Showing posts with label Dean Carnegie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dean Carnegie. Show all posts

Monday, April 29, 2024

The Baker Challenge Belt


The picture above was hand made by escape artist Steve Baker. It was part of a run of 25 belts, but mine was unique in that it was the only black belt, the only one with gold cuffs and gold trim. Kind of the Rolls Royce of Challenge Belts.

The original belts were called Tom Horn Belts and also known as Australian Torture Belts. The originals did not have handcuffs, but rather chains with padlocks. From what I can find, there were ads in The Linking Ring for the Tom Horn Belts back in the 1950s. Later, Prince E. Wheeler had a few for sale. John Novak wrote about the Australian Torture Belts in his book on the Art of Escape Volume 5.  Steve Baker was using a Tom Horn Belt back in the late 1960s and decided to create his own version which he called The Escape Proof Challenge Belt. Below is a photo of Steve's belt.

I never liked the name because the whole idea behind the belt was to escape from it. But Steve created it so he could challenge other performers who would then not be able to escape, thus the name. It should have just been called The Steve Baker Challenge Belt. It's one of the few items that Steve never presented on Television.  But he did perform it live, many times. As you can see it combines the aspects of a handcuff escape with a straight jacket where the arms are held in place, this time with with leather straps instead of the sleeves with straps. 

When Steve built mine, I had no idea it was going to turn out the way it did. And I am especially lucky because Steve's health started to deteriorate as he was making these belts. If memory serves, there were several belts he never finished. I know most people got their belts, but I do believe there were 2 or 3 who may have never gotten a belt because Steve's health went down hill fast. One of his issues was memory. He had a good long term memory, but his short term memory was failing. I can recall being on the phone with him and about every 5 minutes he acted as if I just called, and we'd repeat the same conversation again and again. The other issue were his hands. Years of abuse via escapes had taken their toll on him and doing any sort of work with his hands became more and more difficult.

Let me get back to the belt. So my belt has the distinguished honor of not only being made by Steve Baker, but another famous escape artist from the 20th Century actually wore it during a challenge, and that was Norman Bigelow. I loaned my belt to Norm to use in a Challenge between him and Steve Baker. I spoke about this on Episode 37 of my podcast. Norm went all out and even used the neck restraint that came with the belt. This was an optional piece and I don't think it was offered on the standard belts. Below is Norm Bigelow in my belt. 

Finally, here is the one time I wore the belt. Yes, I said one time. The belt is so nice I feel bad even using it. It's more a work of art in my opinion. I may use it again, at some point, but the next time, will be the last time....maybe.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

I Survived Book w Magic References


There are a series of books called The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis. They are published by Scholastic and the books have been a New York Times Bestselling Series. Her latest book covers the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. That is where I come in. Mrs. Tarshis contacted me a few months ago because she wanted to include Harry Kellar in her story. I was more than happy to provide her with information regarding the famous illusionist. Originally, he was going to play a key part in the story. 

Fast forward several months, and now the book is out. I quickly purchased a copy to see who she included Kellar in her story...except he wasn't there. Mrs. Tarshis has decided to not include Kellar but instead use her own fictional character, Antonio Meraki, instead. But to my delight, she still included several pages in the back about Kellar and mentions yours truly!

To explain a bit more, the author takes real life tragic events and creates a fictional story around them. In this case, the characters are fictional, the story is fictional, but the overall event, The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 really did happen. She also includes additional historical facts about the Hurricane in the back of the book. And she includes a short piece on how to survive a hurricane. 

Other nods to magic include, the main characters name is Charlie Miller, whether that was accidental or on purpose, I don't know. But it's fun to think of our own Charlie Miller as being the 11 year old main character in this book. Also, Houdini is mentioned a couple times in the story. And the name of a popular method to make a coin vanish, The French Drop. There's also an interesting twist of Kellar's Floating Lady, but'll have to read the book to find out. 

