Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Accident at the Hippodrome

On April 18, 1918, a terrible accident occurred on the stage of the New York Hippodrome during a performance of Cheer Up. While Houdini wasn't involved in the accident, he was in the theater at the time. Below is a report from the New York Sun.

The New York Sun, April 19, 1918.

The day after the accident, Houdini wrote to Harry Kellar describing what he saw and also the panic backstage, which was not covered in the newspapers. This letter is housed at David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts and reads in part:

I was out in Mark Lueschers office when I heard awful screaming. Mark and I rushed out into the auditorium, and what an awful site. We arrived when the damage in sight of the audience has been done, then two fool firemen passing me rushed downstairs and they must have lost their head. 

Houdini goes on to explain, with a fair measure of disgust, that the firemen panicked the chorus men who then "stampeded" the chorus girls waiting in the wings. "Then there was a hellavu time," says Houdini.

Houdini volunteered to go onstage to fill the gap in the show, but "things were in too disturbed a state" and his offer was not accepted. He did express relief that the flying car did not go into the audience.

According to Houdini, the stagehand, Henry Casey, died on the way to the hospital. This was not reported in the papers. In fact, it hard to find any followup on the accident. But Axel Mirano survived and the brothers were back performing their "Flying Torpedo" act by the end of the year. The advert below from the Palace shows what their apparatus looked like.

The timing of this accident is interesting. This was within a month of the accidental shooting of magician Chung Ling Soo on the stage at the Empire Theater in London. This was also the very week Houdini planned to perform his own version of Soo's bullet catch at the Hippodrome. 

As I covered in this post, the Hippodrome management requested Houdini cancel the dangerous trick and he did. I wonder if this accident had anything to do with that? I also wonder if being in such close proximity to two stage tragedies might have spooked Houdini. He didn't want to be number three!

Want more? You can read more details about the Hippodrome accident as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon.

Thanks to David Copperfield.


  1. Looking at the advert, that auto flying torpedo act looked very dangerous. Poor Casey became Mirano's human cushion. I think Harry got spooked and walked away from the bullet catch. Didn't he cancel that before Kellar implored him not to? I remember reading about that here on WAH.

  2. Houdini was wrong about Casey -- he survived. The May 10 issue of Variety reported him being released from the hospital.