Sunday, March 10, 2024

Magic Castle announces a New Houdini Séance

The Magic Castle in Hollywood, home of the Academy of Magical Arts, will soon debut a New Houdini Séance Experience. Below is the news sent to members via the AMAs Flash Paper newsletter.

March 24 is Harry Houdini’s Birthday
& the Premiere of the New Houdini Séance Experience!

The Houdini séance at The Magic Castle® debuted 55 years ago in 1969, with people experiencing a re-enactment of the final séance of 10 held over a decade at the nearby Knickerbocker Hotel by Bess Houdini—to summon Harry from the other side—on Halloween 1936, which was attended by Bill Larsen, Sr.

The séance at the club has always been a big draw, evolving over the years—Milt Larsen’s Winchester House, adding and changing effects—into what was best described as a campy (albeit fun) experience. Currently, we are in the midst of an exciting overhaul of the séance, the second in recent years, which will make a soft debut on Harry Houdini’s birthday, March 24 (for evaluation and tweaks by involved parties), and likely open for general membership bookings in late spring/early summer, with specific date to be announced.

In 2019-2020, the séance and the room were renovated under the direction of Jim Steinmeyer, making it a more modern, theatrical and technically advanced experience. The new, more low-tech séance option being developed will be a much more haunting, “jump-in-the-dark,” organic experience. Both seances will be available for bookings.

The new transformation is being supervised by a collaborative team that includes Todd Robbins, Chris Hart, Mike Caveney and medium/magicians Rob Zabrecky and Stuart McCloud; executive produced by the Board of Trustees and Chuck Martinez.

Says Todd, “The Magic Castle® is the center of the world of magic and Houdini is so much a part of that world. On the 98th anniversary of his death, you can ask 100 people to name the first magician that comes to mind and 90% of them will still say Houdini. Even though no one’s alive who’s seen him perform, he still lives on in our collective conscious and that’s the greatest feat of his entire career, that he became this legend. It’s important that The Magic Castle® do something that grabs people, is emotional and serves as a fitting tribute to this remarkable man.”

“I like to say that you’re never so alive as when you are scared to death!” continues Todd. “This experience will be a little more fun in the dark and very bespoke to who the medium is … rather than the medium being guided by the presentation. When the inaugural séance was created in 1969, the only automated gimmick was the table rising and the rest of it was up to the presiding medium. The original medium, Ed Fowler (who also performed under the stage name of E. Raymond Carlyle), had a grandmother and a great aunt who were ‘real’ mediums at a spiritualist retreat in Michigan. They taught him the techniques they used to deceive the believers. Rob and Stuart have been integral to this renovation.”

The Houdini séance chamber is located in an area that was originally part of the master bedroom of the Chateau-esque mansion built in 1908 by Rollin B. Lane, which was also the room where he passed away. “Ghosts do walk and who knows who will come back,” teases Todd, who doesn’t want to give away too many surprises. “It depends upon the people in the room and the willingness to open themselves up.”

Plans are also being discussed to initiate a stage two-update that integrates off-menu food service (Houdini’s favorite foods?) into the overall event with a host who provides historical insights, with a flourish of magic, as each course is served, leading up to the main event with a medium.

Says Todd, “The original séance included a personal chef and a small antique stove where he flambéed an appetizer of shrimp in cognac, finished a main course of filet mignon; and prepared flaming cherries jubilee. Unfortunately, it was a fun part of the performance that Milt didn’t run by the fire department and it was ultimately shut down!”

Participants in the final séance in 1936 (Bill Larsen, Sr., far right).

I'm looking forward to seeing what the Castle has cooked up for this new seance!


1 comment: