Showing posts with label #HOUDINI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #HOUDINI. Show all posts

Monday, June 3, 2024

Happy Birthday Tony Curtis


Born June 3rd, 1925 as Bernard Schwartz. He became known as Hollywood Actor Tony Curtis. And to those in the magic world, he was HOUDINI. He starred in the 1953 Paramount Production of HOUDINI along with Janet Leigh, Angela Clarke, Torin Hatcher and others. Joe Dunninger was listed as technical advisor, though George Boston did more work directly with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

The movie went on to inspire a lot of people to get into magic...(myself included). To many, Curtis's portrayal was our first exposure to Houdini. Though highly fictionalized, it still does a good job capturing many details from Houdini's life

If you'd like to hear more about The Other Houdini, check out my podcast on this very subject. Until then, Happy Birthday Tony!

Friday, May 31, 2024

#Houdini Trends on Twitter


May 30th, 2024, I noticed that the hashtag #HOUDINI was trending high on Twitter/X.  I just happened to be on Twitter last night and I happened to notice that #HOUDINI was trending. I chose to jump on the bandwagon and I reposted one of my Houdini podcast links and added the hashtage. Sure enough, that episode shot up in a matter of minutes. It was remarkable.

Now the reason it was trending. Rap artist, Eminem has a new album called HOUDINI. And the cover art is quite interesting. The only thing I can see that is related to Houdini is the NAME and FONT. But there appears to be more Thurston/Kellar inspired with the little red imps. 

I dont know much more about the album, as I'm not really into rap music. But it's certainly a nice nod to HOUDINI.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Houdini Milk Can Poster Breaks the Bank!


A recent Potter and Potter Auction featured a Houdini Milk Can Escape Poster. This poster dates back to 1908 and was produced by Russell-Morgan Lithos of Cincinnati & New York. The poster depicts Houdini inside the can with a view of him submerged inside. The live audience never had a view inside the can but this artistic depiction helps to convey the cramped confines of this dramatic escape. On top of that, there are the words, "Failure Means a Drowning Death". 

Originally referred to as The Galvanized Iron Can Escape, it was the creation of Montraville Wood. Houdini, debuted the escape at the Columbia Theatre in St. Louis on January 27th, 1908. He had previously been pressure from the theatre manager to produce something people wanted to see, as his handcuff escape act was not pulling the crowds. Too many imitators cooled the desire to see such acts. So Houdini brought out the big guns, The Galvanized Iron Can Escape. Over time he would use it in many different ways. He would fill it with Milk as a challenge from a Dairy, or fill it with Beer as a challenge from a brewery. Over time he would add a wooden box in which the milk can was placed inside and yet he still was able to escape from everything!

I've written a longer piece about the Milk Can Escape which you can read here.

This particular poster came from Houdini's basement on 278 W 113th in NY.  The auction estimates were between $40,000 and $60,000. This poster with buyers premium sold for $180,000.00

Below is a photo of the Columbia Theater where Houdini debuted The Milk Can Escape!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Aftermath of Playing Houdini


The Aftermath of Playing HOUDINI

In 1998, actor Johnathon Schaech took on the role of Harry Houdini. It was his first lead role in his career. The movie debuted on the TNT network Dec 6, 1998. I remember it well. I recorded it onto a VHS tape, which I still have. I've watched the movie many many times. Though not perfect by any stretch, I thought Johnathon did a fine job as Houdini. Interestingly, a young Mark Ruffalo would play Theo Hardeen in the movie, long before becoming The Incredible Hulk.

The opening of this movie is one of my favorites of all the various Houdini movies. It opens with Houdini's 1906 escape from the Old DC Jail and the cell that once held the assassin of President Garfield, Charles Guiteau. That scene really delivers Houdini in a way that others didn't. 

There is much to like about this movie. The fact that Johnathon Schaech portrays a different side of Houdini than previous movies is to me refreshing. This Houdini is strong, ready to take on the world, much like the real man. But the movie makes one fatal error, and I'll leave it up to you to figure out if you see it. But suffice to say, it's not the fictionalized ending the movie, which I will admit I didn't mind at all. 

I recall that after his portrayal of Houdini, Johnathan got invited to attend one of the Official Houdini Seances. I'll have to see if I can dig up anything on that for my next podcast.

Recently, I stumbled upon a TV show where Johnathon talks about his experience AFTER making the movie. Specifically, the night of the movie's premier at the Austin Film Festival. Apparently, that night did not go as well as he or anyone else hoped. But rather than go into his experience, I'm going to post the video below. 

He does consult a psychic medium, and think of that what you will, but suffice to say, hearing his story and how it affected him personally is sadly emotional. I think he's carried this weight of not doing a good job in his portrayal. I can say, as a Houdini Historian, his was one of the better portrayals, and though the movie, like many, has it's fictionalized moments, I still enjoy watching it. I think he did Houdini right and if ole Harry would have anything to say, he would shake Mr. Schaech's hand and thank him for a job well done.

Please watch the video for yourselves...

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Unusual Friendship Between Houdini and Ira Davenport

From the McCord Museum

  The Davenport Brothers were two brothers from Buffalo NY that along with the Fox Sisters, helped to usher in the strange phenomenon of Spiritualism. But so you know, the Davenport Brothers never claimed to be contacting real spirits. Nor did they deny it. They were essentially entertainers who allowed the audience to make up their minds as to what was happening. Their claim to fame was being tightly tied with ropes and placed inside a very large wooden cabinet. When the doors of this massive cabinet were closed, strange sounds instantly were heard: bells ringing, tambourines shaking, musical sounds, rapping sounds. WHY were they bound with ropes? The thinking was, the brothers could call for spirit aid, but because they were bound, it was proof that spirits were making the sounds and not the brothers. When the cabinet was opened, the brothers were always found to be still tied up. 

This was different from the Fox Sisters who were never tied up, though frankly they could have been. And they did claim to be contacting real spirits. This concept of being tied or at least restrained highly influenced the spiritualism movement. Later mediums used all sorts of tactics, some would be bound, some would simply have spectators holding their hands. But as legitimate and authentic as these things seemed to be, what was really taking place was extremely clever deception. Honestly, it was as if they took a page out of a magicians handbook, but they actually invented their own tricks and presented them as real. 

