Monday, July 1, 2019
A couple weeks ago John Michael Marty of WSMI Radio out of Illinois interviewed me for his radio show. John and I were introduced through our mutual friend Steve Baker, known professionally as Mr. Escape. John contacted me about doing an interview where we would talk about Steve, and magic history, Houdini and my own professional performing career. We were supposed to do a 20 minute spot, but I think we ran around 45 minutes (including commercials). It was a fun interview and I thought you might like to listen to it.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Back in May of 2018, I took part in a documentary segment about the time Houdini testified before Congress. This segment was for the French TV Channel ARTE. The segment finally aired TODAY, November 21st, 2018. It's all in French, so if you don't speak French, you won't understand a word, lol. But it's a pretty good segment and I hope you enjoy it. Below is the french version.
By the way, during the actual event in 1926, Houdini presented the Spirit Slates to the Congressman, and then exposed it to them. He said, "My oath prevents me from exposing magic secrets, but I have no problem exposing the secrets of mediums". I did a quick demonstration of the Spirit Slates during my segment, though unlike Houdini, I did not expose it!
Monday, April 30, 2018
We have a winner for the May 2018 Magic History Contest. The winner is Majik Mike from Point Pleasant NJ. The question was, "He did a great Bullet Catch for publicity, but then chose suicide in real life. Who was this person?" and the answer was
Ted Anneman. Below is a video of Ted doing the Bullet Catch.
Thank you to everyone who participated. I'll post the next Magic History Contest Question on June 1st.
He did a great Bullet Catch for publicity, but then chose suicide in real life. Who was this person?
- Only 1 entry per person
- To enter: Send me an email, with the subject heading 'May Magic History Contest' to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Please include your full name in the email.
- You must live in the continental United States
- I'm going to pick a random name from among all the correct entries to get the winner!
- No purchase necessary.
- Contest Ends Friday May 11th, 2018
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Well our ole friend Houdini turns 144 today. Strangely, he doesn't really look it. Another year older and another year for more revelations into a guy you'd think we would already know everything about. But through the tireless work of sites like: WildaboutHoudini, HoudiniFile, harryhoudinicircumstantialevidence, and of course my site, TheMagicDetective, we keep learning new facts about this iconic showman. I think the most astonishing thing is how new photos of Houdini keep showing up. Of course, they aren't truly new photos, just unseen or previously unknown photos. Then there are the countless books that come out about this great magician. I'm really looking forward to the new book by Joe Posnanski, once it's published. Despite my best efforts to reach Joe, I keep missing him or catching him at the wrong time, lol. I know he reads me blog though, so that's very cool.
Now, as an added bonus to help celebrate Houdini's birthday, I'm including a video clip of an escape I presented earlier this year. This was actually a demo-video shot for a project I'd been working on. I've re-edited it. Looking at it, I probably should have reshot it, because this was 30lbs ago, lol. I hope you enjoy it! Happy Birthday Houdini!!!
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Are you on Instagram.com? Well, you might want to sign up. David Copperfield announced this week he will be posting photos from his collection every Wednesday in a project he calls #WednesdayWonders. I love this. The screen shot above is from his first announcement of the project. But it wasn't the first photo. Later in the day a photo appeared that showed a cool glimpse of Robert Houdin's Pastry Chef Automaton.
Instagram is owned by Facebook, and it's easy to sign up. It's also easy to follow people on there. David's name on Instagram is d_copperfield. Mine by the way, is carnegiemagic. I would encourage you to follow David to keep up with his #WednesdayWonders project, and please while you're at it follow ME as well. AND ALWAYS be sure to press the 'heart' button on the page to show you LIKE the photo. :)
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
If you've never heard the term King Breakers, you're not alone. It's a term known by most escape artists, but not really a popular term outside of the genre. In the book, Houdini The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher, the term used is 'defeaters'. King Breakers/defeaters usually refers to a set of handcuffs that have been gimmicked, reworked, faked or mechanically altered in some way that prevents them from being opened by normal means. Some King Breakers are simply impossible to open once closed. Others have been reworked to open with a different key or with a different device other than the standard key. And still others, might not be faked in any way but for one reason or another are extremely difficult to get out of even with a key.
