This is a photo that has long vexed Houdini buffs. It appears on page 179 of Kenneth Silverman's Notes to Houdini!!! and shows Houdini flagging a race car. Most intriguingly, the photo is captioned:
Inscribed on the back by N.J. Weiss, Houdini’s sister-in-law: “Worcester, Mass, King, driver, last picture of Harry, 1926″.
Was this photo really taken in Worcester? Could it really be the last photo of Houdini? And why is he flagging what appears to be an auto race?
Well, I think I found all the answers in the below clipping from the October 2, 1926, Worcester Evening Gazette.
|Worcester Evening Gazette, Oct. 2, 1926.|
Visitors to the New England Fair yesterday were given an opportunity to see Houdini perform in a new role which was not listed as one of the attractions of the day. Houdini acted as chief timer of the auto races, being assisted by four local automobile dealers who are shown with him timing the attempt to break the track record. The attempt was successful, the time in 32 seconds flat, which establishes a new record for the track. In the picture, left to right, are: Frederick Churchill, Buick; H.B. Chase, Dodge Brothers; Houdini; M.E. Tuller, Nash, and J.F. Timmy, Studebaker.
This was the final day of the 10th Annual New England Fair in Worcester. The fair had featured horse racing, but on this last day auto racing was featured on the dirt track. The clipping below offers a bit more about the race and racers. It even mentions a driver named "King" and the car he was driving, a Frontenac.
|Worcester Evening Gazette, Oct. 1, 1926.|
As to the checkered flag photo itself, because it was taken on October 1st, we now know it's not the last photo of Houdini. That honor currently belongs to a photo of him taken at a Montreal police station on October 18, 1926 (seen here). The article doesn't say anything about Houdini flagging the race, and as the photographer would be standing out on the track itself, it's likely this was just a photo op.
It's worth noting Houdini was playing his "3 Shows on One" in Worcester this week, featuring his new "The Mystery of the Sphinx" (aka Buried Alive) and "Slicing a Girl."
So there we go! The checkered flag photo is a mystery no more. Ironically, I found this clipping exactly 97 years to the day that it appeared. What a nice way to start October. 🎃