The movement gave birth to two branches of magic, the Escape Artists and The Mind Readers or Mentalism.  Without the Davenports, there likely wouldn’t have been a Houdini, at least not as we know him today. And it’s just as likely to say without spiritualism, mentalism might look very different today, and stars like Dunninger, The Zancigs, Kreskin and others might not have risen in fame or even gotten involved. 

The brothers were William Henry Davenport and Ira Erastus Davenport. Their father was initially their manager. Before long, as their popularity grew, William Fay took over the managing job and then in 1869, a young 20 year old Harry Kellar was hired as an assistant and later business manager. While in the employ of the Davenport Brothers, Kellar learned a lot about the business end of things, he learned a lot about show structure but more, he accidentally learned a method for the Davenport Rope tie. This would later come back and haunt the brothers.

Apparently, William Henry Davenport and Harry Kellar had a falling out. William considered Kellar his personal servant and when he let Kellar know as much, Harry decided to leave. But upon his exit, he took William Fay with him. Fay and Kellar went on to replicate the Davenport act for a time.

Now, fast forward. According to the book, Death and the Magician by Raymond Fitzsimons, Kellar and Houdini are having a discussion on of all things, the spirits. Houdini it seems was leaning towards all of it being nonsense. But he was taken back by the number of people who would relate stories that couldn’t be explained. Then Harry Kellar shared a story of seeing a medium named William Eglinton, in 1882 in Calcutta. Kellar told Houdini that during the course of the seance, Eglinton started to float up into the air and at one point, Kellar found himself afloat because he was holding onto the man. This was a very disturbing moment for Kellar as he was a skeptic. And he also knew the secrets that magicians used for levitation. There was none of that in this instance, yet the man was clearly floating in the air and Kellar along with him. He told Houdini he was still a skeptic but couldn’t account for what took place.

According to the book, The Haunting of America, William Eglinton, was a very popular medium. Listen to his skillset:
Apports seemed to appear from nowhere, phantoms moved about, and he levitated to the ceiling, which Kellar himself witnessed. The book says, “Eglinton’s most accomplished skill was slate writing, which he began demonstrating in 1884.” By the way, if I might mention something that I just discovered, I think magicians have misunderstood the whole slate writing phenomenon. I still agree it’s faked, don’t get me wrong, but I watched a video from the Lily Dale Historial Museum and they had a glass case filled with various school slates with messages. These are not the one or two words messages we are used too, but rather entire letters written in chalk. Getting a single word or two from a dead loved one would not be near as impressive or moving as an entire letter. Makes me realize why many people were fooled into believing this. Clever clever mediums. BTW, Eglinton was eventually accused of fraud in regards to his spirit writing and he eventually retired and became….a journalist. Now there’s an honest profession, lol. 

Then Kellar told Houdini about working with the Davenport Brothers. He said, “they never claimed to have spiritualist powers, never claimed their power came from the supernatural” But they also hired a unitarian minister to work as the host and lecturer for the show. THAT man totally believed everything the Brothers did was real. So the show had conflicting messages.

Kellar too started to believe that way. But then one day he decided to test out the rope tie that the Brothers were using and discovered he could free one hand, and return it, as if he had never been free. He told Houdini, this is not proof that the Brothers were frauds, but it did make him question things. 

Houdini continued to question him, and Kellar finally suggested that if wanted answers in this regard, he should go to the source, Ira Davenport. Houdini had no idea that Ira was still alive. He knew that William Henry was dead, and had assumed the brother was as well. But no, he was very much alive and living in Mayville NY, not far from Lily Dale, the birthplace of Spiritualism.  Houdini was surprised to learn that Ira Erastus Davenport was alive. He quickly penned a letter of introduction, in early 1908, to the man. That was the best Houdini could do for now as he was soon off to Europe and Australia. In the book, A Magician Among The Spirits, Houdini writes, “I ate once communicated with him and there followed a pleasant acquaintance that lasted until his death…” So by that I believe there were numerous letters between Houdini and Ira. We have the contents of one, the July 19th letter from Ira Davenport.

Houdini received a reply on Jan 19th, 1909. Thanks to Mike Caveney and his incredible collection of letters and correspondence, we know exactly what the letter said. It was written up in his column, Classic Correspondence From Egyptian Hall Museum in MAGIC Magazine April 2015. In addition, I also found the letter along with additional commentary in Houdini’s book A Magician Among the Spirits.  The letter immediately corrects a mistake that are in a number of Houdini biographies. The books say that Davenport was suffering with throat cancer. In his letter he says, “I had been several weeks in Buffalo under the care of a specialist being treated for what was at first feared might be cancer of the throat, but which is now pronounced to be no cancer, although it is rather a troublesome sort of thing, but nothing serious.”

He then shares with Houdini the adventure that he and his brother suffered through during their tour of Liverpool and some of the surrounding areas. Houdini was a big hit in those places. The Davenports met with skeptics and two particular brothers who followed them around and proceeded to tie them rather torturously and then a member of their own company, cut the ropes, exacerbating the problems with the Brits. There was also a large anti-American sentiment in that region of the world due to the American Civil War. Apparently, much of Britain sided with the south.  Here is the official news report from the Richmond Times Dispatch, March 8, 1865. 

The Davenport Brothers were mobbed at Liverpool, England, on the 15th ultimo. The Post of that city says:

‘ "The audience elected Mr. Cummins and Mr. Hulley as the committee to tie the brothers. The Davenports objected at first, but ultimately agreed. Ira Davenport, who wriggled and twisted a good deal during the operation, and at its conclusion turned round suddenly to Dr. Ferguson. Mr. Cummins shrugged his shoulders and walked away, while Dr. Ferguson immediately stepped up, and instantaneously Ira Davenport stood free. He at once created a large sensation by exposing the back of his hand to the audience, with blood flowing from it. The excitement at this point was extreme, and although it was hardly explicable how a rope could produce a wound from which the blood would thus copiously flow, the tables for the moment seemed to be turned upon the gentlemen whose brutality had been so strongly animated upon. Mr. Ira Davenport hastily, and with an indignant expression of countenance, left the stage, followed by his brother.