This phenomenon of having a cuff that could defeat an escape artist came about because of the numerous so-called Handcuff Kings of the early 20th Century. Competitors would use King Breakers to basically try and humiliate or destroy the reputation of fellow escape artists and magicians. Chief among them, HOUDINI. Quite possibly he was the originator of the King Breaker, I do not know for sure. But I do know he used them against fellow handcuff kings. And it's quite possible that their invention came about by sheer accident. Houdini was once caught in a pair of cuffs that had been tampered with, even with the key they would not open. This was early in Houdini's career, and he had to have the cuffs sawed off. He thought his career over, but he soon found there was little coverage of his failure and what there was came down on Houdini's side. After the humiliation of having to have the cuffs sawed off, Houdini vowed to never have cuffs put on that he didn't first examine and make sure were in working order. This is why he often refers to 'regulation cuffs.' If he felt for any reason a cuff wasn't legit, he could claim it was not regulation and could dismiss the challenge. Of course, he could also use this type of strategy of having king breakers against competitors.
What pair of cuffs were the first King Breakers? That's a tough question. As for regulation cuffs that have not been gimmicked, I would say the Bean Giants. Once these cuffs were put on, they were quite rigid, restricting hand movement. Even with a key, it was virtually impossible to open them. Houdini came up with his own method to escape from Bean Giants and I think it remained the go-to method from his time forward. In fact, he even produced a challenge flyer to anyone who get out of the Bean Giants with them placed on behind their backs. For this he offered a $50 reward.
It might be said that the Mirror Cuffs (photo top of page) were specifically designed to be King Breakers. Or at least that is what the publicity about them made you think. Over time, the theory behind the origin of the Mirror Cuffs is that perhaps the entire incident was concocted by Houdini. One clue is the fact that Houdini didn't have the cuffs tested beforehand. If you recall his embarrassment of being stuck in handcuffs. Well after this he always checked to make sure cuffs were in working order, but with the Mirror Cuffs he didn't. He surely did use the Mirror Cuffs later in his career, as his own personal set of King Breakers that he could challenge others with. In one instance, a young man took Houdini up on the offer to escape from the Mirror Cuffs. Houdini noticed the young man had thin wrists and would likely just slip the cuffs rather than open them. So Houdini locked the cuffs and handed them to the young man and told him to open them. After several frustrating minutes, the challenger gave up.
I recall a conversation I had with the late Norman Bigelow about a pair of King Breakers he made. They were basically ratchet cuffs that had a pop rivet through the keyhole that prevented a key from being used. I assume they could be double locked and then the only way off is to saw them off, or possibly drill out the rivet, which could not be done during a challenge. Clever guy ole Norm.
Potter&Potter Auction. It's a pair of Lily Irons that have been turned into King breakers. They use a different key from the regulation one. Any would-be escapist with a hidden Lily key would be completed stopped cold with this particular handcuff.
Another famous pair of king breaker handcuffs used by Houdini were the French Letter Cuffs. Now
in the collection of escapist Jon Oliver, these cuffs have a unique origin.
|French Letter Cuffs (Jon Oliver collection)|
The following day the circus manager visited Houdini with an offer of a challenge. In the process, the manager asked if Houdini would allow Kleppini to escape from an unusual set of French Letter Cuffs owned by Houdini. As he examined them, he asked Houdini the combination, which Houdini gave him. The word, 'clefs' which translated meant 'key' would unlock the cuffs. Houdini swore the manger to secrecy. The truth is, Houdini knew that the business manger would tell Kleppini the key-word and when faced with the French Letter Cuffs, Kleppini would be victorious. But, as fate would have it, that was not the case. On the night of the challenge, Kleppini was unable to remove the cuffs. Why? Houdini changed the key-word. Houdini later let the manager and Kleppini know what he had done and that the new key-word was 'fraud'. Ouch!
