Tuesday, October 31, 2023

What remains of Harry Houdini?


Hello, ghouls. Happy Halloween and National Magic Day.

Here we are on the 97th anniversary of Houdini's death. As we march ever closer to the 100th, you might be wondering what remains of our hero deep down in that grave in Machpelah Cemetery? I know I think about it! When I visit his grave, I think about how I am just six feet away from Houdini himself. That blows my mind. But in 2023, what exactly am I six feet from?

Well, the news is not great, as the video below explains. This is all a bit gruesome, but it is Halloween.


Recall Houdini was (allegedly) buried in an air-tight copper casket. This would mean the decomposition process would be a bit slower. But from what I've gleaned from other online sources, it would not make a difference after 100 years. 
 
I've never had any objection to exhumation. For me, it would be archaeology. I'm not squeamish or religious, and I'd like to see what's down there. When Houdini exhumed his father and brother to move them into the new Machpelah plot, he opened the coffins and had a look. He even commented on the excellent condition of Herman's teeth.

Had Houdini been exhumed on the 50th anniversary of his death in 1976, we would have very likely seen mummified remains. This would have been the time to do it. Houdini was still with us and maybe even recognizable. That's wild. 

Had Bill Kalush and his crew gotten their way in 2006, we would have likely found a brittle skeleton. If anyone was ever serious about testing for poisoning--which I think is worth doing--this would have been our last good chance. The fact that time was running out was never part of the argument back then, but maybe it should have been. 

Today, as the video states, all that might remain of Houdini are his teeth. So as we near the 100th, it's sad to think the most significant Houdini artifact of them all, his mortal remains, may be gone forever. 

Unless he was never there!

Remembering
HARRY HOUDINI
on the
97th ANNIVERSARY
OF HIS DEATH
October 31, 1926

18 comments:

  1. My last visit to his grave I noticed that one side of his grave marker was depressed deeper into the ground than the other. Perhaps a sign that the casket has begun to collapse. Why not speak to the remaining family with the proposition to exhume Houdini to ensure whatever remains is safe within a new casket or that the original is still in sufficient shape?

    If the remains are still hermetically sealed and oxygen free it is possible Houdini is at the very least recognizable. If we wait until the casket(s) become compromised it’s all over.

    Perry from NJ.

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    1. At this stage, accepting that there may be nothing left of the body, the casket would be of primary interest. Was he really buried in the "trick" casket from the Summerfield store test? That's not what we see go into the ground in the funeral film. The theory is the test casket is inside the regular casket. I'd love to know if that's true. And, yes, shore it all up if it's collapsing. But it ain't gonna happen.

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    2. If HH was put into the glass topped casket first, then it makes sense that it had to be nested inside another larger, sturdier casket. The glass top couldn't support the weight of the dirt. This means HH is inside two containers. The preservation must have been better. I'm willing to bet he's a dried mummy and not just a set of teeth.

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    3. Assuming his body remains hermetically sealed all fluids have no where to go. Over time they seep from the body and with nowhere to go everything ends up as Houdini “soup”.

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    4. Many times bodies have been exhumed to ensure the remains are secure within their casket. I don’t see why this cannot be done here. There are unanswered questions regarding how he was buried (liner plus bronze casket?) as well as the letters from his mother that may be salvageable. Also samples could be taken to answer the question concerning poisoning. Houdinis brothers descendants would need to give the ok I would think and we have the question of cost.

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    5. It's worth exhuming his casket to save those Mama letters. They were placed inside a bag and used as his pillow. I doubt he would mind. He still hasn't returned anyway.

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  2. Does embalming buy more time? I didn't notice if the video discussed an embalmed body or not. Morbidly fascinating stuff here.

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    1. The video didn't mention embalming. But after 100 years, I don't think it makes any difference.

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    2. As a member of the Jewish faith, and being buried in a Jewish cemetery, I think it would be unlikely that he was embalmed. But then again, I believe that HH’s gravesite bucks a few jewish traditions, so maybe embalming too? As my bubbe used to say “Go know?”

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    3. Oops. Guess I should have done my research before adding my two cents. I’ve found a few articles that mentions that he was embalmed.

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  3. I am finding contradictory information on the internet. From “many years “ to “weeks”.

    I did come upon this snippet which may throw some light on the “dead or alive” Houdini within the glass topped casket question:

    “It is a common practice to cover the legs as there is swelling in the feet and shoes don't fit. Post embalming, bodies are often placed without shoes; hence covering the legs is the way to offer a dignified funeral.”

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    1. It would explain the white blanket covering his lower body in that photo. We're looking at a stiff.

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  4. Happy Halloween Houdini nuts! I just called and wished my neighbor Jim Happy Birthday. His date of birth? October 31, 1926 ! --Dale from Cleveland.

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  5. What would spook everyone is for a committee to finally get permission to dig him up, take his remains to a mortuary, properly autopsy him for poisoning and what not, only to find the coffin empty, and an open , hidden escape panel swinging back and forth on rusty hinges…🎃

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  6. John, I'm with you 100%. If anyone could escape from death, it would have been him, and I wish that there was some way to test for poison, that is if The Great Houdini is, in fact, in there.

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