I totally enjoyed the book! It was a gripping story, with moments of fun, drama, tragedy, and bravery. I can understand how the books are so popular. After you read one book, you want to find out what the next one is about. And there are 20 books in this series!

The I Survived books are for young readers 3rd-5th graders and they are at a 4th grade reading level. The books are available at your favorite bookstore or on and other online book retailers.

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!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Carnegie The Magic Detective On The Radio

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

Carnegie On French Houdini Documentary

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!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Wednesday Wonders by David Copperfield

Are you on 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

Houdini Month Bonus: The King Breakers

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.

The photo above is from the recent 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)
In June 1902, Houdini was in Holland. While there he received word there was an escape artist in Germany basically trashing Houdini's name. The man's name was Kleppini, and he boasted that he beat Houdini in a contest. Houdini was livid and took a leave from his contract in Holland to confront Kleppini. Houdini even wore a disguise! Houdini sat in the audience as Kleppini badmouth him. Then at some point, Houdini, disguised as a mere spectator, spoke up to contradict what Kleppini was stating. At the requisite dramatic moment, Houdini whipped off his disguise to prove HE was Houdini! He then challenged Kleppini to escape from his cuffs. He even offered to escape from Kleppini's for the sum of 5000marks. But Kleppini nor the circus manager would put up the money. After this the crowd began to disperse.

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.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Houdini Card Mystery

Earlier in the year, I participated in a project called Houdini in DC for It was my second year in a row working with these folks. In fact, both Ken Trombly and I returned for a second year to give presentations. Ken has a wonderful collection of Houdini posters, photos, and more. Ken spoke for about 40 minutes and then I followed.

My presentation was part talk, part show & tell, and part escape demonstration. One of the things I really enjoy doing when I give a magic history presentation is sharing the real magic of the person. When I say the 'real magic' I mean, effects they did. I had been working on an article about Houdini's Card Act for this blog, and I also wanted to learn the act for my presentation, but I didn't think I could have the act ready in time. So instead, I defaulted to other possible card tricks that Houdini might have done. And lo and behold I found a wonderful little gem packed away in a book called, Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter Gibson. According to the text, the trick is a variation of an older effect in which a chosen card appears in the magician's pocket. I'm not here to give away the secret, though if you have the book, you're certainly welcome to look it up yourself. I presented Half and Half for the AtlasObscura event and it went over extremely well. In fact, it was stronger than I expected, though not anything revolutionary compared to some of today's card mysteries. Still, the fact that it came from Houdini's notes was good enough for me. And so, for your entertainment pleasure, I've shot a video of my rendition of Houdini's Half and Half. Enjoy!!!

 Later this month, I'll share the trick that became known as The Trick That Fooled Houdini.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Houdini Bobblehead CONTEST

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:

  • Only 1 entry per person
  • To enter: Send me an email, with the subject heading 'Houdini Contest' to    
  • 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!!!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Houdini Month : The Steve Baker Interview

Mr.Escape & the Magic Detective Interview

 At the time of this interview, The Magic Detective Blog did not yet exist. I did have my own magic history blog that I put a lot of content on however, but this interview never appeared on there or anywhere. Steve Baker wanted me to write his life story, and I told him I didn't think I was quite qualified, as I had never done that, and didn't know near enough. So just to test the waters a bit, I began to do interviews and take notes, tons of notes. 

I had seen Steve Baker on TV when I was a kid doing his escapes. I did see him do the Water Torture Cell and hanging strait jacket escapes on TV. He was the only working escape artist I ever saw on TV for a long time and he was on TV a lot! 

Carnegie: Steve, I'd like to ask you a few questions about your career. First off, how did you get your name?