"Mr. Cummins then addressed the audience, nearly in these words: ‘'Ladies and gentlemen, you have seen blood upon the hand of the person who has just left this platform. That blood was caused by Dr. Ferguson in cutting the rope.'’--Upon this, an immense shout of mingled triumph and indignation arose from the audience, whose sympathies, it was at once evident, had scarcely wavered, even during the sensation incident they had just witnessed. In the noise which ensued, Dr. Ferguson's explanation was to us inaudible. Mr. Cummins was heard to declare that if any medical man would certify that the wound had not been produced as he had stated, he would give five pounds to any Liverpool charity.

"The audience now began to take matters into their own hands. One gentleman led the way, and several others scrambled over the footlights on the platform, with the view, apparently, of demanding their money of Dr. Ferguson. It is due to Messrs. Hulley and Cummins to say that they did their utmost to keep the crowd back, and to protect Dr. Furguson and Leighton, who were still on the stage. The numbers, however, were too great for resistance to avail; and the next thing witnessed was the overthrow of the cabinet, Dr. Ferguson being pushed backwards into it. He immediately rose, but as immediately retreated, and we are informed that he, the Davenports and Mr. Fay were out of the building almost as soon as Dr. Ferguson was off the stage. Shortly afterwards Mr. Hulley was borne from the room on the shoulders of an admiring throng.

"The crowd on the platform at once proceeded to demolish the cabinet, and Dr. Ferguson's much-ridiculed 'structure' will never again battle the scrutiny or beguile the credulity of a British audience. The scene during the smashing and distribution of the fragments of the cabinet was very exciting. Pieces were thrown up into the galleries, and the occupants of that part of the hall busily vied with those in the body in scrambling for the spoils, while many resorted, probably as a relief to their excitement, to the exhilarating occupation of letting themselves down from the galleries on to the stage. One person only fell into the hands of the police upon a charge of breaking one of the columns by which the gallery is supported. A portion of the right arm of the figure was knocked off by the young man placing his hand upon it as he dropped from the gallery. The proceedings, though turbulent, were exceedingly good-humored, and they were enlivened by a few burlesque addresses, delivered from the platform to those in the body of the hall. In the meantime, some thirty policemen had arrived; they occupied the stage, and the hall was shortly afterwards cleared."

Notice that in the report, the crowed destroyed the Davenport Cabinet and broke it into pieces.

Houdini was in Liverpool from Dec 7th - Dec 12th, 1908. He was appearing at the Liverpool Hippodrome and to publicize the event, on Dec 7th, he jumped chained and manacled into the Mersey River from the top of a tugboat. There is this report from the Dundee Courier Newspaper on December 8th. 

Houdini threw himself from the upper deck of the tug Hannah Jolliffe, into the Mersey yesterday afternoon. This was intended as a display of Houdini’s power in escaping safely under all circumstances from handcuffs and chains, from locks and bars and other impediments. The weather was particularly  trying for Houdini on the occasion of his first water jump, handcuffed in England. The air was six degrees above freezing, the thermometer standing at 38 degrees. Houdini took the leap bravely. In an instant, the plunge was over, the chained athlete disappearing like a shot. In a second or two, Houdini appeared above the surface, carrying the unfastened chains in one hand. They weighed 22 lbs while the locks and handcuffs in which his arms were encased weighed 2 bps to 2 1/2 lbs more. 

Houdini said to the press representative: "The first shock of the cold water nearly knocked me out of my senses but the idea occurred to me, submerged as I was, to save my life and I made a dash for the top. The COLD, he added, numbed my fingers and made it hard to open the handcuffs.  I am glad, he concluded, that all is safely over, for in a water jump like this there is a certain element of risk against me."

The tide was going out with a very strong current at the time. Houdini is a teetotaler and non-smoker and expects, he says to quiet these jumps before long. He added quaintly and curiously, “I expect the grim friend is following me up in these tricks and he may catch me some day yet.”

There are two other things of great interest in the letter to Houdini from Ira Davenport. He mentions that Houdini is working on History of Magic book, and Ira says “I have a large quantity of material in the shape of scrapbooks dating back to 1855. Newspaper clippings, editorials of the leading newspapers of the world, magazines, letters, etc. which I will place at your disposal if you can make any use of them.”   Then he further goes on to invite Houdini to visit when he returns to the United States. 

In 1910, while performing in Australia, Houdini visited the grave of William Henry Davenport. He found the grave in disrepair, and paid for its repair and upkeep and made sure to place fresh flowers on the grave. And he took a photo of the grave to share with Ira, upon his return to the states.  Also while in Australia, Houdini met with William Fay, the one time manager of the Davenport Brothers and also one time partner to Harry Kellar before a shipwreck destroyed their act and partnership. He learned a great deal about the Davenports from Mr. Fay.

One of the first things Houdini did when he returned to the U.S. was visit Ira Davenport. It was an 800 mile train ride to the western side of New York. Ira was waiting at the train station for Houdini. They went back to his home and sat together on the porch. Houdini showed Ira the photograph of the grave of his brother William Henry, that Houdini took in Australia. He was moved by the gesture.

Then the two showman began to share stories. Houdini interjected when he felt appropriate. At one point Ira said to him, “Houdini you know more about the old timers and my arguments, than I who lived through those troublesome times.” They talked further about some of the things in their letters back and forth. Houdini showed him letters from his own collection from folks like John Henry Anderson inquiring just HOW the Davenports do their tricks. Houdini had other historical letters from his collection that he shared with Ira. This conversation went late into the night. At one point, Ira removed a length of rope. It was time to pass on the secret that the Davenports held so close for all those many years. 

