Showing posts with label Bess Houdini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bess Houdini. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Houdini and Bess Dolls


I just stumbled upon this site by accident. These are hand painted Harry and Bess dolls. I'd say it's a rather good likeness of the loving couple. They are bit pricey but hey, where else are you going to find dolls that look like Harry and Bess???

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast Ep 7-Houdini & Congress 1926

Seeing as we are on the eve of a big congressional election, I thought I'd share a podcast about the time Houdini testified before Congress on behalf of an Anti-Fortune Telling Bill. It was quite a wild affair, with Houdini bringing in some of his top notch investigators like Remegius Weiss and Rose Mackenburg. It's clear from the transcripts that some of the congressmen were not taking this seriously. Still others were dead serious about the testimony.

My guess is that Houdini must have had a hand in crafting the bill, which was another reason he was brought in. There are a number of surprises that come up over the several days of testimony. Much of this episode comes directly from the Congressional Record. And it also comes from several articles that appeared right here, in TheMagicDetective blog!

A side note, earlier this year (2018) I actually was involved in a video documentary about Houdini's time before Congress. The video was made for a French Language TV Show, so despite my excitement, it will all get dubbed over. I don't think it's aired yet, but when it does, I'll let you know. I'm curious how some of the magic turned out as the humidity that day was wreaking havoc on some of my sleights and flourishes, including a coin roll (the coin kept sticking to my fingers)

This episode runs almost 40 minutes and will be the last FULL Houdini Episode for a while. At least, that is the plan at the moment. Because it's my podcast, I could easily go back on that, lol. But I'm hoping to make the next podcast about Harry Kellar. For now, please enjoy Episode 7!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Houdini's Money Was Always Safe!!!!

One of Houdini's unique strategies to get people interested in his escapes was to offer a money challenge. He'd offer a certain dollar amount as a reward to someone who could find, discover, or uncover something related to his escapes. A perfect example is the poster above for the Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery. Look closely at the wording at the lower part of the poster (see below)
100 pounds Will Be Paid To Anyone Finding Traps, Panels, Or False Doors In the Cell. And I'm sure there were none, otherwise he would not have risked a financial loss.

The flyer to the left is interesting. It actually contains two monetary challenges. But it's also different from most of Houdini's offers of this kind. In this poster, his first offer is $100 to anyone who can release themselves from all the cuffs that he carries, and from which he releases himself. This is pretty bold and like many of his challenges covers himself fairly well. He points out that he allows the key holes to be stamped and sealed and will bring out all the cuffs interlocked, proving he does not slip the cuffs of his wrists without unlocking them.

He further ads, he carries a very rare curious and costly collection of torture, antique and modern handcuffs. This line is likely to deter any would be takers. Finally, at the end Houdini offers a second challenge of $50 to anyone who can escape from the Bean Giant cuff with those cuffs strapped behind the person's back. This challenge is not quite as safe as the previous, so the reward is less.

One of his most unique money offers was with the Water Torture Cell. The exact wording on the poster, "...Reward To Anyone Proving That It Is Possible To Obtain Air In The UP-SIDE-DOWN Position In Which Houdini Releases Himself From This Water-Filled Torture Cell"

In England the reward was 200 pounds. In Germany, the reward was 5000 marks, In the United States it was $1000.  And the truth was, he could have offered any amount of money as the money was never in any danger of being lost. The reward doesn't say to prove it's possible to obtain air while inside the cell, it says prove its possible to obtain air IN THE UPSIDE DOWN Position. That's the key phrase and it's the one that keeps his money safe!

The allure of winning money is a very power motivator for people. Look at all the people who buy lottery tickets. Well, Houdini wasn't gambling with his money. He clearly worded things very carefully to keep his money safe.

Houdini didn't restrict his Money Challenges to his act. Below is an ad for his movie, The Grim Game where he offers yet another reward. This time, it's a $1000 reward to anyone who can prove that the airplane accident in the movie didn't take place.

Later in life, he did step it up a bit. When he launched his campaign to fight fraudulent spirit mediums the offer became $10,000 to any Medium who could produce any Physical Phenomena that he cannot reproduce or explain by Natural means. Houdini's wife Bess kept this $10,000 challenge going after Houdini's death. According to Joseph Rinn, friend of Houdini's and fellow paranormal skeptic, Bess Houdini offered the reward to any medium able to prove, to her satisfaction, the survival of her husband in the spirit world. It looked like in 1928 Arthur Ford might have won the reward after revealing the Houdini code. Even Bess came out and said it was genuine. But days later, after the media fire storm, they began to debunk it, along with Dunninger and others, Bess finally recanted saying there were ways Ford could have discovered the code. She continued doing her Seances to reach Houdini until the Final Houdini Seance in 1936. After that, fans and friends of Houdini have picked up the ball, and though no reward is offered, Houdini has yet to show up.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Houdini: Cold As Ice