Steve: My parents gave it to me. Oh, you mean Mr. Escape. That was not my original stage name. At the time when I made my National debut, it was Feb 22, 1967 and I was going to recreate Houdini's Upside Down Strait Jacket Escape from the Tribune Tower building on Oakland CA. This was to promote a show I was doing in town, a fund raiser for a church.  I don't think anyone anticipated the event would turn out so great. The initial estimates were 10,000 people attended my escape. But later I heard it was as many as 20,000.  Houdini, had done the escape many years before and I was hoping to beat his time. Oh, you want to know the name I went by. I was using the stage name 'The Great Gerhardt'. It was a family name that I had used for a while but most of the newspapers referred to me as Steve Baker, so after this Tribune Tower Escape I went with just Steve Baker until...

Carnegie: Until you switched to all escapes?

Steve: No. It was a few years before I went all escapes. The show I had in February had comedy magic and illusions. Yes, I did illusions too. I loved the comedy magic, and I began to do Mentalism, so those became my bread and butter. I also did close-up magic. But right after Tribune Tower, I went with Steve Baker, 'The World's Most Neurotic Magician'.  In May 1967, I had a big show at the Oakland Auditorium Theatre.  I was doing a show of Mirth, Magic & Mayhem with the Master of Magic and Escape. Add to that the Most Neurotic Magician title and you can see I had not yet figured out my direction. I wanted to do everything. But then one day, I was reading the Steranko issue of Genii Magazine, the one on escapes, and he mentions the name 'Mr.Escape'. I asked if I could use it. After that it became my moniker for my Escape work. I also had another name, or maybe more of what you might call a tag-line, The Man Who Outdid Houdini.

Carnegie: WHAT???? I did not know about this. How did that come about?

Steve: After the Tribune Tower, it sort of just happened. The newspapers wrote articles about how I was going to try and beat Houdini's time with my straitjacket escape. One of the journalists even called his friends in Vegas to get their take. Folks like comedian Buddy Hackett and Shecky Greene threw in their two cents. No one thought I'd be able to do it. But after it was over, and I successfully beat Houdini's time, they all wanted to know what I was going to do next to beat Houdini. So I became The Man Who Outdid Houdini. I really was both, 'The World's Most Neurotic Magician' when I did comedy and 'The Man Who Outdid Houdini' when I was doing escapes and escape promotions.

Carnegie: Obviously, the Tribune Tower was a promotion, can you give me an idea of another escape promotion you did?

Steve: Many. A great deal of my shows, certainly bigger venue shows, I tried to tie in an escape. The May 1967 show for the Oakland Auditorium Theatre had a publicity escape. That was when I did the Cannon Escape. Houdini had done a cannon escape in England and I wanted to outdo all of his escapes, or as many as I could, so I thought the Cannon escape would work. The cannon we used weighed 3000 lbs and was loaded with 2.5 pounds of black powder. No cannon ball though. The black powder alone could blow the door off a bank safe. Wait till you hear what I did at the show!

Carnegie: Did you do the Cannon Escape again at the show?

Steve: The same man who donated the use of the Cannon, donated the use of a Howitzer, so I was strapped to that. By the way, I did the Cannon Escape numerous times in my career. After my 1967 performance, I gave it the name 'The Human Target', and tried not to mention Houdini, but his name always came up.

Carnegie: Why am I just hearing about this now? This isn't anywhere in the magic literature.

Steve: I was working for the public, not magicians. I have all of my press clippings with articles on all the escapes I did. I think the magic world would be surprised by the amount of things I've done.

Carnegie: Can you give me some examples of your Houdini Escapes? I know of The Water Torture Cell, I saw that a couple times on TV.  What other escapes did you do that were trying to beat Houdini?

Steve: The early escapes included: safes, cement chambers, handcuffs, jail cells, even an early
version of the water torture. Not every early escape tied to Houdini, but whenever I could tie it in, I did. For my first Water Torture, I actually had my legs weighted down in the tank of water so that it would be impossible to lift myself up. A few years later, when the Dick Clark people came to me about doing the Water Torture Cell, I had Johnny Gaughan build it and I changed it, so that I would be chained to the bottom of the tank hanging by my ankles. It looked more like Houdini's tank to start with, but Houdini was never chained to the bottom. That was my twist. You might not know this, but I never did the Water Torture the same way twice.

