what I thought. When I visited, I could see that the "modern" building was a facade fronting what appears to be the original building that still shows the profile of a theater. The building beside it, which in Houdini's time was the Colonial Hotel, is still there and very recognizable.

Houdini cancelled his 1911 appearance in Cleveland when he broke a blood vessel in his kidney in Detroit (an injury that never properly healed and gave him pain the rest of his life). But he was back in 1915, this time playing the magnificent Hippodrome Theater at 720 Euclid Avenue. This was the second largest stage in the world at this time. Houdini would play the Hippodrome three times in 1915, 1916, and 1922. Among his escapes at this theater was a challenge from the Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Co. to escape from a cask of their famous Gold Bond Beer.

The Hippodrome stood until 1981 when it was razed to make way for a parking garage. Today the new City Club Apartments are rising on the site of the theater.

A survivor in downtown Cleveland is the beautiful May Company building. The May Co. challenged Houdini to escape from a packing case made by their shipping department three times in 1905, 1908 and 1915. Houdini beat them every time. In 1925 they left it to their competitor the Baily Co. to challenge Houdini with their own packing case. He beat that one too!

In 1915 Houdini performed one of his more untypical outdoor stunts in Cleveland. He was strapped into a straitjacket atop a railway boxcar and escaped while spectators watched from the Cleveland viaduct bridge above. For more details on this unusual escape, check out THIS POST.

Houdini performed two suspended straitjacket escapes in Cleveland. The first was from the John Harkness Brown Building at 1019 Euclid Avenue on December 20, 1916. Happily, the building still stands today as the Euclid Grand apartments.

Houdini's second suspended straitjacket escape was from the Cleveland Press building on February 3, 1922. The building stood on the NW corner of East 9th and Rockwell. A terrific photo of the escape ran in the paper the following day.

Today the Press building is long gone, and even the Dunkin Donuts that now stands on this corner was out of donuts when I visited. So a double let down at this location! But at least we know Houdini hung here.

In 1924 Houdini barnstormed the country with his spiritualism lecture. Cleveland was one of his tour stops. Houdini appeared at Engineers Hall on February 27, 1924. Engineers Hall was located inside the Engineers Building on St. Clair Ave. It was demolished in 1989 and today is the Marriott Key Tower. By the way, I didn't know the location of Engineers Hall when I gave my talk. Fellow expo attendee Jim Kopco found it for me. Thank you, Jim!

Tickets for Houdini's lecture were sold at the Korner & Wood bookstore located at 1512 Euclid Avenue. This was a popular store that stood until 1963. Both Houdini and Blackstone are remembered to have been customers. Today the store and building are long gone.

If there was ever a time to be a Houdini fan in Cleveland it was 1925. Houdini performed in the city twice that year. But don't take it from me. Let's hear from someone who was there!

Houdini performed at the Palace for two weeks beginning March 9, 1925. The first week he featured his escape act. The second week he devoted to spiritualist exposes. The Palace is inside the magnificent B.F. Keith Building at 1615 Euclid Avenue. The good news is the Palace survives along with several other beautiful theaters in Cleveland's Playhouse Square.

While the theater was closed during my visit, I was still able to find my way into the lobby. It's a beautiful space and I could imagine Houdini as the prince of this palace.

During Houdini's 1925 run he exposed the well-known trumpet medium George Renner. Houdini attended Renner's seance at 2650 Superior Ave. in disguise and secretly smeared his trumpet with lampblack. When the lights came on, Renner's hands and face were cover in the soot, proving that the trumpet manifestations were the work of the medium and not the spirits. Renner was arrested and charged with fraud. Houdini had ten minutes to make it to the Palace for his performance. Newspapers reported he did his act with his hands still covered in the lampblack.

While Houdini's exposures drew headlines and large crowds to the theatre, it made him at least one enemy. Check out the below from the March 10, 1925 Cleveland Plain Dealer:

While in Cleveland Houdini stayed at the Hotel Statler at 1127 Euclid Avenue. The Statler is still there (it's now apartments), and from the outside appears just as it did in Houdini's time. A bonus is that the building stands beside the former John Harkness Brown building where Houdini did his 1916 suspended straitjacket escape. It's a great block for Houdini location seekers!