I'm going to explore Houdini's interest in ice. What, you might be thinking? Yes, Ice. It's not something I really thought of until recently. There are several instances in his career where ice was a factor.  For example, who can forget the scene from the Tony Curtis Houdini movie where he is in the bathtub filled with ice cubes. So iconic was this scene that a similar scene was added to the Houdini movie starring Adrian Brody. And this very activity confirmed to have actually happened by biographer, Kenneth Silverman.  Another ice scene comes from the Curtis movie as well, with Houdini trapped under the ice in Detroit. And again, a similar scene in the Brody movie version. These are based on stories that Houdini himself told about having to cut a hole in the ice for a particular escape. Historians are unclear as to whether this truly took place, though the consensus is they did not.

In the book, Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter Gibson, there is a a curious escape listed as "Escape From A Block of Ice" It reminds me of the Milk Can with a block of ice around it. It reads as a very interesting escape idea. But after reading the method, which is diabolical, I also think it wouldn't work. The weight of the ice is going to cause some issues that I'm not sure can be overcome with the method suggested. Still, if it were actually made, I'm sure they'd soon find this out and come up with an alternative method of escape, equally as diabolical.

Next we come to an interesting idea that Houdini had, being frozen in a block of ice, or having an assistant instantly frozen in a block of ice. It's something he was never able to accomplish during his lifetime. But only a year after his death, his wife Bess had the whole thing put together. It's actually Bess's presentation that I want to focus on.

I found a description of the effect as witnessed by Guy Jarrett, the brilliant illusion designer. Jarrett had a way of thinking about illusions that was really beyond what almost everyone else was doing. Just look at what Houdini created to make an elephant vanish vs. what Jarrett created. There is a lot of speculation about Houdini's exact routine, but it's a pretty universal opinion that it wasn't his strongest effect. But what about Jarrett's illusion? If only you could see Jarrett's Elephant Vanish? Well, his version was used by Siegfried and Roy and proved to be an amazing spectacle and you can.

But let's get back to Freezing a Man in Ice. This description comes directly from The Jarrett Book. The dimensions of the tank were 4ft square by 7ft tall. They sides of the tank were made of wood. A hose went into the tank to fill it with water. Then a man in a rubber suit was lowered into the tank. Finally a lid was put on the tank and it on top of the lid was mounted some sort of ice machine. This was supposed to cause all the water to freeze into ice in a short period of time. After a bit,  the lid and sides were removed leaving a person who could be seen frozen within the block of ice. According to Jarrett, at this point the illusion "was great, it was grand, it was damn good!"

Now, I'm stopping there to let this image sink in.  Guy Jarrett was the person who made fun of most other magicians and their illusions because in his opinion they didn't fool the audience. And here he really liked this first part of the Frozen In Ice Illusion. Unfortunately that was not the end of the trick. The conclusion of the illusion really ruined it for Jarrett and for the audience apparently too.  But reading the description above, it sounded like Bess Houdini, and if he had lived, Harry Houdini, would have had one truly mind boggling new illusion on his hands.

The illusion by the way was built by Rudy Schlosser, a NY magic dealer. According to The Complete Jarrett by Jim Steinmeyer, "he specialized in feather flower effects, and produced a number of pieces of apparatus for Houdini's Final Tour.  The Frozen In Ice Illusions appears to have been presented only a few times. First time for the United Booking Office, who declined to pick it up for Vaudeville. Second time was for Loew's theater in NYC, which is the location where Jarrett watched the mystery. Then after the first of the year, at the Longbranch Theatre in New Jersey.

Photo courtesy WildaboutHoudini

John Cox also covered this Frozen In Ice Illusion way back in 2011. For a more complete overview of the trick, please check out what he had written.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Houdini & Queen Victoria's Dress

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).

For a long time I thought this story was simply a fable. It sounds like something Houdini might make up. But the story is true.

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)
Pat Culliton, in his fine book, Houdini The Key, has a photo that he believes could be the dress. And it's similar to this one, at least in black and white it looks similar but it's not the same dress. The one similarity is that Cecilia is wearing the circular brooch around her neck with Houdini's picture in it, in both photos.

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
Queen Victoria was a big woman, Cecilia Weiss was not. There is another photo of the dress that I think is the one, and you'll notice the amount of extra fabric. Now, I did read that Bess helped to alter the dress to fit Houdini's mother. IF you look at the photo to the left, it's the same dress that is in the photo from the cover of Mahatma. You can tell the dress has lots of extra fabric, but also fits Cecilia around the waist. I think that is Queen Victoria's dress! (ed.note: This photo comes from Houdini: A Mind In Chains, and the caption reads "Queen Victoria's Dress, Essen, Germany 1901" so that confirms it!*)

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, January 22, 2017

Happy Birthday Bess Houdini!