Carnegie: I don't understand. You either get out or you don't get out. What other ways are there?

Steve: I meant, on TV I never did the escape the same way twice on TV. Yes, I always freed myself, but on Dick Clark, I pulled my feet out but was still stuck underwater. On another show, I had my hands free but couldn't get my feet out. Then there was the HBO Special, where Tony Curtis was M.C. and nearly panicked while I did the Water Torture Cell.

Carnegie: Tony Curtis, wow. The first motion picture Houdini as MC of your show, that's wild.  I remember that special. It opened with the Water Torture Cell! And the ads for the show featured your Death Race Escape. I guess by the time of the HBO Special you were done outdoing Houdini?

Steve: Yes, I was well established by the HBO Special. But prior to that I was going through all the Houdini books of the time, trying to determine the best escapes he did in order to duplicate them and hopefully beat his time. I had conquered straitjackets, cannons, the Water Torture Cell, packing boxes, underwater escapes, and I even had a Milk Can made. But in 1969, I almost stumbled when I met Milbourne Christopher. He had recently published the book,
Houdini: The Untold Story and was sort of fanatical when it came to Houdini. He even presented shows where he recreated Houdini's act. He had made a pretty good name for himself on TV back in the 1950s. I met Mr. Christopher at a day long event called The Magic Extravaganza which was sponsored by the Oakland Magic Circle. We did not get along at first. In the two years since my National debut, I had not only outdone Houdini as often as I could, I also adopted his attitude and bravado. It got me in trouble more than I care to recall, but it also set me apart from rank amateurs and even bothered a lot of professional magicians. Christopher challenged me to escape from an actual pair of Houdini's handcuffs. It was then that I worried the most. If I did not get out, all I had done before would be for not. Plus, this was being presented in front of magicians and the lay public so not getting out would be the ultimate in humiliation. But thankfully, I did free myself. And Milbourne and I became fast friends afterward. He even personally autographed a copy of his book to me.

Carnegie: Steve you mentioned jail escapes. What jails did you escape from?

Steve: Oh, there were several. Meridian Jail in Idaho, there was a Jail in Australia, though they spelled it Gaol. I lived in Boise, so I found a number of old jails throughout Idaho. There were jails in Montana, Washington State and Oregon. For a long time I was very West Coast based. As my TV appearances grew, my territory grew. I eventually covered all 50 states, Canada, and into Europe, China and Australia.

Carnegie: So you did every escape of Houdinis? Like the Sea Monster Escape, Escaping from a Giant Football, Escape From a Paperbag, etc. ?

Steve: No, I just did his major escapes, the one's he was most well known for. I had hoped to get to a point where I would not be compared to Houdini anymore because I had outdone him. In truth, my outdoing him was for publicity, it gave a good hook for the newspapers to promote my escapes.  I usually tried to beat Houdini's time, or give the escape a different twist so it seemed I was making it more dangerous than Houdini. Over time, I moved beyond Houdini's escapes and created my own signature escapes like The Coffin of Death, Death Race, Trial by Fire and others. If I had to do it all over again, I might have avoided the comparison, though I guess it just comes with the territory.  You can escape like Houdini, but there is no escaping HOUDINI.

I'd like to point out that this was only a tiny portion of the many interviews I had with Steve. I might not have been the best interviewer 17 years ago, but Steve more than elaborated when I asked him questions. I have removed some content. For example, he shared the secret to his Meridian Jail escape (and no it was not the Hattie Mooser/Houdini method, lol).   All of the above covers from around 1967, to the early 1970s. By the time he was on Dick Clark LIVE Wednesday, he had already dropped the 'The Man Who Outdid Houdini' moniker, and would go on to be a true TV Celebrity of the 1970s and into the 1980s.  I love the last line of the interview, I think that sums it up perfectly, 'You Can Escape Like Houdini, but there is No Escaping HOUDINI.'

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, 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

Throwing Cards Blog Features Carnegie!