Houdini returned to Cleveland in November 1925 with his "3 Shows in One." This time he performed at the Hanna Theater located at 2067 East 14th Street, just a block over from the Palace. The Hanna still stands today. I couldn't get inside, but I did find the old stage door and could feel Houdini's spirit on that spot.

During his final Cleveland appearance, Houdini performed for handicapped children at the Sunbeam School. Below is a terrific photo of Houdini performing for the kids. An account of this show in the November 6, 1925 Cleveland Plain Dealer details Houdini's performance of the die box. The original school building was razed for the new Sunbeam School located at 11800 Mt. Overlook Ave.

Houdini was booked to return to the Hanna for the week of November 9, 1926. This was to be his next stop after his two week engagement in Detroit. He didn't make it. As we know, Houdini died in Detroit on Halloween of that year.

There's one last Houdini Cleveland connection. In 2017 the city played host to the Official Houdini Séance inside a bank vault. Houdini was a no show, but his memory proved to be alive and well in Cleveland -- a five star Houdini city!

Want more? You can see an exclusive photo of Houdini in Cleveland from the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook and download the research I did for my lecture FREE as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon by clicking the image below. 

Very special thanks to Aimee LePelley of the Center for Local & Global History for helping me find Houdini in Cleveland.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

MetaPixel Lab colors HOUDINI

Here's a well done video from the YouTube Channel MetaPixel Lab. They take the unique approach of slowly colorizing Houdini images as they tell his story. They also gave me a very nice thanks. So I'm sharing the love!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Huber's Palace Museum on The Knick

This came to my attention via one of my favorite blogs, Travalanche, where the great Trav S.D. did a post about Huber's New York Dime Museum for International Museum Day. Huber's was a regular haunt of Houdini's in his early career. Trav pointed out that Huber's was recreated for the Cinemax series The Knick. Above is an image of that recreation. You can see a Houdini poster on the upper right of the building. Cool stuff.

I also found this promotional video for The Knick Season Two that provides a nice look inside their Huber's recreation and some Houdini factoids to boot.

We would love a photo of the real Huber's for the diary book. If you have or know of any Huber's images, please get in touch.

Check out On Huber’s Palace at Travalanche. Below are some more posts related to Houdini and Huber's.


Monday, May 22, 2023

'A History of Houdini in Columbus' updated edition

Our friend Joseph Hanosek has updated his terrific booklet on Houdini in Columbus, Ohio. This new edition is twice as long (29 pages) and features a wealth of new material related to Houdini in Ohio's capital. It also includes new photos and newspaper clippings from Joe's collection.

Joe was selling these at the recent Magic Collector Expo in Cleveland. You can conjure a copy for yourself by sending $12 to: Joseph Hanosek, 1236 Castleton Road North, Upper Arlington, OH 43220. Or you can contact Joe HERE.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Official Houdini Séance will be held in Charleston, SC

The 97th Official Houdini Séance will be held this year at Holy City Magic in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on October 31, 2023. I realize this is extremely early notice. But a limited number of tickets are being made available to the public and I want to make sure Houdini fans get a shot at them. Tickets can be purchased via the Holy City Magic website. Below are event details.

Harry Houdini died on Oct. 31, 1926. The first official Houdini Seance was arranged by Bess Houdini on the first anniversary of the death of her husband on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1927. Since then, every Halloween the official Houdini Seance has been hosted in a different city around the globe. This year, Holy City Magic is pleased to host the 97th Annual Official Houdini Seance. Holy City Magic is an intimate magic themed theater and bar located in downtown Charleston, SC. Our intimate 46-seat theater and speakeasy style bar is situated in the heart of the upper King Street district at 49 1/2 John Street (corner of King/John). Cocktail hour starts at 7:00 pm, followed by a short Houdini presentation, a show featuring Harry Houdini followed by the Official Houdini Seance starting at 8:00 pm. 

As far as I know, Houdini never appeared in Charleston. The closest he came was Greenville, South Carolina, where he gave his spiritualism lecture at Textile Hall on March 6, 1924. So maybe he'll make his Charleston debut this Halloween!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

You will soon be able to read Houdini's first diary

I have some exciting news today! As some of you may know, Dr. Bruce Averbook (left), magic and Houdini collector extraordinaire, owns Houdini's very first travel diary. The diary spans two full years, from 1897 to 1899, and includes some of Houdini's most formative experiences in dime museums, medicine shows, circus, and early vaudeville. It is, far and away, the most complete and important Houdini diary in existence.