Bess Houdini was born January 22, 1876, which makes her 141 years old today. She honestly doesn't look it! In November, I attended the Yankee Gathering in Massachusetts and in attendance was John Hinson, Great Nephew of Bess and Harry Houdini. John is just the coolest guy. He clearly has a passion of magic history and especially the Houdini family. He loves to share the stories of his family and share rare photos, many that have NEVER been seen in print before.

John graciously has allowed me to share some of these pictures with you in the coming months, and I am very excited to be doing so. I don't yet have those pictures from John, but I know he's been busy so you'll get to see them soon enough.

For now we wish Bessie a very Happy Birthday!!!

HOLD THE PRESSES!!!! Bessie can have some cake today if she likes, but ole John Cox pointed out to me that John Hinson (the very same I mentioned above) showed him proof that Bessie was born on Jan 23rd!!!!!!!! Honestly though, having gone through many census records and birth records from the 1800s and seeing how dates change and fluctuate, its a wonder we have an accuracy at all. But, then again, if it comes from John Hinson's collection, I'm going to believe it! So 23 it is!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bess Houdini's Costume

The Potter and Potter Auction that is coming up on August 23rd, features a costume apparently worn by Bess Houdini. It is Lot #77. The piece has a nice description of the costume and some information on who Bess gave the costume to and how it has survived. The estimated value is $7000 & $9000.

John Cox over at wrote about the costume. And he provided a photo of Bess wearing the costume from an old postcard. However, to my knowledge, no one has given much more information than that. Until now.

This is the costume Bess wore around 1900+ when she performed the Metamorphosis with Harry. I'm not sure if that adds more value to the costume or not. She probably wore the costume throughout the whole act, but for sure she wore the costume during the Metamorphosis. And how do I know this???

In the book, Metamorphosis by Bruce MacNab, on the Table of Contents page near the front of the book is a photograph, actually a series of photos (4) of Harry and Bess presenting their Metamorphosis routine. Bess can plainly be seen wearing this incredible costume. The photos are from the Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library. Try as I might, I couldn't dig them up online.

But if you turn to the Table of Contents in this book, assuming you have a copy, you can see Bess wearing this incredible costume in action, for yourself!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Happy 104th Birthday Vivian Vance

Vivian Vance, the well known side-kick to Lucille Ball, was born July 26th, 1909. Her connection to magic was via the movie The Great Houdini's with Paul Michael Glaser. Vance played the part of Minnie who was Bess Houdini's nurse. She was also known as a bouncer in the house of ill repute (in the movie).

The Great Houdinis was a made for TV movie that appeared on ABC on October 8th 1976. Vivian Vance also was the narrator for the movie. The Great Houdinis is probably the most historically accurate of all the Houdini bio-pics.

Vivian Vance died from cancer on August 17th, 1979.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Houdini and the Welsh Brothers Circus

(library of congress photo)
Today, May 1st, marks the 118th Anniversary of the first day of work for Bess and Harry Houdini with the Welsh Brothers Circus. According to the fine book, "Metamorphosis" by Bruce MacNAB, they signed for a 5 month tour with a weekly salary of $25.

The circus was run by John and Michael H. Welsh and based out of Lancaster Pennsylvania.  The Houdini's presented their Sub-trunk Routine along with a second sight demonstration. They also had other duties as well, among them A Punch & Judy Show, Bess as a singing clown and Harry's work as a Wild Man.

In the beginning of the movie "HOUDINI" starring Tony Curtis, we see Harry pretending to be the Wild Man of Borneo. Apparently, the real Houdini played 'Projea, The Wild Man of Mexico'.

The Houdini's presented their act 226 times in that five month period. And according to Harry the Welsh Brothers "fed their performers extra well."

Harry and Bess would return to the Welsh Brothers at a later date, but on far different terms.
A building that was 'papered' by the Welsh Brothers Circus Advertisements

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Challenge Houdini Refused

Houdini accepted many challenges throughout his life. In truth, he set up many of those very challenges. But in October of 1921 Houdini was hit with the most darling challenge of his life! I found this little story in the Oct 2, 1921 edition of the Saginaw News Courier. The headline of the article reads "HOUDINE Stopped, Wife is Reason He Can't Go Through". Yes, they spelled his name wrong in the headline.

Apparently, Houdini received a letter from a young lady in Auckland, New Zealand. In the letter she said she was 18 and alone and had an annuity of 2500 pounds per year and she was 'willing to accept a proposal of marriage from Houdini'. The letter went on to say "she knew by his motion pictures that he was an honorable man and therefore had implicit confidence in him. She suggests that if he will cable her she will come by the first convenient boat to become "personally acquainted" with him."