Pat Culliton in his fine book, Houdini: The Key, refers to the French Letter Cuffs and The Mirror Cuffs as SUPER CUFFS. I think it's a fitting description. He also adds that the Russian Manacles, Houdini Bell Lock Cuffs belong in this class and there is evidence some of them might have been made by handcuff manufacturer Thomas Froggatt. This means these special cuffs were made for Houdini and used both as a way to promote himself and as a way to defend himself.
My old friend, the late Steve Baker, shared a technique he used when confronted with what he knew were king-breakers. He had them placed on between a number of other cuffs. In other words, they joined two pair of other handcuffs, but never went on his wrists. This technique was also used by Houdini.
I can attest to being stuck in handcuffs and it's not a pleasant feeling. The night I was stuck, I did eventually open the cuffs, but not without some severe bruises to my wrists. A painful lesson, but fortunately something done privately for a friend and not publicly where it could have been embarrassing. Due to that one incident, I am very cautious about cuff escapes. I wouldn't have believed it, but Norman Bigelow assured me there are still folks out there, (mostly a-holes and angry escape artists) who might show up with a pair of king-breakers. The chances are slim, but like Houdini's early career embarrassment when he had to have handcuffs sawed off his wrists, the danger still lurks in the shadows.
PLEASE WATCH VIDEO FIRST!!!
What you saw above is my own original invention. No, it's not a video shot in reverse, it's actually an example of reverse escapology. Though I'm not the first to think of the effect. My inspiration was reading a story in Ricky Jay's book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. I don't have the book in front of me so I can't quote from it. However, I recall the chapter had to do with a performer who created a sort of reverse escape act. Rather than getting free from things, he would have the props locked up and he would end up inside, while they remained locked.
So my idea was to take a piece of rope, place it in a bag and reach into the bag with both hands. A moment later when the hands are removed, the performer (me) is found to be tightly bound by the rope. In fact, the routine I created has more to it than that, and for now I'd rather not give away anything else. But I would like to give a bit of history.
I developed this routine around 2001. The first person I showed was a buddy of mine and he was 100% fooled. This guy knew magic and I never expected him to be fooled, but he was floored. I began to discreetly show it around and it got the same reaction. I think the strength of it is in the fact that it's so unusual and so different from what you might expect. There are several ways to finish the effect: 1. You can be cut out of it. 2. You can have someone untie you out of it. or 3. You can use my ending, which I'm not revealing here.
Since the creation of this effect, I have found at least two instances in the Houdini literature regarding an effect like this. One is in Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter Gibson called The Self Tie. I'm not sure if Houdini ever did it, but it was in his notes and appears in the book. My method is different, but all methods have similarities and of course, the end result is the same, you end up instantly tied, a truly impossible predicament. So the reason I posted it is that it gives you yet another example of Houdini's magic. I somewhat jokingly say 'my original invention' as it's a play off of Houdini's line from the USD. It's highly likely I just reinvented a technique long forgotten, one used by spirit mediums in days of old. I hope you liked it!
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
UPDATE: We Have a WINNER!!!! #40 for this contest was Lisa Cousins of CA. And with that, Contest #2 comes to an end. As I mentioned below, there will be another contest next week and you are all welcome to participate!
I must admit, I just love this lapel pin! The moment I saw them, I ordered one, and then turned around and ordered more. This time the 40th entry wins. Here are the rules:
Only 1 entry per person To enter: Send me an email, with the subject heading 'Houdini Contest2' to email@example.com Please include your full name in the email. The 40th email I receive is the winner!
I will contact the winner via email to get your mailing address so I can send it to you. It costs nothing to enter, and I will even pay the shipping. The contest ends when I get to the 40th person, that simple. So it might take an hour. It might take a day or two, who knows. The last contest got over 200 views, but only 35 people ended up entering. Like before, there is nothing to purchase. It's just my way of giving back to my readers.
Next Week, I will Have Contest #3, so keep checking back. And don't forget to check out my other articles for Houdini Month 2017
Sunday, October 15, 2017
I love finding things totally by accident. And the photo above I found while researching Houdini Statues. This one is located in Ukraine. It is a mini-statue, and is one of the most popular destinations in Uzhgorod. It was created by sculptor Mikhail Kolodko in 2013.
