Showing posts with label Elephant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elephant. Show all posts

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Houdini Vanishes Elephant 100 Years Ago Today!

Today marks the anniversary of the first mega-illusion in the history of show business. This illusion being the Vanishing Elephant presented by Houdini. The illusion was presented at the Hippodrome Theatre in NYC Jan 7th, 1918. There are some interesting articles about the elephant illusion that appeared in the papers of the time.

The first is the Jan 6th, 1918 issue of the New York Tribune where it states that Houdini will place the elephant into a "giant cylinder shaped container of such dimensions that the largest elephant can enter with ease. It walks through this tube and vanishes." A Vanishing Elephant Tube? On top of this it says Houdini had been working on this illusion for 4 years since his visit to India. What?

Only two days later  a much better description of the effect appears in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 8th, 1918. Here is what that paper printed, "Houdini has a score of stagehands drag out on the stage a big wooden cabinet, having a tube-like interior, seemingly about big enough to the 10,000 lbs elephant. Curtains at the front and doors at the rear are opened to give a clear view through the tube of the back drop, into this tube the elephant marches. the cabinet having been pulled around so that one side faces the audience. The curtains, thrown back, show the cabinet empty. The program says that the elephant vanished into thin air. That explanation is as good as any. The trick is performed 15 feet from the back drop and the cabinet is slightly elevated." So there we have a better description of what that 'tube' was, and a very thorough description of the effect.

As it turns out, despite the claim of 'working on this illusion for 4 years since being inspired by a trip to India', it looks like Houdini was not the originator of the idea. Guy Jarrett first pitched the idea and even created a small mock-up of the illusion for R.H. Burnside of the Hippodrome, which apparently fooled the director greatly. But they never came to terms. Then in comes Houdini who was able to pull it off and thus wins the distinction of being the first performer in history to make such a large object/animal vanish!

I've written about the Vanishing Elephant before, and would love to add a new twist to things, but I'm away from home and not near my library of books to scour through. So instead, I'll leave you with a cute little story that appeared in the Buffalo Enquirer on Jan 14th, 1918. It's from a column called 'Ye Towne Gossip'. and I'll reprint the entire thing below. Please note a small Houdini cartoon at the end of the article.

UPDATE: John Cox over at has a wonderful article on the Vanishing Elephant which fills in many details. Please check it out.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The UnMasking of Harry Houdini Part 3

Time to examine more of Houdini's MAGIC and where it originated. Today, I'll cover some of the bigger effects in the show. The real news-makers!

The Origins of Houdini's Magic

First off is the Vanishing Elephant. Here is something that on the surface seems very outside the realm of what Houdini might do. But then again, he isn't merely doing a trick. He is setting a world record for vanishing the largest object in history! The routine has a lot of emotional appeal as well because it is a living creature. And it's being presented at the Hippodrome, on one of the largest stages in the world. When you look at it that way, it's a huge publicity generating illusions, yep, that is pure Houdini.

Was the Vanishing Elephant Houdini's creation? Nope. It was the idea of a British magician, Charles Morritt. Houdini had paid Morritt for the rights and plans to build and perform the illusion. He also paid for other illusions, one which Houdini called Goodbye Winter, which was a Vanishing Lady illusion. The Elephant Vanish was based on Morritt's Vanishing Donkey but on a much larger scale. Morritt never presented a Vanishing Elephant, so Houdini once again could claim it as his own. It was probably not one of the better illusions, but the positive publicity was enough to make Houdini happy.

Next, we have Walking Through a Brick Wall. Again, a very unusual illusion and right up Houdini's alley. It was presented in typical Houdini fashion, with a brick layer building the wall right in the middle of the stage. People could come and inspect the wall and find no trickery. After, having successfully walked through the wall on more than one occasion, he invited some brick layers from a local union to come and inspect the wall and they challenged Houdini to walk through a wall that they would build. They did and he did!

But the illusion wasn't an idea of Houdini's. It was sold to him by another British magician, Sidney E. Josolyne. There was a bit of controversy surrounding this purchase as another British magician, P.T. Selbit, claimed it was his illusion. Despite the controversy it became known as a Houdini illusion and put another feather in his magic cap.