She goes on to say "They can keep company for three months and if after that time they find they are not mutually fit she can return home. She adds, she is not stage struck, but simply thinks that fate will be kind."

The article concludes that the only thing standing in the way from Houdini accepting the challenge is...Mrs. Houdini! (What a spoiled sport she was!)

I would like to add, for the sake of clarity, that any rich or fairly well off single ladies, with a modeling background, who are interested in testing out this theory in the 21st Century, I have no Mrs. Houdini, or Mrs. Carnegie as it were, to get in the way. And you need not come by boat! But you should send a photo first :)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rare Houdini Picture

I don't recall seeing these photos before. They are not super rare, as in unseen, but certainly not some of the more popular images. Above is Bess, Houdini and Kellar in California. Below is another image of Houdini outside of Kellar's house in California.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Less Famous Houdini Photos

I've been receiving some lesser seen photos of Houdini from various sources and also found a couple myself. I thought I'd post two of them. The first is one that I don't recall seeing before. It's an image of Harry Houdini and Samri Baldwin, The White Mahatma. Baldwin was instrumental in creating the Q&A mental routine that is used by mentalists even today. He died in 1924, so by the looks of it, this photo is probably 1923 or 1924.

The next image is of a young Harry and Bess. I've seen a similar photo, but I don't recall this particular one. At first, I thought this was from a photo session in which there is also an image of Houdini, Bess and Cecilia Weiss. However, though Bess seems to be dressed the same, Harry is wearing a different coat and collar, and his hair is slightly different.

Both images are from the archives of the State Library of Victoria.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Searching for Miss Daisy

Adrienne Barbeau as Daisy White
The first time I heard the name Daisy White was while watching the Houdini movie staring Paul Michael Glaser. Adrienne Barbaeu played the part of Daisy White and in the movie she worked for Hardeen in his show and then later shacked up with Houdini while he was struggling over the death of his mother. This of course is the fictionalized movie version of things. As easy as it is to become enamored with Adrienne Barbeau's portrayal of Daisy, I didn't give Daisy much thought beyond that.

Then I came across this statement "Houdini only ever loved two women, his mother and Daisy White." That's quite an eye opening statement especially given the way the legend of Houdini has been portrayed. By the way, that statement came from Maurice Zolotow, who was a show business biographer. His statement was from a review he wrote in the NY Times for the book HOUDINI: The Untold Story. By Milbourne Christopher.  Needless to say, that was all it took to cement my curiosity and send me on the search for the actual story.

Daisy White
Truth be told there was a real Daisy White. Her name was Gertrude Nickerson* and my research so far shows she was from Middlesex Massachusetts. She apparently got involved in musical theatre or musical comedy, probably in Vaudeville. How she got into magic initially is a bit of a mystery. She apparently worked for Servais LeRoy at some point, most likely in the 1920s. Whaley's Who's Who says that she learned magic as an assistant to Frank DuCrot and then later became a demonstrator at Martinka's Magic Shop (actually Hornmann's at the time). It's unclear though her actual path into magic as several sources give different accounts.

There are a couple interesting stories about her work at Hornmann's Magic Shop. At this time the shop was located over on West 34st St in NYC. One day Max Malini walked into the shop. There were a number of other magicians around and Daisy was working behind the counter. Max walked up to Daisy and grabbed some of her red hair and with a pair of scissors cut off the handful of her hair. The clump of hair was then vanished and her hair was found to be perfectly restored!

Another story involved a young John Scarne coming into to the shop to meet Frank DuCrot of magic lessons. Daisy was there and introduced herself and kept Scarne company until Frank arrived. No one know Scarne at the time. Frank Ducrot and John Scarne went in the back room to start their lesson and John was a little unimpressed with the technique that Frank was teaching with cards. He asked if he could learn something other than cards and Ducrot, somewhat puzzled asked if he didn't like card tricks? Scarne said he already learned a lot from professional card mechanics and proceeded to show Frank Ducrot a number of mind numbing effects. Frank was so blown away he called Daisy to the back room and they both sat there for hours watching John Scarne do effect after effect. Ducrot told Scarne that he needed to meet Houdini, and he set up a meeting for them to meet. The night of the meeting, which was also at the shop, a number of magicians were there and they all went to the back room. Frank wouldn't let Daisy come in the back though, he made her stay at the front in case any customers showed up. Typical boys club attitude.

By all accounts Daisy White exuded sex appeal, though I'm sure they didn't call it that back then. She had a habit of wearing low necked dresses and was known to lean over the counters at the magic shop while doing demonstrations revealing her ample cleavage to the customers and no doubt selling all the inventory they had! The latest book on Houdini, Masters of Mystery by Christopher Sandford, has this description of Daisy, "...Houdini's voluptuous former assistant Daisy White, whose duties had sometimes called for her to parade up and down the stage in an overfull dress while the illusionist prepared his next trick in the background." So she apparently worked for Houdini as well.