And soon you will be able to read it!

Bruce has made a deal with Mike Caveney of Mike Caveney's Magic Words to publish the diary complete. Every page will be reproduced. I'm honored to say that Mike and Bruce reached out to me to do research and provide detailed annotations for each and every entry. I've been working on this for the past several months and have been dazzled by the amount of new information and new characters contained in this little red book. It's a treasure trove.

The book will also be filled with rare images––many never-before-published––from major collections, including David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjurings Arts and the Harry Ransom Center. In fact, if any collectors out there have material from 1897-1899 that you'd be willing to share, please get in touch!

There is no release date yet, but it's closer than you may think. I've finished my annotations and we are currently gathering images. Our hope is to have the book in people's hands later this year or early next year. The book does have a tentative title, but I will share that along with the cover at a later date.

Even Mike Caveney admits this has him "all hopped up on Houdini." I'm certainly very excited. I think this is going to be an extraordinary book that tells the story of Houdini's early days like none other.

The diary on display in 2010.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Episode 146: A Voice from Beyond the Grave

I'm back on the always enjoyable Transatlantic History Ramblings podcast with Lauren Davies and Brian Young. This time I'm telling the story of the Houdini wax cylinders. This is the most detailed account of the entire adventure, so if you haven't had enough, or you don't yet know the story, this might be one to listen to. The interview starts around 28:15.

You can subscribe to Transatlantic History Ramblings on Apple, Spotify, Google, Anchor, or your favorite podcatcher. You can also follow them on Twitter @HistoryTA.

Monday, May 15, 2023

A five star Magic Collector Expo in Cleveland

I've just returned from an incredible week in Cleveland where I had the pleasure of attending the Magic Collector Expo 2023. What a fantastic time I had! On the final day of the expo I gave a presentation on "Houdini in Cleveland." It was a somewhat frisky talk in which we learned that Cleveland is a rare FIVE star Houdini city! I will be doing a post about Houdini in Cleveland while the research is still fresh in my mind.

For excellent coverage of the expo I would recommend Scott Wells' The Magic Word Podcast. Scott was on the scene as always doing interviews with attendees, including myself, Arthur Moses, Dr. Bruce Averbook, Lance Burton, Bill Kalush, Julie Eng, and many more. Our friend Joe Notaro has also posted day by day coverage at his blog Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.

On the final day of the expo, organizer and all around great guy Bill Smith announced that the next Magic Collector Expo will be in Las Vegas in 2025 and will include a tour of David Copperfield's museum!

I stayed over in Cleveland for a few extra days. I was able to visit and photograph almost all the Houdini locations that I spoke about in my talk. I was also able to spend an incredible day going through precious Houdiniana deep inside Dr. Bruce Averbook's amazing new home magic museum, The Averbook Magic Art Museum & Library.

Oh, there was also some big news at the expo! On opening night, Mike Caveney announced the details of an upcoming Houdini book that I have been working on with Mike and Bruce Averbook for the past several months. I've already shared this news on my Patreon. I will be sharing the details here soon.

Congratulations to Bill Smith, Lance Rich, David Sandy, and everyone who was involved in the Magic Collector Expo 2023. What an outstanding event!

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Houdini's ideal girl (is no surprise)

Here's one for Mother's Day. I recently stumbled on this clipping from the July 28, 1926 Buffalo Times. Houdini's take on career women might get him canceled in less forgiving company, but his "ideal" should be no surprise.

Can't get enough of that Houdini mother love? Here are some more links for you.


Monday, May 8, 2023

Cleveland calling

This week I'll be attending the Magic Collectors Expo in Cleveland. Cleveland is a great Houdini city. How great? I will be discussing exactly that during my talk "Houdini in Cleveland" on Thursday. Hope to see some of you there!

The above ad is for Houdini's "3 Shows in One" at the still standing Hanna Theatre in Cleveland in 1925. If you want to see a unique preview image from my talk, check out my Patreon below.