The mini-statue is located on the Street B Khmelnitsky next to the Hotel Uzhgorod. According to the website: Houdini was born in Budapest (true), but also has Ukranian roots. His grandmother was from the village Yovrya which is currently Storozhnica Uzhgorod. Is that part true? Uzhgorod is located in Western Ukraine. But at one time it was called Ungvar and the land belonged to Hungary. The area is known to have a very large Jewish community. So it's very possible this is true.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
There is a good chance all my fellow Houdini fans will already have one of these. But then again, one of the purposes of a blog like this is to bring in NEW fans. So I'm having a very simple contest to win a Houdini Bobblehead, unopened in the original container. These retail for about $20 and most places are sold out. Here are the rules:
CONTEST IS NOW OVER!!!
Only 1 entry per person To enter: Send me an email, with the subject heading 'Houdini Contest' to firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your full name in the email. You must live in the continental United States The 25th email I receive is the winner!
I will contact the winner via email to get your mailing address so I can send it to you. It costs nothing to enter, and I will even pay the shipping. The contest ends when I get to the 25th person, that simple. So it might take an hour. It might take a day, who knows. Usually the blog articles get a couple hundred views, so if just a portion of the readers participate, then it should go pretty quickly.
UPDATE: We have a WINNER, Jack T. of NY, was the winner of the contest. Almost 200 people viewed, but not a lot of folks entered the contest. I may have another contest before the month is up, so keep watching! And thanks to everyone who participated!!!
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
I sure named this blog correctly when I called it, TheMagicDetective. I never know what rabbit hole I'm going to have to go down and how much searching and detective work I'll need to do. As my fellow Houdini bloggers know, the slightest thought can take you places you never expected. Today, we look at Queen Victoria, specifically, her dress.
Queen Victoria reigned over the British Empire for 64 years. She died, coincidentally enough on Bess Houdini's Birthday Jan 22, 1901. According to the Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, Houdini, who was in London at the time, saw a dress, designed for Queen Victoria, in a shop window. The Queen died before taking possession of the dress however. Houdini wanted the dress for his mother, who he thought was the same size as the Queen. (really? I don't think so, she had a size 43 waist!) He went into the shop and at first the shop keeper did not want to sell the dress. According to the Kellock biography, "one did not sell her Majesty's relics." But Houdini was persistent and explained the dress would be for his mother. The shop keeper eventually agreed to sell the dress on the condition that it would never be worn by anyone in Great Britain. Kellock says the dress sold for 50 pounds, though the Christopher book, Houdini-The Untold Story has it at 30 pounds, and the newest book by Derek Tait, The Great Houdini His British Tours, also has the dress listed at 30 pounds. Christopher adds this was approx. $150 (at least in 1969).
I believe Cecilia Weiss is wearing the dress in the photo to the left. This picture appeared on the
November 1902 issue of Mahatma Magazine on the cover. Within the text it reads "this photograph was taken in Essen Ruhr, Germany, in May 1901, during the visit of Houdini's mother, who came all the way from America to share the triumphs of her son." That makes this the precise time when Houdini would have given the dress to his mother.
|(Library of Congress photo)|
The only reason I don't think it's the dress is because it appears to be a little too stylish for the Queen. She was known to wear rather drab styles at this point in her life.
One of the curiosities I had about the dress was the color. I imagined a midnight blue or even deep purple perhaps. Then I found out this bit of information. When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria went into mourning and wore black clothing. She continued to wear only black until the day she died. There were dresses that contained accents of white, so again, it makes Pat's suggestion still plausible. The photo at the top of the page was a dress for her Diamond Jubilee and it contains a great deal of white, more than is usually seen in her dresses, but this was also for a special occasion.
|From the book, Houdini A Mind In Chains|
This now brings me to the whole reason I started this quest. I wanted to know, a. if the story was true, then b. where was the dress today. If it truly was Queen Victoria's dress then it must have survived. I wondered if Bess got it. In the movie, The Great Houdini's with Paul Michael Glaser and Sally Struthers, Harry asks Bess what she wants, and she replies quite emphatically, "Queen Victoria's Dress!" But I don't think this moment actually occurred in real life due to the next bit of information.