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!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Carnegie's TEDx Talk

Finally, my video from the TEDx Foggy Bottom event in April has posted! I think my video must have been the last one edited, lol. I will say, the TEDx folks did a fantastic job editing footage from numerous cameras to give a seamless video of my presentation.

As I stated in the past, I had 8 minutes. In that time I had to present a talk on magic history and do a magic trick. I also had to follow the guidelines on what makes a TEDTalk. Afterall, it was their event, and I surely wanted to present something that worked for their program. My talk rounded out at roughly 12 minutes with no magic trick. So I had to cut away various talking points in order to get my talk down to the allotted time.  The final result, though brief, was fun and concise. They were pleased with my final version and the audience liked it as well. Below is my quick talk on magic history!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

1953 Houdini and A Pair of Houdini Handcuffs

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.

As you can see by the image to the right, when closed they form a figure 8. They hold the hands quite
securely and don't allow for much movement, unlike ratchet cuffs that have a chain in the middle. By the way, these Hamburg 8s that I'm holding belonged to Harry Houdini. They are now in the possession of his great nephew, John Hinson. And John brought them to the 2016 Yankee Gathering just so I could see them! I was awestruck to say the least. They were very small, but the more I thought about it, I have a pair about that size that I got from Ian McColl a long while ago. My wrists are fairly large so a lot of cuffs seem small to me.

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 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)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Next Up for The Magic Detective, Obscura Day 2017

Last year, I was invited to entertain during Obscura Day. This was part of a Nationwide group of festivities put on by Last year's event in Washington was called HOUDINI IN DC. And this year, it's called, HOUDINI TAKES DC. Last year, there were three locations for events. One in the law offices of Ken Trombly, who shared his collection of Houdini posters and photos. Next was McPhereson Square Park, where I presented a short magic show with routines that were similar to those that Houdini might have done. The final leg of the journey was a walk over to the location of of where Keith's Vaudeville Theatre once stood, today it is The Old Ebbitt Grill. I shared some history of the theatre, as well as information on Houdini's upside down outdoor hanging straight jacket escape from that very building.

Ken Trombly from 2016
This year the event takes place in a single location, no travel needed. Everything will be in one place. My friend Ken Trombly, who is a HUGE magic collector, will be bringing a number of his Houdini pieces. Last year he bought several posters and quite a few photographs. His collection is mind boggling! Ken will also be speaking about Houdini as well. I'll be bringing a pair of Houdini cuffs as well as some other Houdini-era cuffs. I will also be presenting a few magic routines, again in the lines of what Houdini might have done. Last year, pretty much the entire show was made up of escapes. This year, there will probably only be a single escape, maybe two and the rest of the program will be magic. If you can make it out, it's going to be a lot of fun. Seating is limited. So get your tickets soon!

Carnegie from 2016 Obscura Day!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Talking Magic History at TEDx in DC

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 1, 2016

The Great Maro At The Yankee Gathering

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!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Only 2 Days Till TheMagicDetective Blog Returns!

Coming in Just 2 Days, The Return of The Magic Detective Blog! I've written a number of articles that I've been saving. The first article will have a Houdini connection. I also have an article about Russia's greatest illusionist, and a brief article about Kalanag. They won't all appear on Sept 1, but you'll be seeing articles more often after that date. There's a lot more in store, so keep watching! Only 2 Days to Go!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The RETURN Of The Magic Detective!

On September 1st, the Magic Detective RETURNS with new articles, new content, an updated look (ok, more historical look). It's been a tough few months, as I'm sure you could tell from my last post. In that time, I've watched as other friends and associates have had to endure the trials of going through the death of a loved one, just as I did. I've had to sit back and be a spectator to the deaths of some iconic members of our magic family. 2016 has not been a good year. But, I'm determined to make it better! So September 1st, I'll put up my first blog article since April. I did post a brief article in June just to let every one know why I had vanished. But the true articles stopped back in April. Now, I'm ready to get in my time machine and travel to the past to enjoy more Magic History!!!!