Beyond her sexy figure, Daisy was a talented individual. She was an accomplished pianist and often played piano for shows put on by the SAM Parent Assembly. She was quite active in the Parent Assembly having helped put together ladies nights and worked on decorating the banquets. In the 1930s, she was involved in a court case in which a member of the Parent Assembly acted as her lawyer.

Back in the 1920s, Guy Jarrett the eccentric illusion designer, hired Frank DuCrot to present a collection of Jarrett's illusions at the Idle Hour Playhouse in NY. Daisy White was the assistant. It appears the show played a single date. But the unique illusions of Jarrett's were photographed with Daisy White in them. These photos later appeared in the pages of his incredible and controversial book on illusion magic simply titled, JARRETT.  He referred to Daisy as '118 lbs but with quite some gazangas'.

Houdini died unexpectedly in 1926.  After his death, his ever faithful wife discovered a safe in the basement containing love letters from women who had fallen for her husband over the years. Among these were some rather hot and heavy letters that came from Daisy White. Bess had a clever way of confronting the women. She invited them over her house for lunch and as they were leaving, she handed each one of them their letters back tied up nicely with a ribbon. It's unclear if Daisy was one of the invited ones. The confrontation with Daisy however seems to have been more personal. Daisy convinced Bess that nothing happened between her and Harry. This must have been the case because Daisy and Mrs. Houdini remained friends.

I had read in a number of biographies that Bess opened a tea room called 'Mrs. Houdini's Rendevous' in NYC for a period of time. The location of which was where Rockefeller Center is today. The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush, mentions a 'speakeasy' which was run by both Bess and Daisy White. From 1920-1933 serving alcohol was illegal in the U.S.. A 'speakeasy' was an illegal barroom. The Secret Life of Houdini goes one step further referring to the speakeasy as a brothel. This information apparently from Arthur LeRoy, but Patrick Culliton thinks and I agree, that this was a 'mischaracterization' referring to the speakeasy as a brothel. I don't honestly know if the tea room and the speakeasy were one in the same. The tea room apparently made no money because Bess wouldn't allow down on their luck performers to pay. But a speakeasy, well I can't imagine that going out of business during prohibition unless they were shut down by the authorities. No record exists of Bess or Daisy going to jail, as far as i could find, so that's not likely. It will remain an open question until I can dig further.

Next, Arthur Ford enters the picture. He was the Reverend of the First Spiritualist Church in NY. He befriended Daisy White. His charismatic charm won over Daisy and she became a spiritualist and even joined his church. On page 149 of The Houdini Code Mystery by William Rauscher there is a photo of an invitation card for a lecture being presented at Carnegie Hall by Daisy White which reads "You are cordially invited to attend a private demonstration given by courtesy of Miss Daisy White to expose the comparative virtues of Modern Magic, Mind Reading and Spiritualism". The date on the card was April 1929.

Arthur Ford apparently also won over Bess Houdini. Both The Secret Life of Houdini and The Houdini Code Mystery say that Bess & Ford were dating, though very discretely. They met after a lecture/debate on Spiritualism between Howard Thurston and Arthur Ford in which Ford easily won the debate. On February 8th of 1928, Ford gives Bess a message from Houdini's mother. Eleven months later, Ford, through his spirit contact Fletcher, produces a message from Houdini himself. Bess announced to the media it was the authentic and genuine message that she and her late husband had agreed upon.

Then all hell broke loose. The media began debunking the whole affair. Dunninger, the mentalist, got involved and pointed a finger at Daisy White saying she gave the information to Ford. One source said Daisy claimed she knew the code, as did a lot of magicians, but she did not know what the 'message was'. The United Press story that appeared in newspapers of the time said that Daisy knew Arthur Ford but "never discussed Houdini 'in that quarter or never had said she had got Houdini's code before his death." Ford also denied that Daisy had anything to do with it. However, The Secret Life of Houdini says "when some of Houdini's friends threatened to expose Daisy White's involvement, she threatened to go public with her sexual relationship with Houdini and she had 'one or more witnesses' ready to vouch for her story." Which was it really? Did she know the code? Did she give it to Ford? Did she have the affair with Houdini after-all?

To those questions, I don't have concrete answers. It's clear that history has revealed Houdini to be NOT the ultra-conservative straight laced individual that his biographers had painted him to be. Did he actually cheat on Bess or did he just have close relationships with other women? Hard to say. It's so easy to want to paint him into a modern day box and apply the loose standards of today to Houdini. Then again, there is the old saying 'boys will be boys'. We know he had some sort of relationship with other women, and pretty good chance with Daisy White as well. But beyond that we can only speculate.