They talked further about various specifics from Davenports life. Houdini brought out a clipping from the London Post, and read the details to Ira. Quote” "The musical instruments, bells, etc., were placed on the table; the Brothers Davenport were then manacled, hands and feet, and securely bound to the chairs by ropes. A chain of communication (though not a circular one) was formed, and the instant the lights were extinguished the musical instruments appeared to be carried all about the room. The current of air, which they occasioned in their rapid transit was felt upon the faces of all present. "The bells were loudly rung; the trumpets made knocks

upon the floor, and the tambourine appeared running around the room, jingling with all its might. At the same time sparks were observed as if passing from South to West. Several persons exclaimed that they were touched by the instruments, which on one occasion became so demonstrative that one gentleman received a knock on the nasal organ which broke the skin and caused a few drops of blood to flow.''' After I finished reading it Ira exclaimed, "Strange how people imagine things in the dark! Why, the musical instruments never left our hands yet many spectators would have taken an oath that theyheard them flying over their heads.”

And now a quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from his book, The History of Spiritualism, “Houdini claimed that Davenport admitted that his results were normally effected, but Houdini himself stuffed so many errors of fact into his book, A Magician Among the Spirits, and has shows such extraordinary bias on the whole question, that his statement carries no weight. The letter he produces makes no such admission. A further statement quoted as being made by Ira Davenport is demonstrably false. It is that the instruments never left the cabinet. As a matter of fact, The Times representative was severely struck in the face by a floating guitar, his brow being cut, and on several occasions when a light was struck instruments dropped all over the room. If Houdini has completely misunderstood this latter statement, it is not likely that he is very accurate upon the former." So says Sir Arthur, an avid believer in Spiritualism, who did not believe the Davenports were anything other than entertainers when Houdini tried to explain it to him.

At some point, Ira brought up the idea that the two men, he and Houdini, should take out an international tour together. According to Ken Silverman’s book, Houdini said, “By combining his reputation and my knowledge and experience, we would have been able to set the world agog”. In the William Grehsem biography of Houdini it’s explained this way, “The game old showman proposed a world tour for Houdini and himself, he to lecture on the growth of spiritualism, and the part played by his late brother and himself in its popularity, while Houdini would tie it in with his own escapes, thereby exposing the cabinet phenomenon as the product of natural causes without letting the public know how the tricks were done.”  Ira said proudly to Houdini, “Houdini-we started it, and you finish it!”

They spoke on many aspects of the Davenport’s career. Ira admitted to Houdini that they never claimed real spirit connection or supernatural intervention. He said they let the audiences make up their minds. Though he did regret that both of their parents went to their graves believing the two brothers to be real mediums.

Houdini took extensive notes during the visit and the event was capped off by a photograph of the two men, of which I believe there are 2 maybe three variations.

On July 5th, 1911, Ira again wrote to Houdini. He was anxiously awaiting Houdni’s next visit which would have been the 8th. Houdini wrote, “I was to leave on receipt of his letter, but his daughter Zellie wired me of his sudden passing.”

Now remember those scrapbooks that Ira teased Houdini with. Scrapbook#2 survived with the family and was eventually donated to the Lily Dale Historical Museum by Richard Davenport. I get the impression that even Ken Silverman did NOT see that scrapbook, as he mentions in his book  Notes To Houdini!!!! Quote, “The method of the rope tie was also known to Harry Kellar, surely before Houdini learned it. I am grateful to Ormus Davenport of Buffalo, Ira’s grandson, for having taken me to visit the cottage”.    No mention of seeing that scrapbook. And as to his assertion that Kellar knew the Davenport’s secret, after reading the detailed description of the Davenport’s method, and knowing full well the operation of the Kellar Rope tie, though they both achieve a similar result, I think they are different.

(This is a transcript of Ep 83 of the Magic Detective Podcast.)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

A Bit of Houdini Music


Take a listen. Sound familiar? This is the music used throughout the 1953 Tony Curtis HOUDINI movie. Though in the movie, it was only the orchestrated version, no lyrics. Here in this clip of Judy Garland singing the song, "Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland", you almost expect Tony Curtis as Houdini to talk into the scene!

And here is an even older rendition of the song. One in which the REAL Houdini would have been familiar. 1909 or 1910.

By the way, my friend John Cox has a wonderful series of articles on the Houdini 1953 movie, where he takes the movie apart scene by scene. To check that out, please visit

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Podcast on Houdini's Needle Mystery

Finishing my Houdini Week is podcast Episode 75. In this episode I take a deep dive into Houdini's Needle Mystery. I've written about it several times on the blog. So I took ALL of that information, plus some info from other articles and some new information and compiled them into a great episode.

For those who would like to listen to it, well, just look below!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Chase-ing Houdini's Radio

The photo above is Houdini's Radio Illusion. An unusual production effect that was used in his 3-In-1 Show/The Final Houdini Tour. The woman is Dorothy Young, one of Houdini's assistants. She lived longer than anyone in the Houdini show and was featured in several documentaries about Houdini where she always spoke about the Radio Illusion.

Episode 46 of my podcast I talk all about this illusion. But then I mention ANOTHER Radio Illusion. You'll need to hear the podcast in order to find out more. But below is a photo of THAT Radio Illusion. You may note, the front of Blackstone's Radio, it has the same size dials that Houdini's cabinet had. The inner workings are likely being held by the assistant on the far right, somewhat different than those that Houdini had. But awfully ODD that that both Blackstone and Houdini had a Radio Illusion at the SAME TIME?!?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Houdini Testifies Before Congress Day 1

In 1926, Harry Houdini stepped way beyond his role of magician, escape artist, showman, and actor. He does something which was rare for an entertainer. He testified before Congress. This was the ultimate act of attacking the fake spiritualists. Oddly, the bill before Congress was an anti-fortune telling bill.

Fortune Telling? I thought Houdini was after fake spirit mediums?! The spiritualists were not happy to be lumped in with so-called 'gypsy fortune tellers', even though many of them ran in the same circles. Here is an interesting thing I found from an issue of Stanyon's Magic. In the early 20th Century, the spirit mediums began to refer to themselves by a new name, 'psychist'. This word means someone who believes in psychic phenomenon. Of course, in the later part of the 20th century, we would refer to these folks as psychics and even psychic mediums. They could apparently read your mind and tell you the future.

