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

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Houdini's Grave Upkeep and More


This next piece, I found on the SAMMagicians Instagram Page and I'm basically reprinting it here.

After his sudden and untimely passing in 1926, the funeral for Past National President Harry Houdini featured over 2,000 mourners and presented the very first Broken Wand Ceremony. His remains were then interred at Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, NY, featuring many unique elements designed by Houdini himself. 

After nearly 100 years, today the gravesite needs repair and maintenance, as well as a plan to consider its perpetual care and upkeep.

Having given so much to the Society of American Magicians and establishing it as a global force in the community of magicians, we wish to honor Houdini's legacy and commitment by taking on some of the burden of care for this site.

Please consider donating any amount you can spare, and know that generations of magicians will be able to benefit from your contribution.

To read more about the history of the Houdini Grave, click below for an article I wrote quite a while ago. And check out the comments in the comments section, as they are also rather revealing.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Houdini Wore A Lot of Hats


The term, 'wearing a lot of hats' often refers to someone who has lots of different jobs or skills that they can do. But in this case, I am referring to actual HATS. Recently, I had a contest on my podcast. The question was to name the HAT that Houdini wears or holds the most often in photos. At the time, it seemed like I had the right one. Going through it again, there might have been a different winner. But suffice to say, I'll list a few of them below along with my original choice for winner of the contest. 

I suppose you'd expect Houdini, given that he was a magician, would always wear a top hat. Not really. The photo here is Houdini's top hat, owned today by his relative John Hinson. The photo at the top of the page are the only photos of Harry wearing the top hat, along with his brother Dash. Clearly a photoshoot. Not sure if he ever wore the hat in every day life. They appear slightly different to me. The lower one has a more tapered side, the top photo with Hardeen, the side is straight. And not 100% sure if the hat owned by John Hinson is the same one in the upper most photo. 

Next have have The Flat Cap. Very popular in the 1920s. Also popular today thanks to the show Peaky Blinders. Not a lot of photos of Houdini wearing this one, but clearly one of his casual hats. 

Young Houdini wearing a bowler or derby hat. This was the only one of these I could find. There might be one or two more. Again, it's a formal photoshoot, this time with Bess. Harry dressed up, looking sophisticated with his hat and walking cane. There is a separate photo of Bess which I didn't include. But I don't recall seeing any pics of them standing together, so I am going to assume there are more lost images of Houdini out there, from this photo session alone!

Houdini wearing his fedora or trilby hat. I am not 100% certain the exact name of this hat. But I think it's generally referred to as a fedora, but I saw it also listed as a trilby hat.  There are a lot of photos of Houdini with this hat. At first, I thought this hat was likely the winner. And honestly, it could be, given that I don't have access to every Houdini photo. But in my searches online and through books, it came in second to the hat below.

This is referred to as The Straw Boater Hat. And Houdini is wearing this in a lot of different pictures. The picture above is from one of his movies. But he wore Straw Hats in real life as can be seen below. In the photo of Houdini with Conan Doyle, Houdini is holding is straw hat and Doyle is wearing one! This by the way was the Answer to my Trivia Question: The Straw Boater Hat. The winner was Phil V of Texas and I really appreciate everyone who participated in the contest. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Houdini Milk Can Poster Breaks the Bank!


A recent Potter and Potter Auction featured a Houdini Milk Can Escape Poster. This poster dates back to 1908 and was produced by Russell-Morgan Lithos of Cincinnati & New York. The poster depicts Houdini inside the can with a view of him submerged inside. The live audience never had a view inside the can but this artistic depiction helps to convey the cramped confines of this dramatic escape. On top of that, there are the words, "Failure Means a Drowning Death". 

Originally referred to as The Galvanized Iron Can Escape, it was the creation of Montraville Wood. Houdini, debuted the escape at the Columbia Theatre in St. Louis on January 27th, 1908. He had previously been pressure from the theatre manager to produce something people wanted to see, as his handcuff escape act was not pulling the crowds. Too many imitators cooled the desire to see such acts. So Houdini brought out the big guns, The Galvanized Iron Can Escape. Over time he would use it in many different ways. He would fill it with Milk as a challenge from a Dairy, or fill it with Beer as a challenge from a brewery. Over time he would add a wooden box in which the milk can was placed inside and yet he still was able to escape from everything!

I've written a longer piece about the Milk Can Escape which you can read here.

This particular poster came from Houdini's basement on 278 W 113th in NY.  The auction estimates were between $40,000 and $60,000. This poster with buyers premium sold for $180,000.00

Below is a photo of the Columbia Theater where Houdini debuted The Milk Can Escape!

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Water Torture Cell In Miniature


Just saw this and I'm freaking out. It looks PERFECT. And it can be yours. Not sure how many were made. It's a piece of art. Here is the link

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Aftermath of Playing Houdini


The Aftermath of Playing HOUDINI

In 1998, actor Johnathon Schaech took on the role of Harry Houdini. It was his first lead role in his career. The movie debuted on the TNT network Dec 6, 1998. I remember it well. I recorded it onto a VHS tape, which I still have. I've watched the movie many many times. Though not perfect by any stretch, I thought Johnathon did a fine job as Houdini. Interestingly, a young Mark Ruffalo would play Theo Hardeen in the movie, long before becoming The Incredible Hulk.