More to come...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Houdini Outdoes David Copperfield, What?!

David Copperfield about to make 13 audience members vanish!
David Copperfield is the best known illusionist in the world. He was recently crowned King of Magic, and it's hard to dispute that title. He has been doing an illusion in his show that I think is called '13'. I believe it was created by Alain Choquette and it begins by selecting 13 people at random from the audience. They are brought up on stage where they all sit on chairs that are on a raised platform. A small curtain goes around the raised platform and suddenly they are gone!

I've seen it. It's great, like most of the things David Copperfield does. However, I was totally taken back when I read an article from a newspaper dated Feb 3, 1918. The headline read:


At first I thought it was just an article using Houdini's name, but not about him. However, I read the article and what a surprise it was. It turns out that the American Society of Civil Engineers was in NY for a convention. While there, three hundred members of the Society went to see Houdini at the NY Hippodrome in the 'CHEER-UP!' Show. He was creating quite the sensation by making an elephant vanish on stage nightly.

The engineers had made arrangements for the dozen newly elected officers to go up and examine the box. Houdini then asked them while they were up there if they would step inside, along with the elephant. Lo and Behold, Houdini, that master of mystery, caused all 12 officers AND the elephant to disappear! Eighty years later, David Copperfield would be closing his show with the same effect....minus the elephant of course. David's illusion is cool, but Houdini did it first!

Now this blog was called Houdini Outdoes David Copperfield. But I thought it only fair to allow David to return the favor. You see, David now has one of the largest, if not the largest collection of rare historical magic props. Among his collection are Houdini's Subtrunk, WaterTorture Cell, Milk Can Escape and more. So Houdini would feel right at home at Copperfield's very unique Museum/Warehouse.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vanishing Elephant Anniversary

Happy Anniversary!!! Ninety Three Years ago today, Houdini presented the largest illusion known to man, the Vanishing Elephant! He did this on stage at the New York Hippodrome. No Camera Tricks, No video editing, no post production special effects and no sleight of hand either. Houdini made the Elephant Vanish! Or well, as some would have you believe he HID the elephant in a grand manner.

The elephant that Houdini used was said to have been the daughter of the famous P.T. Barnum elephant JUMBO. Houdini capitalized on this at every opportunity. He called the elephant JENNY, and had her wear a big blue ribbon around her neck as she came out. Houdini let the audience know that JENNY weighed over 10,000 lbs and then to prove her gentleness he gave her a kiss every show before making her vanish. Along with the kiss was a block of sugar!

This was a spectacular achievement and one Houdini needed to thank Charles Morritt* for, as Mr. Morritt actually came up with the method that Houdini used.

After a month of performing the effect Billboard Magazine reported that Houdini would soon make six elephants vanish, though this never came about. As with most things in magic, copyists sprung up and Houdini tried his best to stop them with lawsuits.  Magician Jean Hugard said that he actually created the Vanishing Elephant five years before Houdini and could prove it with newspaper clippings. Harry Blackstone Sr. also claimed the Vanishing Elephant as HIS original creation, not Houdini's.  I don't think either of them was involved in the lawsuit that Houdini brought however.

Houdini could have taken the trick on the road but he turned down all offers outside of NYC. Maybe because he was borrowing the elephant and didn't have one to travel with. Also, the idea of vanishing an elephant may have been a bit stronger than the actual illusion itself.

Yesterday I was commenting on John Cox's site about another Houdini topic and I mentioned I wondered why Houdini never had a poster for the Vanishing Elephant. It's a good question. And John said, 'well maybe he did and we just haven't found one yet'.

That got me thinking, what IF Houdini had a poster for the Vanishing Elephant. It stands to reason he would, afterall, he promoted other things like the Buried Alive that he rarely ever did. Given that this was the biggest illusion in the world, at that time, it makes sense that Houdini would have had a poster created.

The Vanishing Elephant was only performed in NYC. It was performed in 1918 at the Hippodrome for four months as part of a larger program called "Cheer Up". Then later it was presented at the Times Square Theatre in 1922 to promote one of his movies. Because the illusion was only presented in NYC, any posters that existed would have only been seen in NYC. Although, it would be a great poster to put in one of his theatre displays when he was doing his Three In One Show, so again, it's hard to say.