The bill before Congress was House Resolution8989 and it was sponsored by Sol Bloom of NY. It
Congressman Sol Bloom
would prohibit all forms of fortune telling within the D.C. limits. Several other states and localities had similar laws that they were using successfully, so here was an attempt by Congress to implement the same thing. Sol Bloom has an interesting history. He had a background in entertainment. Not only that, he was the man responsible for creating the Midway at the Chicago's World Fair! And among the many entertainers at this event... Yes, Houdini. An article that appeared in the Oct 16th, 1942 edition of The Washington Post mentions that Sol Bloom had an interest in magic. In fact, the title of the article is Master Magician of Capital Hill.

So, if you're going to propose a bill about stopping spiritualists in D.C., and you know you can't do that because the spiritualists claim it's a religion, and they have protection under the Constitution. Then you take a slightly less direct route and go after Fortune Telling and write the bill in such a way that you can snag the fake spirit mediums along the way. And if you're going to do that, who better to call for advice and knowledge, than the number one Spirit Debunker in the country, Harry Houdini! And, it seems clear that the two must have known each other. On the rare chance they didn't meet at the Chicago World's Fair, then they surely met while Bloom was representing Gentleman Jim Corbett. Houdini was in the line-up with Corbett during the 1917 Benefit Shows to raise money for the war effort.

The first day of the meetings was Feb 26th, 1926. The proceedings started at 10:30am . According to the Congressional Record, when the proceedings begun, the bill was read before the committee.

Here is how the bill reads:
"Any person pretending to tell fortunes for reward or compensation where lost or stolen goods may be found; any person who, by game or device, sleight of hand, pretending, fortune telling, or by any trick or other means, by the use of cards or other implements or instruments, fraudulently obtains from another person money or property or reward, property of any description; any person pretending to remove spells, or to sell charms for protection, or to unite the separated, shall be considered a disorderly person. Any person violating the provisions of this law shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $250 or by imprisonment not to exceed six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment."

Then Congressman Bloom addresses the committee. He is asked numerous questions, and there seems to be much debate on the proper placement of commas and such. Then they begin to grill him on content. There is a humorous exchange between Congressman Reid and Congressman Bloom.
Reid: What is telling a fortune?
Bloom: Well, telling a fortune is to make people believe what the future is, to give you a picture that you are going to marry a blond.
Reid: How do you know you won't?
Bloom: I want to tell you something, I am serious about this thing, and I don't want any kidding or joking from you.
Reid: That is the sad part of it.

After much bantering and bickering, Houdini, who may have arrived late, is welcomed before the committee. He answers a few questions in regards to his qualifications. Then he makes his opening statement. He begins with, "This is positively no attack upon religion. Please understand that, emphatically. I am not attacking a religion. I respect every genuine believer in spiritualism or any other religion, as long as it does not conflict with the laws of the country or laws of humanity. 
  But this thing they call "spiritualism" wherein a medium intercommunicated with the dead, is a fraud from start to finish. There are only two kinds of mediums, those who are mental degenerates and who out to be under observation, and those who are deliberate cheats and frauds. I would not believe a medium under oath; perjury means nothing to them."

And so it began. Houdini was not holding anything back. After his opening statement, the committee asks him questions. Congressman Rathbone asks Houdini if he has read the bill. Houdini replies he has read it eight or nine times. Then it is pointed out to Houdini that the bill never mentions spiritualism. They even direct a question to Houdini, "Is there anything in this bill that deals with spiritualism?". Houdini says, "Yes."

Clearly the committee is confused, and asks Houdini, "will you be good enough to point it out to me where the bill deals with spiritualism?"  Houdini follows with saying that under the guise of being a medium, they will tell fortunes. He makes the claim that 'mediums are clairvoyants'. And in D.C. the govt. gives licenses to clairvoyants for $25. He further goes on to say that there should be no distinction between fortune tellers and mediums as, in his mind, they are one in the same.

Then Houdini continues with describing some of the ways mediums operate, including wrapping themselves under the cloak of religion. They quote from the Bible, claiming it says various things about spiritualism. Houdini points out that he can refute any interpretation they make in regards to Biblical matters. Then Mr. Rathbone asks Houdini, if he is actually attacking spiritualism, because let's face it, it sure sounds like it.

Reading the actual transcripts of the events of Feb 26th, 1926 is fascinating. On one hand Houdini is claiming the bill says a great deal of things, that others claim it does not. For example, not once does it mention mediums or spiritualism. Yet to Houdini's mind, the very fact the bill says, "any person who, by game or device, sleight of hand, pretending, fortune telling, or by any trick or other means....shall be considered a disorderly person" and thus breaking the law and therefor covers mediums. He even declares as much. But when questioned about the difference between fraudulent vs. genuine spiritualist ministers, Congressman Bloom, the bills sponsor,  says the bill is only to weed out those who are bogus.

More than once it is suggested that the bill be redrafted to include some of the language that Houdini and Bloom are claiming is there, but isn't. Others on the committee are frustrated that this bill makes them all look ridiculous. Congressman Bloom points out that a similar bill was held constitutional by the State of New York. And Congressman Gilbert follows with, "Constitutional, but ridiculous."

As the session is nearing the end, Congressman Hammer speaks up and says to Houdini, "I didn't understand what your occupation is."  And I don't think he was alone in that. Some members had no clue who Houdini, one of the biggest names in show business was. Houdini follows with a classic line, "I am a syndicate writer; I am an author, and I am a mystifier, which means I am an illusionist.......I call it mystification, But I do tricks that nobody can explain." There is some conjecture about Houdini claiming real powers, which he flatly denies. He points out that others say he has these powers, but he has never made such claims.

Then Congressman Hammer makes a really astute observation, "These people claim they have divine power. Don't you think it is very difficult to do anything along the line of stopping them? I am talking to you. You have a religion; and I ask you whether, under our form of government, if we ought not to go very slow before we enact legislation along this line? I want some sort of bill; this bill or the New York law or something. I am in favor of amending and making stronger the law to prevent these things you have exposed, in doing which you have performed a great service, although you are rather severe in your strictures of those who disagree with you." This is all addressed at Houdini. Several of the members did think the idea of the bill worthwhile, but they knew that they were dangerously close to prohibiting religious liberties, and any such bill would be tossed quickly on those grounds.