Sometime in 1933 she was getting work as a numerologist. She had a business card that read 'Science of Sex and Numbers'. As I mentioned above, she gets involved in a court case over her mother's estate in Massachusetts. She eventually was awarded one half of the estate. Then after that Daisy vanishes from the magic literature.

I've been trying to track Daisy through and if I have the correct person, I think she died on August 6, 1993 in Athens TN, but I'm not 100% on that**. There are a number of Gertrude Nickersons and this one is the one who matches Daisy the closest, but I need further confirmation. (see note below)

That my friends is all I could find on the infamous Daisy White, so far at least. I'm going to ask a special request to my fellow magic historians. If anyone knows anything about Daisy White that I didn't cover, OR if you have photographs you'd be willing to share, please contact me at
I'm going to continue the research on Ms. White and eventually hope to be able to write a much longer piece on Daisy.

*This blog has been an exciting one and new information just came in regarding Daisy White's actual name. It's from a newspaper, so I still need to verify it, but you can read it in the comments below by Bill Mullins. Very thankful for the input by others!

** As I feared the information on Daisy's death is incorrect. Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls by William Gresham, published in 1959 says that Daisy had already passed on though they do not give a date. So she died prior to 1959. The hunt continues.

Special Thanks to Joseph Pecore, The Conjuring Arts Research Library, Ask Alexander, Patrick Culliton, John Cox and others who shared their knowledge of Daisy White. Also extra special Thank You to Patrick Culliton for allowing me to use his photo of the real Daisy standing (upper left).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tracking the Body of Houdini

Grace Hospital Detroit (Library of Congress photo)
With the recent controversy and chatter over the History Channels DECODED Episode regarding HOW Houdini Died, I thought I'd go in a slightly different direction and follow his body after his passing. We know Houdini died on October 31, 1926 in Detroit Michigan. What follows is a description of the events following his death right up until his burial. There are photos of the various places his body stopped along the way and the article concludes with the short 20 second recording of the Houdini Funeral.

DETROIT Oct 31, 1926
Wm. R. Hamilton Funeral Home
He died at 1:26 p.m. in Room 401 at Grace Hospital in Detroit. From there his body would have gone to the hospital morgue and then to Wm. R. Hamilton's Funeral Home on 3957 Cass St. The photo here shows the white house which was the original building for the funeral home and is where Houdini's body would have been. There is a larger brick building connected to it on the left but this was not completed until the 1930s. This is where Houdini was embalmed by John Fraser, one of the employees at the funeral home.

While this was happening the Houdini Show and all it's props and equipment were being crated and shipped back to NY. However, oddly, one piece did not make the trip. It was a bronze coffin with a glass lid which Houdini had intended to use for a buried alive stunt during the 1926-27 Tour. After the embalming at Wm.R. Hamilton's Funeral Home his body was put into this coffin and then into the crate for the coffin. Houdini's body now fully crated was taken by truck to the Michigan Central Station. An extra Pullman Car had to be added to the train for Houdini's casket and for his family to travel back home.

Newspaper accounts of the time report the body leaving Detroit on the 1st to arrive on the 2nd in the morning at Grand Central Station in NYC. In the photo (left), you can see the crate containing the casket with Houdini's body. One thing I never noticed before was the fellow standing on the far left hand side with his hat in his hand. That is Servais LeRoy, the illusionist and friend of Houdini. In fact, hundreds of people were at the station to see the casket arrive. Houdini had been the President of the Society of American Magicians as well as one of the most famous and beloved entertainers in the world, his death came as a shock to everyone.

Location of West End Funeral Home W 91st
Upon arrival at Grand Central Station, the casket was taken by Samuel Rothschild to his West End Funeral Chapel, 200 West 91st Street. The casket was to remain in state at the funeral parlor until November 4th. There had been talk of having the casket lie in state at the Hippodrome Theatre but this did not happen.
A letter Houdini had written several years before was discovered outlining the details of his funeral and they followed his instructions. Per Houdini's wishes the funeral would take place at the Elks Clubhouse Lodge No.1 in NYC. According to news reports, thousands of people came by to pay their respects at the funeral parlor.  By the way, the photo to the above/right shows the location of the West End Funeral Chapel, but today it is the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel.

On the morning of November 4th, 1926, the casket made it's second to last stop, this time the Elks Clubhouse on West 43rd near Broadway. It took three cars to move all the flowers from the funeral parlor to the Elks Clubhouse. Houdini would have been proud as the room was packed  for  his funeral. Close to two thousand people showed up for the service.

