Friday, January 19, 2024

Blackstone can't escape virtual Houdini

I recently discovered this intriguing advertisement in The Sandusky Register for March 27, 1919. An unknown suspended straitjacket escape, perhaps?

The Sandusky Register, March 27, 1919.

Turns out this was not the real Houdini but what appears to have been a free screening of The Master Mystery. The serial opened at Sandusky's Plaza Theater that week.

The Sandusky Register, April 3, 1919.

Below is the Hotel Rieger as it would have appeared at this time. The building survives today as a home for the elderly. Now, exactly how they pulled off an outdoor screening with the projection equipment that existed in 1919 is something I don't know!

But that's not the end of the story. On the same page that ran the free screening ad, you can see another magician opening in Sandusky on that very same day.

The Sandusky Register, March 27, 1919.

One wonders how Harry Blackstone felt about having to compete with a free screening of the Houdini serial on his opening night. But he went on to do well and was even held over for three extra days. The Houdini movie may have whetted the citizens' appetite for escapes, as Blackstone offered up a straitjacket and packing case escape on these extra days.

The Sandusky Register, March 30, 1919.

Blackstone then moved on to Emerson, Ohio, where he once again found himself competing with a virtual Houdini at the American Theater.

Evening Review, April 16, 1919.

This time, Blackstone did an overboard box escape from the Emerson Showboat, as you can see below.

Evening Review, April 16, 1919.

This is actually the earliest Harry Blackstone overboard box escape that I've been able to find. Some claim Blackstone did this escape first. But I've found no evidence to support that, and 1919 is a long time after Houdini's first overboard box escape in 1912. Keep trying, Blackie!

Photo from Houdini: A Pictorial Life by Milbourne Christopher.


  1. Could it be Houdini was appearing live in support of his movie serial?

    1. That's what I thought at first! But Houdini was in NY at this time. He did live appearances, but he would typically do so at the theater itself. Odd there would be no news of his appearance apart from this ad. The theater called the movie "Houdini The Handcuff King," and that is what also we see in this ad. And the word "exhibited" was typically used in relation to showing a movie, not a performer. But I'm open to the possibility! Just doesn't seem likely. A lot of ads like this are deliberate fake-outs.

  2. HH threw out the olive branch to Blackstone and had invited him to 278 to ask him not to perform his effects. That request fell on deaf ears. Blackstone even claimed to have performed the Vanishing Elephant before HH.