The final person who was brought up to testify was a Mrs. Jane B. Coates, she was head of the American Order of the White Cross Society, and an ordained Spiritualist Minister. She had a clever angle. She pointed out that the bill made no reference to mediums who give spiritual advice, and that the bill should include language protecting the rights of spiritualists to give interviews to members of their congregations or to those who come to them in trouble and sorrow and needing advice. Then she further said their method of pay should be protected as well. Basically, she was wanting them to flip this bill on it's head and do the exact opposite that Houdini and Bloom wanted.

Rev. Jane Coates

Mrs. Coates got into a discussion with Congressman Bloom on fake mediums vs. real and she said she could trust no one that wasn't a mystic to be able to identify those who are fake. Congressman McLeod asks, "Is Mr. Houdini a mystic?". Mrs. Coates replies, "I think Mr. Houdini is one of the greatest mystics the world possesses today." And Congressman Bloom says, "But he says he is not." And Mrs. Coates follows with, "Mr. Houdini denies everyone's statement that is not on his side of the case."

Despite Houdini trying to butt-in and get his two cents back in the game, the session was closed due to the time. Houdini would have a couple months to reevaluate and prepare for his next meeting, which would take place on May 18th, 1926.

There was additional banter between Houdini and the Congressmen and Mrs. Coates. The newspapers of the day covered a few things that must have been struck from the Congressional Record. I have not included them here, but may post on one particular incident from the Feb 26th proceedings, on another date.

If you thought this session was wild, wait till you hear what happened in May!!!! Part 2 to follow shortly....

Originally published May 18, 2018

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

HOUDINI Week 2019 On The Magic Detective Podcast

Over the years, I have had a Houdini Month and or Houdini Week here at the blog. This year, I'm trying out a Houdini Week over on the podcast. It involves a lot more work, but so far things are coming together well. You can also go over to and listen there. I'm on all the various podcasting sites, iTunes, stitcher, spotify, iHeartRadio and more.

On Monday, Oct 28th, I posted an episode about The Man Who Made Houdini. This was basically about Houdini & Martin Beck. I talked about a new theory that has arisen among some Houdini historians that Beck never saw Houdini in St. Paul, but rather it was a surrogate and only later in Omaha did Beck and Houdini meet. First, I think it's a valid theory. But I explore it a bit further and give you my opinion on the matter. You can listen to episode 32 below.

On Tuesday, Oct 29th, I posted an episode about Evanion-The Royal Conjurer. Henry Evanion was one of the early magic collectors as well as a performer during the Victorian era. He ended up selling part of his collection to Houdini, which became the cornerstone of Houdini's magic history collection.  It's a wild story, and you can listen to it below.

On Wednesday, Oct 30th, I share with you the story of Houdini's Forgotten Protege. I've discussed him here on the blog in the past. This time around I've gathered even more information, so I'm sure you'll enjoy this episode. You can list to it below.

On Thursday, Oct 31st, I talk about one of Houdin's game changing escapes, The Milk Can Escape, or the Death Defying Mystery. You can listen to the podcast episode below.

On Friday, Nov 1, I let Houdini talk for himself. I feature an address he gave before a club in Boston in 1922 and the final article Houdini wrote that didnt make it to print until after he had died. You can listen to this podcast episode below.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Magic Detective Podcast Season 1 Complete

With the addition of episode 31, I've decided to wrap up season 1 of my podcast. I am NOT stopping the podcast. It will be back in October. I just realized I was coming up fast on the 1 year anniversary and with all that is going on in my life, now would be a good time to stop. One of the major things is a move to another state. So right now, my library of research material is split between two locations and it would make doing the podcast somewhat difficult.

Year In Review

When I first decided to do the podcast, I was unsure if I would even find any listeners. Though I figured if a few of my blog readers went to the podcast, I'd be ok. The blog has traditionally had a LOT of readers, though that has declined since my focus has been the podcast. As of right now, I have over 4200 downloads of the podcast. Those are not huge numbers by popular podcast standards, but for a niche topic like magic history, I'd say those are pretty good. And the best part, they continue to increase each month as more and more people find out about the show.

I took the approach to just jump in with both feet knowing I'd figure out how to do the podcast along the way. I did enough preliminary research to know what I needed to do on the backend. The most important thing was sound quality, as I noticed that was one thing that could make or break a podcast. As far as topics, I didn't really think that would be an issue. I had an early list of some 30 potential stories to cover. That list then grew to 100. And now the list stands at over 150. So there are several years of episodes planned.

My first thought was to do the show kind of like popular talk radio shows, with segments, a main topic and then shorter segments. But I don't think I was quite pulling that off the way I had wanted. Then a friend of mine contacted me and said, 'why not try one topic'. So I did, and by episode 4 (Servais LeRoy) I was onto the one topic concept and that worked out better. Another listener contacted me and asked if I could include the references of where the information was coming from, so I soon added the book/magazine references as well. I love the fact that my listeners, YOU, have helped shape the way the show has grown.  One other thing I've attempted to do is link episodes. So if there is a reference to a certain magician in one podcast, and I've covered them already, I can tell the listener to go to Episode such and such, to learn more. IF I were a listener, I would LOVE this particular service.

I think one of the biggest surprises was that it took 3 Episodes to cover Harry Kellar's life. I really covered a lot of ground in those podcasts. The only person who has taken more is Houdini because frankly, I could have just done the entire podcast on his life. In truth, I contemplated that originally, and you'll notice that Houdini's name comes up in almost every podcast. I think there might be 3 podcasts that his name is not even mentioned. But other than that he is a fixture of the podcast. And in Season 2 you can expect considerably more Houdini.

Wyman The Wizard
I love the fact that I covered so many obscure magicians like Wyman the Wizard, Brush, Minerva, and Ablini. They all had incredible stories to tell and deserve their place in the history of magic. As I researched each of them, I contemplated how they would feel, all these many years later to hear their name being spoken of. I try to give everyone a fair shake and if there is a lot of 'negative' stuff to their life, to not focus on it, or at least approach it delicately. I hope I've been successful there. The one person who comes to mind is The Great Raymond. He had a difficult life. He was a great performer, but not the kindest person offstage. Albini was another, he was an alcoholic and chose to insult his audiences during his shows. I believe this was his style, kind of like an early Don Rickles. However, some audiences 'got' him and others did not. And sometimes he was sloshed when he was performing which didn't help.