The service began at 10:30 a.m. and was officiated by Rabbi Bernard Drachman and Rabbi B.A. Tintner. Eulogies and remembrances were given by numerous fraternal groups, magicians and others in the theatrical community. The very first Broken Wand Ceremony was conducted by a member of the Society of American Magicians. This is where a magician breaks a wand to signify that the magic of the deceased individual has ended. It's a great ceremony, but I'm actually not sure how fitting it was for Houdini as his magic kinda continued on, even till today.

Kenneth Silverman's book HOUDINI!!! says that Bess held up well until the casket was sealed at which point she broke down in tears. Incidentally, the casket that Houdini's body traveled in from Detroit to NYC was actually a bronze casket liner. It was placed inside a larger casket and the entire thing hermetically sealed before it was carried out to the hearse. Houdini's male assistants acted as the pallbearers, with some very notable individuals being listed as honorary pallbearers; Martin Beck, his former manager and theatrical impresario, Bernard Gimbel, one of the originators of the Gimbels Dept. Store, William Morris, of the famed entertainment agency,  and Adolph Zucker, a film mogul who started Famous Players Film Company which eventually became Paramount Pictures. These were just a few of the high profile names listed as honorary pallbearers.

As the casket was carried to the hearse, the mourners could see for the first time that the streets were jammed with 2,000 spectators who had all come out to say their last goodbye to the master of mystery.

Houdini Funeral Procession
According to The Secret Life of Houdini, the funeral procession to Macapelah Cemetery contained twenty five vehicles.  How long it took to travel from the Elks Clubhouse to the cemetery, I do not know. Silverman's book HOUDINI!!! says that the funeral procession was scheduled to drive through the theatrical district before heading to the cemetery.

Finally at the cemetery, the two rabbis were present at the grave site as well as Houdini's family and widow Bess and one hundred+ mourners. Houdini made it clear in his final burial instructions that he was to be placed next to his mother. After the final words and prayers were given by the rabbis, the casket was lowered into the ground. According to the Silverman biography, Theo Weiss, Harry's brother tossed a flower onto the lowering casket and as if my magic a shower of flowers were tossed by the grieving graveside friends. This can be seen on the longer 1 minute plus footage of the Houdini Funeral, but I've only seen the shorter video (below).

Below is a short 20 second video of footage from the Houdini Funeral. It's obviously second or third generation because of the poor quality.
RIP Houdini

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Animated Romance of Harry and Bess

This is a very short animated movie (below) about Houdini and Bess that I found on Youtube. I think it's rather cool. Though in all honesty, I WANT MORE!!!! By the way I first saw this fellows animation in the Lemony Snicket's movie. The website for the animator is

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bessie The Time Traveler

Bess Houdini Was a Time Traveler and now there is proof!                       

It’s clear from historical records that Bess Houdini had the ability to travel through time. This is the only obvious solution to her documented birthdates changing.

For example, the 1910 US Census shows Bess as 31 years old. That makes the year of her birth 1879. Then fast forward to ten years in the future. The 1920 Census has Bess as 42 years old. So now Bess is born in 1878.

But wait! Her death certificate shows Bess was born Jan 23, 1876. She’s lost three years since we began, clearly a sign of time travel. OH NO, then I find another ship passenger list and her birth year is listed as 1874 (see picture). But after examining the document I see a mistake was made and it should be 1876.

Just when I think it’s over up comes another ship passenger list, this time from 1913 and Harry is listed as 39, which is correct, and Bess as 32 which makes the year of her birth now 1881.
1913 Passenger List-Harry 39 Bess 32

Ok, that’s all…..oh crap, theres more. The 1930 Census shows Bess as 53 years old, which now has her birth year as 1877.

Perhaps these were clerical mistakes. But what about the photographic proof!? Yes, Bess Houdini at the Inauguration of President Reagan in the 1980s!
Unbelievably Bess is even looking AT the CAMERA!
 I think the most damning piece of evidence of all though was from 1969. Not only showing proof that Bess Houdini was still alive (Time Traveler) BUT that we never went to the Moon, it was FAKE! 
See Bess standing near the spacecraft to the left of the Astronaut.

So we have tracked documents of her being born in 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1881. Ok, ok, maybe we pulled a little 'spirit photograph' trickery with the two photos of Bess. But one thing is for sure...
It's Bess Houdini's Birthday whatever the year!

pardon the silliness :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Houdini Speaks from the Dead!?

January 8th, 1929, eighty two years ago today, Houdini speaks to Bess for the first time since his death in 1926. He speaks, or apparently speaks through medium Arthur Ford of the First Spiritualist Church of New York at Bess's home on Payson Avenue with several witnesses present. Eleven months before on February 8th, 1928, Ford provided the first word from Houdini to Bess, 'Forgive'.