Despite Houdini's attempts to prevent others from doing the illusion, other magicians did and continue to.  Carter the Great presented a Vanishing Elephant Illusion and promoted it with a very beautiful poster. Kassner from Germany also presented a Vanishing Elephant Illusion and had a couple very striking elephant posters to promote his  illusion.

Milbourne Christopher, Mark Wilson, Doug Henning, Lance Burton, Harry Blackstone Jr., Siegfried and Roy and others have all presented the Vanishing Elephant Illusion, using a lot of different methods. As a publicity gathering stunt the Vanishing Elephant is quite good. As an actual trick, well that depends upon the method, some of which leave a lot to be desired.

Many years after Houdini had passed on another performer took the idea of making the largest thing ever disappear and he promoted it with posters and even a TV Special. That would be David Copperfield's Vanish of the Statue of Liberty. He performed it only once, but used it in his promotion for years (and probably still does)!

My burning question, have you ever HEARD anything about a Houdini Vanishing Elephant Poster? If so, please comment below. As John Cox pointed out to me, other unknown Houdini posters have shown up, so who knows, perhaps someone is sitting on a super rare one of a kind Houdini-Vanishing Elephant poster!? Well, we can hope at least.

*To learn more about Charles Morrit, click HERE

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Houdini's Real Magic

To dispell the rumor that Houdini wasn't a very good magician, I'm showcasing some of Houdini's greatest effects and posting videos of them being performed. Most of the videos are modern day performers doing the effects however. But this also goes to show the solid entertainment value in the routines and how they stand the test of time.

Walking Through a Brick Wall. This is clearly not an escape. For the time it's also more than a magic trick. It seems to be an impossible feat of super human ability. The brick wall is built on the stage by brick layers. Members of the audience check out the brick wall themselves to be sure it's legit.  The audience members stand in the back and around the sides. Houdini stands against one side of the wall and a partition or cover is placed over him and over the exact same area on the opposite side of the wall.
A short time later, Houdini steps out from the partition and is on the other side! Billboard Magazine said that the audience was often so spellbound that sat silent for two whole minutes, they were so astonished they forgot to applaud! This was one Houdini effect that warranted it's own poster but never got one.

The Walking Through a Brick Wall was not without controversy. Houdini purchased the rights to it from Sidney Josolyne. But P.T. Selbit claimed the trick was his and was stolen by Josolyne and Houdini. In "Houdini-The Key" by Patrick Culliton this story is brought to light in a way I've never heard before. It's fantastic. Regardless of the controversy, it's now history and Houdini did Walk Through A Brick Wall!

The video above of Walking Through A Brick Wall is done by the Spensers who are fantastic. However, it is VERY different from Houdini's version.  Both Doug Henning and David Copperfield presented versions of this effect on their TV Specials. Copperfield walked through the ultimate brick wall, The Great Wall of China.

The Vanishing Elephant. An incredible illusion that not many people saw, even those in the audience. But what a reputation maker! Houdini appeared in the newspapers with this elephant saying he would make it vanish on the enormous stage of the Hippodrome Theatre. The elephant stepped inside a very large box. The magic words were spoken (probably) and the front door and back door were opened to show that the elephant was GONE! From what I understand it was a killer effect if you were in the middle of the audience! The people on the sides were unable to see inside the box.

Since then, a number of methods have been developed to make an elephant vanish, but Houdini was the first. The video is of Doug Henning making an elephant vanish on Broadway. I think the best version was done by Siegfried and Roy and their method was created by Guy Jarrett.

As you can see, these effects made popular by Houdini, still hold up today. Magicians know the publicity value of these effects, which again shows that Houdini too knew which was why he used them. Still think he was a bad magician? More to come...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Houdini & The Hippodrome

One of Houdini's most famous feats was when he made an elephant vanish. This took place at the NYC Hippodrome. Above is a photo of the Hippodrome Theatre as it looked in Houdini's day. It was a 5200 seat monster! It was used as a theatre until 1939. Today, a building stands on the very spot where the theatre once was and it too is called The Hippodrome. However the current Hippodrome is not an entertainment complex, just an office building. The location is 1120 Avenue of the Americas NYC