I think one of my favorite episodes was the one of T.Nelson Downs. I was amazed at the amount of information I discovered on Downs. I continued to find info even after the podcast was completed. I did an extra article on Downs here on the blog to cover something I missed. I could probably do another episode on him easily if I really dug deeper.

My least favorite podcast was Frederick Bancroft, but not for the reason you might think. I did a great deal of research and was happy with what I uncovered. Then as I was scripting out the podcast, I learned that Gary Hunt had written an article on Bancroft in Magicol Magazine, and I didn't have access to it. I just KNEW that some of the stuff I had would potentially be wrong. Sure enough, AFTER, I put up the episode, I found the article and Gary had discovered details that corrected the history. Bravo for him! But not so happy for me. I did mention the corrections in the following podcast. Oh well, win some, loose some.

Daisy White
Another favorite podcast was Daisy White. She has always been a bit of a pet-project. She is an enigmatic figure in magic. Finding details has not been easy, but I did uncover some things a few years ago and wrote about them in the blog. I was always determined to find MORE. And this time around I did. But not only did I find more, I found photos of a young Daisy White!!! I am certain these photos have not been seen in over 100 years. So it was quite fulfilling to include those on the blog at the same time as I did the podcast episode.

About half way into the season I had this idea to start doing short podcasts, which would run no longer than 15 minutes. It was a big experiment really, and it turned out to be successful and I'd received a lot of positive comments on the short episodes. Some performers of old, just don't have enough information out there to cover a 30-45 minute podcast, but I can usually get at least 10 minutes worth. So the short episodes fit the need. The short episodes include: Frederick Bancroft, Litzka Raymond, Houdini & Anna Eva Fay, Minerva, Albini, and finally Talma Queen of Coins.

Oh and the two Doug Henning episodes were personal favorites because Henning was someone I saw in person and looked up to very much.  I was also happy to start including females into the mix, and though I've only covered a few so far, there are many more to come. The episodes featuring females include: Litzka Raymond Gibson, Minerva, Anna Eva Fay, Daisy White & Mercedes Talma.

I think the biggest revelation I had doing this podcast was finding out how inaccurate the David Price book, A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre is. Don't get me wrong, its a fantastic book. And it gets so much correct. But since the book was published, many details of various magicians lives have come to the surface and they are different from what is in his book. I still use it in every episode. I just try and double check the information. I do know a lot of his information came from Mahatma and The Sphinx.


As I have mentioned on the podcast, I would like to include some interviews with other magic historians and collectors during Season 2. I do not intend to do the entire season that way. But it would be nice to give the spotlight to some other folks so they can share their passion for magic history here. I am also considering having on some guest narrators.

There will be some changes coming to the blog too. About 80% of the Season 1 podcasts were scripted. So I plan to take those and put them up as blog articles, and include photos and images that I obviously cannot do on an audio podcast. It will help with SEO and will help future researchers. Because this platform is owned by Google, it tends to rank fairly high. So for those people who like to read, you can enjoy the blog. For those that like to listen, you've got the podcast. And for those who like both, hey, it's going to be awesome for you.

Some of the episodes planned for Season 2 include: Adelaide Herrmann, Anna Eva Fay, The Fox Sisters, Dr.Lynn, Signor Blitz, Dr. Walford Bodie, Henry Ridgely Evans, Frederick Eugene Powell, Richard Potter, Ching Ling Foo, and many MORE!!!! Oh, and the occasional episode on HOUDINI.

Right now I plan to have Season 2 start some time in October 2019. I am contemplating doing something special for the first couple episodes, but that I'm keeping to myself for now.  I do know I'm going to have more contests throughout the year. With any luck, I may even have some swag for fans of the podcast. I also intend to do more outreach to pick up a larger audience. So expect great things for Season 2! Until then, why not go back and re-listen to some of the podcasts, or check out the ones you missed. October will be here soon enough!

Thanks for being a listener and reader of The Magic Detective!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The King of Koins & The King of Escape

My most recent podcast (#23) was on T. Nelson Downs. I had never heard much of his life story so I was amazed at what I uncovered. Did you know he was a twin? Sadly, his brother did not survive. Did you know he did other kinds of magic besides coin magic? Did you know he retired at a time when most performers were just making it really big?

His friends called him Tommy. He created a sensation in the entertainment world by doing an act
with only coin manipulation. After consulting with some of the great minds of magic and having them all tell him it was a terrible idea to do 'a coin only act' he decided to do it anyway. He was right and everyone else was wrong. His speciality act soon gave way to other specialty performers. He was known as the King of Koins and In 1899 he was making a huge splash in London with what would become one of the first specialty acts in the nation.

The story if often told that Martin Beck told Houdini to drop the magic, keep the escapes and the trunk trick and he would book him. Well, Houdini's career started to really gain steam after that.
Martin Beck made arrangements for Houdini to go to England in the fall of 1899. However, he didn't actually arrive until Spring 1900. Still, Houdini too was about to take England and all of Europe by storm. These American performers, Downs and Houdini, were about to be the toast of the town in London and beyond!

Here is an amazing fact about Houdini and Downs. They apparently met each other at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893. Houdini was working the Fair. I can only assume Downs was visiting as he was employed by the Chicago & Northern Railroad Station. In the July 1901 Mahatma Magazine, this appears, “Travelers returning from Europe report the existence of a powerful mutual admiration society composed entirely of magicians, whose acts are features. The passwords are, “HOUDINI, I’ve seen all kinds of magical acts, but without exception, your is really the acme of perfection.” OR DOWNS, I don’t often praise a man, but whenever I see your act I can’t help thinking that there can never be another act conceived that will be so really marvelous” It is rumored that there are only two members of this society. 

As I mentioned earlier, Downs was already in London when Houdini arrived. But they spent many hours together talking magic. As you've read above they became good friends during this time and socialized often. But as close as they were, when Downs finally left Europe it would be many years before he would see Houdini in person again. This is the unfortunate side of being a traveling performer.

