Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Houdini's long "jumps"

Recently I found a remarkable article written by Houdini in the May 11, 1923 issue of The Vaudeville News. In it he discusses some of the "long jumps" he's made throughout his career. A "jump" refers to the distance traveled between bookings. As a rule, the shorter a jump the better, especially if a performer is paying their own traveling expenses. (You'll see many references to "jumps" in the upcoming diary book.)

There's one jump mentioned here that has me particularly intrigued, but I'll come back to that after you've enjoyed the article.

The jump I want to discuss is his jump from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, to Chicago in 1903. This is the first I've heard any trip back to the America in 1903!

Unfortunately, I can find no confirmation that Houdini was in Chicago at this time. Our friend Bill Mullins reminds me that the Russian dates of Houdini's Dramatic Mirror column, when adjusted to the Gregorian calendar, show he was in Russia within a week of opening in Holland. In that same column Houdini writes that he spent time in Berlin after Russia. So there doesn't appear to be enough time for him to travel to America and back. A diary could solve the mystery, but no diary from 1903 is known to exist.

Still, I don't know why Houdini would make something like this up? The other jumps he discusses check out (more or less). And Dordrecht did follow Nizhny Novgorod. So I'm not sure what to make of this one.

If anyone can find any evidence of Houdini aboard a ship or in Chicago in late August or early September 1903, I'd love to hear about it!

Thanks to Bill Kalush and Bill Mullins for their help. Top photo from The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson.



  1. Alas, Harry is pranking us. You have to take his newspaper stories with a pinch of salt. London to Australia and then back to London again? Russia to Chicago and then Holland? C'mon man.

    1. London to Australia then back to London is accurate. That was his route in 1910. And Russia to Chicago then Holland is entirely doable if he had 2 or 3 free weeks. At the moment I only show one week. But my Russian dates might not be correct.

    2. Are you saying HH visited Australia twice? That whole Suez Canal trip all over again?

    3. No. Look again at what he wrote. He traveled from the UK to Australia via Suez Canal, etc. He then traveled back to the UK via the Pacific and across America. He went around the world.

    4. BTW, the airplane and assistants traveled back via the Suez route. But Harry and Bess took the Pacific line which had more regular service, and this also this meant he could spend time in NY with Mama.

    5. Ah, got it. That's interesting where the assistants went. Back to the U.K. where Harry would meet them later after NYC.

  2. In September 1903, Houdini appeared in Chicago Footlights:

    The magazine printed a letter Harry Houdini had written (from Moscow, Russia on July 25, 1903) to a Chicago old pal.

    He ends with:

    "My bookings three months ahead so in case you had time drop me a line. Month of September, Circus Carre, Groningen Holland
    Month of October, Central Theatre, Dresden Germany, after that we return to England."

    So, like you said there was time in late August or early September to visit Chicago, but if he was jumping to Chicago, the letter should have mentioned that.

    A June/July 1904 Chicago Footlights mentions:

    "Houdini like a soft summer zephyr off the lake on a torrid day, blew into our sun burnt city, from over the seas [UK] a few days ago, and did as much good, and was the cause of as much joy to many of his old acquaintances,.."

    So maybe he got his Chicago dates mixed up.

    1. Oh wow, I had forgotten about those Chicago Footlights letters. Those are great. And they answered another question I had about the carette escape date. So thanks for this reminder!

      That paragraph makes it sound like HH had traveled directly from the UK to Chicago, but he hadn't. He had traveled from the UK to New York and has been home some time before making this trip to Chicago to see friends (and his brother). Hard to see how he would have confused this with having come from Russia.

    2. Also, the engagements Houdini lays out in the July 25 letter say he's going to play Groningen, Holland. That was the plan. But the Circus Carre building in Groningen wasn't finished yet, so they had to open and play Dordrecht for 10 days. Dordrecht is what Houdini says in the article. So his memory of this time is good.

      But you have a good point that if Chicago was an engagement, he would have listed it here. And we shouldn't have any issue finding evidence of it in papers.

    3. Yes, that 1903 jump to Chicago for a week was a stretch.

  3. The "old pal" in the Chicago Footlights letter is Charles Carter, who published the Footlights and was a magician himself.