Saturday, October 28, 2017

104 Years Ago Today In The Life of Houdini

used with permission of John Hinson

This very large punchbowl/trophy was given to Houdini by his assistants on his 30th Anniversary as a performer, Oct 28, 1913. 30 years before that would have been 1883, and Houdini was born in 1874 so according to the assistants he was 9 when he became a performer. Using standards I should be celebrating my.......oh never mind. 

The names engraved on the punch bowl below to his assistants: F. Kukol, J. Vickery, J. Collins and one name not family J. Zwettler. I began to try and dig up information on this unknown assistant. There is a brief mention of him in the book Houdini Laid Bare, page 164 item 25. It mentions that Josef Zwettler swore an oath to be an assistant on Nov 30, 1912. Below is the oath:

I hereby swear by God the Almighty , not to reveal in any manner to 
anyone, no matter who it might be, nor even to give the smallest hint
of the secrets, instructions, plans, apparatus, constructions you have
confided in me in reference to the execution of your numbers.
Should I any manner directly or indirectly act against this oath you will
have the right at any time to begin court action against me for perjury.
In addition, the above mentioned oath above also refers to the following:
that even should I leave my position with you, I will nowhere and never
permit myself to copy any of your numbers...or even work as an assistant
in [an act] similar to yours. 
(from Houdini by Kenneth Silverman)

I can find no other mention of Josef Zwettler. He was hired in Germany during Houdini's tour in 1912-13. He may possibly be pictured among the magicians on the top of page 244 in Houdini The Key by Pat Culliton. But beyond the above I've come up pretty much empty. World War 1 broke out the following year 1914, and it's possible this is the reason we don't hear any more from Zwettler. Though, there is a huge brewery in Austria with the name of Zwettler, so maybe he is connected to that some how? We may never know.

By the way, the punch bowl trophy is owned by Houdini's great nephew John Hinson.


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  2. Interesting piece, Dean, and well-written. I'm curious, do you know the earliest records of a Houdini performance? I doubt there are any news clips of a nine-year-old Harry (or Erik) performing. But I'd love to know the effects he began with in his early career.

  3. Great stuff Dean! Keep the wonderful HH material flowing down the river!