One great story from the life of Tommy Downs takes place in London, while both he and Houdini were appearing. In the November 1930 issue of The Sphinx, T. Nelson Downs relates a story of meeting up with Houdini at their hotel. Downs took from his trunk a ring of 52 keys and said to Houdini, "Here are the tools you do your act with." Houdini replied, "Tom, I don't use keys. You know I did not have the money to buy the keys" etc. Then Downs said, "Well you can't open them with hot air!" (Hilarious!!!)

There is a handwritten quote to Downs from Houdini which reads, "To: T. Nelson Downs, One of the old guards, and one of the Historical Lights of magic. Best Wishes from always the same, HOUDINI, April 1921"

In a Feb 1923 issue of MUM, Downs is sharing a story about what it takes to succeed in magic. He makes a point that a magician is an actor-hundreds of people can do tricks but they cannot all CONVINCE. And he stresses this word CONVINCE. It is the quality that makes one person a true magician/artist in the eyes of the public and another one just a mere trickster. He goes on to point out that people didnt go to see Kellar and Herrmann because of tricks, rather it was their personalities that audiences wanted to see, the tricks were incidental. 

Next he goes on to describe a trip he was making that he had to get up at 6 a.m. with 20 degree weather outside and then would have to travel 75 miles to get to the destination to see this mystifier. He says, "Can anyone imagine me going seventy five miles to see a mere magician do tricks??? NOT ON YOUR LIFE" he says. But he wasn't going to see a mere magician, and he knew that..
When he arrived at the theatre it was sold-out. Thankfully he had his seats down front reserved. Here is what Downs wrote, "After witnessing several interesting acts, the 'star' of the program THE ONE AND ONLY HOUDINI himself made his entrance. It was 21 years since I last saw him at Dusseldorf, Germany"

Now listen closely as Downs gives a very solid description of Houdini in action. "Houdini made a few introductory remarks relative to his performance and retired to prepare for the same. The screen was dropped, a movie shown of Houdini being bound and tied; then the curtain went back up and there was Houdini, bound and tied, as shown in the picture. He made a quick release. Then the screen was lowered again and showed Houdini  in action, actually jumping from one airplane to another, in mid-air (scene was from The Grim Game") then suddenly the machine fell 4500 feet, according to the film, and I nearly fainted it was so realistic. Besides, it was the truth, for you know the camera doesn't lie; remember that! Well, then came the crash; the plane fell to the ground, and our hero saved the girl. After that, I could be made to believe anything, and I am convinced that the balance of the audience  were in about the same mood. Next, Houdini called for a committee to come upon the stage and inspect everything. I was commanded to come up. There were doctors, scientists, and children. His first feat  completely mystified and baffled everyone, including the scientific gentlemen and myself. I was positive in my own mind at the time the manifestations took place ----that I was witnessing a purely spiritualistic phenomena, and that this man Houdini was a genuine spirit medium, but did not wish to acknowledge the fact, possibly for business reasons; for didnt I see him actually swallow several packages of needles, and then swallow several years of thread, drinking a glass of water to aid digestion, and then, didn't I see the thread actually pulled out of the medium's mouth by one of the gentlemen----all perfectly and beautifully threaded? I certainly did! And I wish to emphasize the fact that this was a miracle, if there ever was one. I repeat, that this particular miracle was accomplished on a full-lighted stage, under the strictest of test conditions. Surely, there is no chance for fraud or chicanery here! Here was a real medium, if there ever was one---of this I was thoroughly convinced. 

Then came the water tank escape, bordering on the supernatural; in fact, it was supernatural. Here Houdini was locked upside down in a tank of water, to all appearances it was a physical impossibility to escape or breath under the water. Yet, he did escape, after actually being submerged in water for nearly two minutes, by my watch. The suspense was something fierce! That two minutes seemed like two hours to me, and I almost lost control of myself and come very near to grabbing the ax that was to be used by Houdini's trusty assistants in case of some unforeseen accident. It was not until the next day, after I had returned safely to my native town and to my own domicile, that I awakened to the fact that I had been bulled, bunked, bamboozled, misdirected, and grossly deceived but HIGHLY ENTERTAINED by a clever necromancer---a mere magician." That later part, 'a mere magician' clearly said tongue in cheek. Downs had incredible respect for Houdini and vice versa.

love this description of Houdini's act and Down's reactions to same. This was not the handcuff king (who was great by the way) he remembered in Europe, but rather the very seasoned professional mystifier with thousands of performances under his belt. Downs was clearly impressed!

Frank Ducrot, F.E. Powell, HOUDINI, and Tommy Downs In Houdini's backyard
And a letter sent to Downs on Houdini's stationary from 1926 reads, "They are still talking about your wonderful coin work here. They all agree with me that you are the greatest manipulator of coins that ever lived. Your work with the ten dollar sized coins is simply marvelous and shows your incessant and tireless hours of practice. I am attaching the well known Binet "Pyschology of Prestidigitation" and am quoting your work in my article which is the highest compliment I can pay you. YOU have made The Misers Dream a reality, With Kindest regards and best wishes, Sincerely yours HOUDINI"

In the Ken Silverman book on Houdini it states "Downs like several other magicians had matured on the shady side of the law. According to Houdini, 'he ran a fake magic shop, worked for a fake spiritualist and had been wanted by the federal govt. for a swindle'."  Now, I must say, I have done some pretty extensive research on Downs, and I didn't see anything anywhere that suggested he was a dishonest person. Everyone who spoke of him, spoke very highly of his act and of him as a person. I think he had a mail order magic business, nothing wrong with that. As far as working for  fake spiritualist, I didn't find any info there. Nor did I see anything on a supposed 'swindle.' But its possible Downs was the one who got duped in some deal which was why he was involved. 

Finally there is this short piece which appeared in an old MUM, "Should I live to be a thousand years I'll never forget the wonderful time I had East. Everyone, everywhere, Houdini in particular, seemed to go out of their way to show me a big time and I don't think it will be my last trip. On reflection I can't imagine how I managed to stay away from little old New York for fourteen years." T. Nelson Downs. 

It appears that the two men were very close friends and stayed in touch by corresponding. Houdini as you know died in 1926. Downs, who was older, lived till 1938. Both of them, in their own way, changed the face of magic, forever. Long Live the Kings!