Bess Houdini's NY home on Payson Avenue
Now at just after noon on January 8th,  the curtains were drawn in Bess's living room and Arthur Ford went into a trance. His spirit guide Fletcher begins to speak and says that 'Houdini is here'. Using the code that Bess and Harry used in their mind reading act, a series of words are given which spelled out "Rosabelle, Believe". This is the agreed upon message! Houdini has spoken from the dead and finished with "Tell the world Sweetheart that Harry Houdini Lives and will prove it a thousand times!" and that ended the seance.

The only problem was between Bess being ill and doped up on medications and Ford having learned the code and the words previously, it was all a big fraud. Bess believed it though but later with help from friends, learned that she had been deceived.

She did say something interesting just two days after the seance. She issued a challenge of her own to her detractors. She claimed that there were two more messages in the same code that were stored in a bank vault. One of those messages is for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the other for Remegius Weiss of Philadelphia. "I consider it a fit challenge to ask the magicians and psychics who doubt the genuineness of my message to bring either or both of these through!". Suffice to say, those didn't come through, nor did Houdini speak from the dead a thousand times, like he said he would at the seance.

This bank was the Manufacturers Bank on Fifth Avenue and in the safety deposit box that Bess had there, it contained the envelope with her agreed upon message with Harry, plus two other envelopes as mentioned above.  The envelopes were never taken from the bank and shown to reporters. Bess's attorney claimed these never existed. Did they?

Many people have come out to denounce Arthur Ford and the seance. Early on it was Joseph Dunninger who showed Bess just how Ford could have learned the code. Dash Hardeen, Houdini's brother, said it was all nonsense from the start. The last person to really get involved in the 'Code Debate' was William Rauscher, minister, magician and literary executor to Arthur Ford. He put out a book called "The Houdini Code" which pretty much shows that it was all faked. 

Now here are a couple interesting things to add to the January 8th history lesson. January 8, 1898 was the day that Houdini made his debut as a Spiritualist Performer in Galena Kansas. He began by presenting his version of the Spirit Cabinet. He followed this with relaying messages from the dead to the theatre audience. And to add another dimension of strangeness of the 8th, the Reverend Arthur Ford was born on January 8th, 1896. It's also Elvis's birthday, but I'm not sure that has anything to do with it, lol.

Pretty weird though.. If that isn't strange enough, why not listen to the OTHER SIDE of the debate. This is the side that says, 'the detractors and the debunkers were lying'.  I'm not saying believe it, but it makes for interesting reading.

Do Spirits Return? IF they could, would they really want to? As for Houdini, if he did come back, he only did once and forgot the 1000 other times he mentioned! (hmmm, not like Houdini to do that)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hardeen Presents Houdini's Temple of Mystery

In 1918 Houdini was a busy man. Among his many projects was the creation of a Temple of Mystery. This was going to be a theatre in NY devoted to magic. Part theatre and part museum, the Houdini Temple of Mystery would employ all the latest gadgetry and gizmos to make the experience fun and educational for all who attended. However, it was not to be. Friends cautioned Houdini not to get involved in such an expensive project during war times.

The idea apparently was not completely dead. Jump ahead fifteen years and Houdini has long passed on. Hardeen however is now the busy performer. During a 1933 summer run in Atlantic City Hardeen opens The Houdini Temple of Mystery on the Steel Pier.  From reports of the time, the hall was very large and his run was quite successful. Jim Collins was his chief assistant and Mrs. Collins acted as stage manager.

The entrance to the Temple is on the far left of the photo
Hardeen presented a full show of escapes, magic and illusions. Much of the material was Houdini stuff but there was a lot of Hardeen magic there too. Bess Houdini visited the show once and was acknowledged by the crowd. There was more than one theatre on the Steel Pier and at one point Hardeen was competing with the comedy duo of Amos & Andy for tickets. One Sunday afternoon, Hardeen had 67,000 people show up during his shows that day. I don't know how many shows he did but that's a crazy amount of people. It was a record setting day for the Steel Pier and he beat out the crowds that attended Amos & Andy's show.

Hardeen, who was in his late 50's at this point, was doing the Underwater Packing Crate Escape, TWICE DAILY from the Steel Pier, this according to a blurb in the July 1935 Issue of The Sphinx.

The Temple of Mystery ran from , at least from 1933-1935, I can't find any record past that.
The Steel Pier originally opened in 1898. It was an important Atlantic City landmark and a popular place for entertainers to play. Some who worked the Steel Pier besides Hardeen include: W.C. Fields, Benny Goodman, The Three Stooges, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Glen Cambell and many more. The Pier was destroyed by a fire in 1982 and was rebuilt by the Trump Organization in the 1990's and is still there today.

*One note. I understand the Nov. Genii has an article on Hardeen appearing on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. I haven't read it or seen it and I HOPE I have not duplicated anything that was in the article, though I have a feeling the article just dealt with having Hardeen's character in this TV show.