Last Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a gala Masonic event at The Invisible Lodge to mark the 100th Anniversary of Houdini becoming a Freemason on July 17, 1923. The event was held at the Long Beach Scottish Rite Cathedral in Long Beach, California. Even though I'm not a Mason myself, I was able to attended as a guest.
The evening kicked off at 5pm at the Long Beach Scottish Rite Cathedral and Cultural Center, a magnificent building dedicated in September 1926 and today a historic landmark. I was greeted by Past Master and Invisible Lodge President JR Knight, who gave me a special Houdini 100th deck of cards and a Masonic Houdini coin made just for the occasion. Also looking after me and giving me the VIP treatment was Ralph Shelton, Past Master and current Grand Chaplin, and a skilled magician who regularly performs at the Magic Castle. Several attendees remembered me from the online Masonic Houdini symposium I had the pleasure of participating in back in June.
Grand Master Randall Brill. A big deal! Dinner was delicious and we were entertained at our tables by strolling magicians. Houdini posters were set up on the stage along with a large mirror on a backdrop. More on that mirror later. It was now showtime!
On the second floor of the Scottish Rite Cathedral is a large theater. The proscenium reminded me of the surviving Houdini vaudeville houses I've visited. In fact, the entire building is filled with evocative history and references to famous Masons who called this building home, including actors Ernest Borgnine and Tom Mix. (Can you tell me the Houdini Tom Mix connection?) The evening's show was emceed by Adam Hanin and featured magic performances by Eric Lampert, Ralph Shelton, and David Benitez aka Marsan the Magician. It was a terrific show.
I was then in for a rare treat. We all moved into a conference room lined with portraits of U.S. presidents who were also Masons, including Houdini's pal, Theodore Roosevelt. Here several new members were initiated. The Invisible Lodge is unique in that, being a club, they are able to invite guests to such events. However, parts of the ceremony that revealed some Masonic secrets were omitted. It was fascinating to think I was witnessing what Houdini went through 100 years ago at his own Cecile Lodge No. 568 in New York. While ritualistic, the ceremony was loose and I was struck by just how much fun the members have together.
It was then back to the theater for what was billed as a "world record attempt for the most simultaneous escapes." Twenty-three members received lessons in how to escape from a Siberian Transport Chain (now more commonly called the "Houdini Chain Escape"), and did so on stage while one new member had to contend with a 100 foot rope tie. I'm happy to report that everyone escaped and the world record was secured!
It was after 11pm, but the evening was still not over. It was back down to the ballroom which was now set up for a midnight Houdini seance. I was told a human skull sitting on the seance table was, in fact, real! JR would conduct the seance and also give demonstrations of psychic power. While JR did some prep, I was happy to answer questions about Houdini for the attendees.
Somehow I never realized until that day that Houdini became a Mason on the 10th anniversary of his mother's death. Certainly Houdini would have been aware of this as July 17 was a sacred date for him. Was this just coincidence? Or did Houdini request that be the day he joined the Order? Maybe he would tell us tonight.
The seance proceeded at midnight. JR created a script using excerpts from the 1936 Final Houdini Seance and the 2004 Official Houdini Seance conducted by Invisible Lodge member Peter Reveen. Pomp and Circumstance and Rosie, Sweet Rosabel played while JR called on Brother Houdini to return. I don't know if it was the late hour, the building's energy, the haunting strains of Rosabel, or the skull, but there seemed to be a real spirit present. I took pictures. But they all, spookily, turned out like this.
Earlier I mention that there was a large mirror setup on the ballroom stage. During the seance it was covered with a cloth. Near the end of the seance the cloth mysteriously dropped and...well...you'll have to be a member of my own secret society on Patreon to see what happened next:
Members lingered after the seance, but I was dead tired so I bid my goodbyes and headed back to LA. It was a full evening to be sure, but what a wonderful time. Everyone was so welcoming and warm and excited to show me their building and share their club. I learned that Masons are charitable, civil, civic-minded, dedicated to camaraderie and community, and true custodians of history and tradition. They are also far less secretive than people think. No, I don't believe Masons secretly control the world. But from what I experienced on Sunday, the world might be a better place if they did!
Thanks to JR Knight, Ralph Shelton and Randall Brill for making me feel so welcome and for honoring Houdini. To learn more about Masonry, visit https://freemason.org.