This information came from Harry Hardeen to Jon Oliver to John Hinson, then to me. So I'd say it's pretty accurate. The location of the dress today....Cecilia Weiss was buried in Queen Victoria's dress.
And to add just one more bit of trivia, Cecilia was also buried with a pair of slippers that Houdini purchased in Bremen. When Houdini was leaving on July 8th for Europe, his mother asked him 'to bring back a pair of the warm woolen house slippers'. This according to HOUDINI His Life Story by Harold Kellock. Houdini stopped on his return voyage to specifically pick up the slippers and be sure she was buried with them.
*Special thanks to John Cox for helping me find the final photo of the dress. Also, thanks to Joe Notoro who first posted this image on his blog, The caption, confirmed what I was thinking!!! Also thank you to John Hinson and Jon Oliver for getting me the info on the final destination of the dress!
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Today is October 1st, 2017 and this begins Houdini Month. During this month, I'll have quite a few new Houdini articles for the blog. I'll also be updating some older articles as well. AND, I'll be revealing some never before known information! The first big revelation will be later this week and it will concern Houdini's Jail Escapes. I'll also be doing some magic articles, and escape articles. I have an interview I did with Steve Baker, Mr. Escape, 15 years ago that I'm going to dig out and post. The entire interview has never appeared online or in print.
Later in the month, I'll be switching over to video, and doing some special editions of my old Magic Detective Youtube Show. And, well, there will likely be some surprises along the way as well. Keep watching, keep listening, it's going to be a lot of fun!!!
Article 1: An Escape Revelation
Article 2: Houdini and Queen Victoria's Dress
Article 3: Steve Baker Interview
Article 4: A Houdini Card Mystery
Article 5: Houdini's Detractors
Article 6: Houdini In Ice
Article 7: The First Statue of Houdini
Article 8: Houdini in Ukraine
Article 9: Houdini: The Latest Bust
Article 10: The Men Who Fooled Houdini
Article 11: Houdini & Dunninger Together, Again.
Article 12: Houdini in Baltimore 1916
Article 13: Houdini in Nashville 1899
Article 14: A Poem about Houdini from 1916
CONTEST 3: Third Houdini Month Contest
Article 15: Houdini's Official Protege
Article 16: 104 Years Ago Today In the Life of Houdini
Article 17: Houdini and His Ghost Houses
Saturday, August 26, 2017
My buddy Gary Brown over at The Propelled Pasteboards blog has featured a promotional piece I created earlier this year as both a handout, throw card, and pitch item. It was designed to look like a 19th Century Cabinet Card with a tin-type photo image. It came out wonderfully but then I realized the back of the card needed something. So I added contact information and an optical illusion magic piece. I was first given the optical illusion by my friend and fellow performer John Carlson. But the original image was too modern for my taste. So I recreated the optical illusion in more of a Victorian era style.
Coincidentally, the very day the article was posted, I was a theater autographing a ton of these cards for audience members! They've turned out to be a great promo item. The optical illusion trick on the back is one of the things that really makes it a keeper! Thanks again to John Carlson for that tip!
Please go over to the site and check it out for yourself, and while your there, please look at the enormous collection of throw cards that are featured on this site!
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
My fascination with handcuffs began with the scene depicted above from the 1953 movie HOUDINI with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. In the scene, Harry brings home a pair of cuffs, according to him "they're good ones". And Bess puts them on Harry. She covers his hands with a towel and bing-bang- boom, he is FREE!!!! It's actually a rather stunning performance, because he is out almost instantly, no struggle, no contorting, he is just out. The cuffs in question are called Hamburg 8s and they are an unusual make of cuff.
