Monday, October 2, 2017
Five years ago, I wrote an article about two of Houdini's friends. One of whom, may or may not been a secret girlfriend. Those friends were Hattie and Minnie Mooser. The only Houdini biography that mentions them is the Kalush biography, at least as far as I can find. There had been a couple newspaper articles on the sisters back in the 1960s. But there was also a person who met and spoke at length with Hattie and Minnie. That person was none other than my friend Steve Baker. He met them in 1967 and listened to them share story after story about their show business friends. But they spoke most often of Houdini. And in the course of the conversation, Hattie revealed something to Steve about Houdini's methods on jail escapes. She swore him to secrecy. And he kept that secret, until 2000, when he told me. But he swore me to secrecy. I was not allowed to say anything while he was alive, and I have never told a soul...until now.
Before I get to that though, I should tell you how they met. According to the sisters, they met Houdini through their brother Leon who was a theatrical agent. They claimed that it was the brother who 'discovered' Houdini. That we know is not accurate, but its possible he could have helped get Houdini booked in the early days. One thing is certain, it's clear the Moosers did know the Houdinis. There is a 1919 photo of Minnie Mooser, that recently went up for auction. You can see it here.
Hattie claimed to worked as an assistant and filled in for Bess during the Metamorphosis. And Hattie was with Bess watching Houdini's 1923 hanging straitjacket escape from the Tribune Tower building in Oakland. This, according to the Oakland Tribune Newspaper, was when Hardeen had young boys run through the crowd of 20,000 spectators handing out pamphlets advertising HIS (Hardeen's) appearance at the Pantages Theatre, while Houdini hung upside down. A well known story and this is where it happened.
The 1923 Hanging Strait Jacket Escape by Houdini was apparently his second. He first did the escape, from the same building, the Tribune Tower on Nov 22, 1915. According to the Oakland Tribune paper, they were having trouble with the hoist and the rope twisted and Houdini, hanging upside down in the straitjacket was slammed head first into the second story cornice. He was apparently unconscious, or appeared to be. But by the time he reached the 8th floor, he began his escape. He did free himself, but on the way down, the rope got hung up and Houdini remained hanging for a very long time. His face and lips turning colors from hanging so long. Eventually, he was lowered and all was well.
NOW for the big revelation. Hattie Mooser described a method that Houdini used to hide a key/tools for picking locks during Houdini's jail escapes. I have read other books that had 'ideas and theories', which may or may not have been accurate on how Houdini escaped from jails. Things such as a capsule containing tools he swallowed and later regurgitated, or a small bag of tools that attached discretely to the bed or chair within a cell. I have no doubt that Houdini used multiple methods depending upon the cell and various other factors. But this method described by Hattie Mooser was new to me and struck me as being very possible because it frankly made sense. She claimed he used clay and embalmers putty. The key/tool rested against his skin, then the putty was applied over that. The area, well, let's just say near a very private area, would be hidden from view because of where it was, but it would also be hidden during any sort of frisking. This was before metal detectors so I could see the potential for success. It's quite ingenious. Did he use this all the time, doubtful. But according to Hattie, it was used by Houdini for sure.
The other sister Minnie made a different claim regarding Houdini, which I thought was interesting. In her own words, "Yes, Houdini gave his wife Bess a word to use to call back his spirit, but he did it to prove it could not be done. The truth is that Houdini spent his life exposing spiritualism." Hattie added, "The whole idea of spiritualism is false. Houdini wanted to expose that fraud for what it was worth."
So, I guess all of these Houdini Seances can stop because he has no intention of coming back, LOL!
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
|Minnie and Hattie Mooser|
Over the years, there has been speculation that Houdini might not have been so faithful to Bess as the legend tried to portray him. First revelation was Daisy White back in the 1970s. Then Kenneth Silverman revealed Charmian London, the widow of writer Jack London. John Cox wrote the definitive blog on Houdini and his 'girlfriends'. He revealed quite a few that I had not heard of. I knew of one that had not been mentioned and held onto it thinking I had a big revelation. But I have since discovered that this one was revealed in The Secret Life of Houdini by Bill Kalush. The reason I'm writing about it though is because both Mr. Kalush and I got the information from the same sources, a newspaper article and a first hand account from escape artist Steve Baker, and I have something to share at the end that wasn't covered in the Secret Life of Houdini.
Hattie Mooser was the 'mysterious girlfriend' I wish to share with you. She was born in 1878 in Nevada but grew up in Sacramento CA. For a number of years, Hattie and her sister Minnie ran a restaurant called the Aladdin Studio Tiffin Room in the Chinatown section of San Fransisco. This was a popular hang out for folks in the theatrical business. According to Hattie, when the Houdini's were in town they made the place their headquarters.
Hattie was kind of vague about her relationship to Houdini when she spoke to the press, referring to Houdini as an adopted brother. But she revealed to Steve Baker that he was far more than a brother! More like, kissing cousins! There is an article that appeared in the Feb 17th, 1967 edition of the Oakland Tribune Newspaper. It's an interesting interview with Hattie and her sister Minnie. In the article Hattie claims to have met Houdini through her brother Leon. But I'm skeptical of the story she relates. She said that it was her brother that booked Houdini to work at the Palace Theatre in NYC. She also went on to say that Houdini didn't even own a tuxedo and her brother loaned him one of his. Further, she goes on to state that Houdini almost didn't go on stage to perform and her brother had to shove him onto the stage.
There exist photos of a very young Houdini wearing a tuxedo, so that part of the story doesn't ring true to me. And the notion that Houdini was too frightened to go out on the stage of the Palace Theatre really strikes me as untrue. No date is given when this took place, but if it happened earlier in Houdini's career, then who knows, maybe it did. One thing is for certain, Houdini knew the Moosers.
|Tower of Jewels|
In the article, Hattie mentions that Houdini took her to see his movie, 'The Man From Beyond'. She actually told him afterwards that she thought it was awful and was shocked someone could convince him to invest in such a thing! She also mentions in the article going with Houdini to the 1915 San Fransisco Worlds Fair. She was able to get them into the Tower of Jewels, which was a large Italianate main tower adorned with 102,000 glass gems that sparkled when swayed by the wind. Hattie said "We went to dinner afterwards and he asked when my sister and I would observe our birthdays. I asked him why and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of jewels. You know, nobody took their eyes off of him when he was in the tower and I have no idea how he got them." But don't take that to assume Houdini was a thief, as I have discovered that the Fair sold jeweled souvineers and I'll bet thats what he gave to Hattie and her sister.
Hattie also claims to have substituted for Bess in the show. She very well may have acted as one of the female assistants. Then there is the revelation that Houdini shared with her one of the secrets to his jail escapes. This did not appear in the newspaper. She shared this information with Steve Baker during a private visit he had with the sisters. She swore Steve to secrecy and to my knowledge he has only shared that information with one individual.
Hattie and Minnie both lived a long life. Hattie lived to be 92 and her sister Minnie lived to be 98. While doing additional research on the Moosers I discovered that The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library University of California Berkley has a collection of scrapbooks and other documents belonging to the Moosers. There is memorabilia from the 1915 Worlds Fair, which are probably the jewels given to them by Houdini. This is the information on that collection: Collection #: WJHC 1968.012 AR1
There just might be a whole new chapter in the Houdini saga sitting in the pages of those scrapbooks. The photo of Houdini that can be seen in the background of the picture at the top of the blog is not among the collection. That 20x36 photo was auctioned off in 2004 and went for over $10,000. Houdini had signed it to Hattie, "To my good friend Hattie Mooser, 'My brain is the key that sets me free' Houdini, 3/23/23."