John let me examine them and even 'try' them on. I say 'try' them on, because he didn't bring the key and they were far too small to fit my wrists. I must admit, I had just the tiniest bit of temptation to force them shut on my wrists to see if I could get out. I think I could have gotten them closed, with a fair degree of pain in the process! Common sense quickly stepped in and kicked the temptation to the curb. For the record, I have gotten out of Hamburg 8s before. But I would never put a pair of Houdini cuffs on EVEN if they did fit. These mechanisms inside are 100 years old and the cuffs are worth a LOT of money. If something were to happen and the lock sudden failed or broke, well it would be a disaster for all parties. So I would never lock a pair of Houdini cuffs on me or anyone.
For a long time I was under the impression that Houdini never really encountered a pair of Hamburg 8s because they came out after he passed away. Though I don't have a definite date of manufacture (some say they were patented in the 1930s), I have seen photographic proof of that style cuff existing during Houdini's time, just not on Houdini. Plus some folks over at the Forum at Handcuffs.org have had a lengthy discussion over it and again, it does seem to point to the cuff existing in Houdini's time. I totally believe that the cuffs John Hinson had did belong to Houdini. Interestingly, there are several versions of the cuff, one with a side key hole, some with flat keys, curved keys, even circular keys. But all lock the same way. I've included a very short video below of John and I putting on the cuffs. (IF the video shows up, I've been having issues getting it loaded)
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
I had the great honor of being invited to speak at a TEDx event in Washington. It was such an enjoyable event. I was asked to speak about magic history and possibly present some magic as well. Not an easy task with a time limit of 8 minutes. All the speakers at the event had 8 minutes to talk. If I had talked ONLY magic history, my speech would have been a bit more in depth. But as it was, I only spoke for 5+ and used the rest of the time for my magic routine. So what they got was a brief overview of magic history.
A TED talk is very different than a lecture. It has to fit within a structure and really move quickly and get to the point fast. Thankfully, the team at TEDxFoggy Bottom were super helpful with guiding my speech in the right direction. As time went on and I rehearsed the speech, I sadly had to cut several whole paragraphs from the talk. The actual talk is more like 12 minutes, without the magic trick. But I still was able to present a wonderful talk on magic and then follow it up with an unusual piece of wonderment.
If you're wondering the effect I presented, I borrowed a bill and caused it to travel via a Victorian Teleportation Device into a Lightbulb. Actually, the same time the bill traveled to the bulb, the lighting element from the bulb traveled to my Teleportation Device, that's the effect I was going for. Kind of like a mini Metamorphosis trick done with different objects. (and Metamorphosis just so happened to be the theme of the day).
The event sold out so that means they sold 1500 tickets. And what a truly WONDERFUL audience they were! But as wonderful as the audience was, the backstage staff and crew were even more incredible. If only every theatre crew was as attentive and helpful as this bunch. Heck, I'd love to take them with me when we play theatres, they were simply beyond professional!
Eventually, my speech will be posted online, but it might be a couple weeks yet. So if you'd like to get a preview you can check out the incredible graphic that was done LIVE while I spoke by artist Trent Wakenight. Amazingly, he captured all the elements from my talk in the graphic below!
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
John Hinson was like Santa Claus at the Yankee Gathering this year. He brought a number of things that he wanted me to see. One item in particular was Houdini's pair of Hamburg 8 handcuffs. Not only did I get to see them, but I also got to try them on. When he made this suggestion, I knew that they were not likely to fit, as most Hamburg 8s don't fit me, I need the larger version which I'm not sure were available during Houdini's day. John did not bring the key, but even if he had, I don't think they would have shut. Still, it was pretty cool holding and experiencing a pair of Houdini's cuffs.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
In just a few hours I'll be leaving for Massachusetts to attend The 2016 Yankee Gathering. Not only am I attending this event, but I will also be speaking. I'll be repeating my lecture from last year on The Great Maro. I did have to tweak the presentation slightly for this group. Previously I presented the lecture for a group of lay people. This time it's a group of magicians. Due to the fact that Maro was one of the lesser known magicians of his time, I hope the audience enjoys what I have to share with them!
I will do my best to give you updates on the event as well as share photos along the way!