The opening of this movie is one of my favorites of all the various Houdini movies. It opens with Houdini's 1906 escape from the Old DC Jail and the cell that once held the assassin of President Garfield, Charles Guiteau. That scene really delivers Houdini in a way that others didn't. 

There is much to like about this movie. The fact that Johnathon Schaech portrays a different side of Houdini than previous movies is to me refreshing. This Houdini is strong, ready to take on the world, much like the real man. But the movie makes one fatal error, and I'll leave it up to you to figure out if you see it. But suffice to say, it's not the fictionalized ending the movie, which I will admit I didn't mind at all. 

I recall that after his portrayal of Houdini, Johnathan got invited to attend one of the Official Houdini Seances. I'll have to see if I can dig up anything on that for my next podcast.

Recently, I stumbled upon a TV show where Johnathon talks about his experience AFTER making the movie. Specifically, the night of the movie's premier at the Austin Film Festival. Apparently, that night did not go as well as he or anyone else hoped. But rather than go into his experience, I'm going to post the video below. 

He does consult a psychic medium, and think of that what you will, but suffice to say, hearing his story and how it affected him personally is sadly emotional. I think he's carried this weight of not doing a good job in his portrayal. I can say, as a Houdini Historian, his was one of the better portrayals, and though the movie, like many, has it's fictionalized moments, I still enjoy watching it. I think he did Houdini right and if ole Harry would have anything to say, he would shake Mr. Schaech's hand and thank him for a job well done.

Please watch the video for yourselves...

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Houdini 1953 A Strange Edit


I love the movie, HOUDINI, with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It's a very fictionalized version of Houdini's life. Yet, even the fictional stuff has a grain of truth to it. But my one single issue with the movie, comes early on. It's very bad edit in the movie, and the only one of it's kind in the whole film.

Houdini and Bess are in bed, it's their wedding night. Houdini is working on a new trick. He gets Bess to climb inside a box. She sticks HER legs out one her face and hands out the other side. Houdini closes the lid. The camera doesn't cut away. He steps out of the room and back in carrying a large saw for cutting lumber. Keep in mind the camera doesn't cut away. . Tony Curtis lifts the saw and begins to cut, he is about HALF WAY DOWN. Janet Leigh screams! The saw is about to her waist. She screams! THEN 

there is a very abupt edit.....And now the blade is apparently through Bess/Janet light.

Now, one of the reason's I love this movie is that Tony Curtis preforms most of the magic himself. In the opening scene, he performs a vanishing Milk pitcher routine. He follows with an ashes routine. Later he does an escape from some Hamburg 8 cuffs. He and Janet Leigh actually present the Metamorphosis routine. They do a broom suspension routine. There is a clip of Tony levitating a woman, another clip of Tony shooting a ribbon through Bess. Tony does a wonderful Steel Straight jacket escape, there are other routines that were filmed but that got cut from the movie. There are still photos of Tony doing effects that never made it into the movie. Surprisingly, there is even a still photo of Tony making an Elephant Disappear. It appears as a photo from the cover of a newspaper. 

Some of the routines are presented straight through. Some routines have multiple edits. But ONLY the Sawing routine has a very abrupt edit. I often wondered if something happened during the filming and maybe that was why they cut. I also wondered if the reason for edit was they faked the scene. But as it turns out, the only thing that happened visually was the blade moves upwards suddenly and then back down. Perhaps there was an audio issue which was it was cut the way it was. 

And then the solution or the answer. It was found in the trailer for the movie. The entire cutting/sawing scene is there, with no abrupt edits. And you can see for yourself there is nothing unusual that happens except for the sawing going high and then back down. It's clearly the same shot as the movie because a dark section of the front board, matches the one from the scene. BUT it wasn't the only time they shot the scene apparently. The promo photo at the top of the page is from the scene, but a different take. On this take, the front panel that Tony saws through is different. This is the sign that the scene was reshot or that there were multiple shots. 

Check out the video below...

The exact spot is at 40seconds into the video...

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Strange Phenomenon of Photographing Ghosts


Photography began back in the 19th Century. I'm sure to folks of that time, it was as amazing to them as computers are to us. Photography of the 19th Century was very primitive by today's standards. It was due to this primitive technique that a Boston Jewelry Engraver named William Mumler, accidentally stumbled upon the ghostly image of a cousin who had died 12 years previously. This was in 1862. Mumler showed his photos to others. He swore that his process was legitimate and that these images were of authentic spirit images. As you might imagine, he created both believers and skeptics. The skeptics felt that what he was doing was some sort of trick. The believer felt they were seeing a ghostly image. 

Keep in mind, as we look upon these images today, we can tell how fake they are. But people of the 19th and early 20th centuries had nothing to compare it to. It's kind of like when a movie comes out with new special effects and we think about how great it is. But soon many movies use the same tech and we are then able to critic CGI and other methods.

Back in the late 1860s,  a NY Supreme Court Judge, upon seeing these so called Mumler Spirit Photos, went to NY with the intention of shutting Mumler down for fraud. But as it turned out, the gentleman, after seeing the process came away a believer!

In April of 1869, Mumler was brought to trial for Fraud. A major skeptic, and one who testified in the trial against William Mumler was P.T. Barnum, the great circus showman. Barnum took offense to this type of deception and worked feverishly against it. I guess not all humbug was the same in Barnum's world. And in fact, there was innocent humbug and offensive humbug, the latter was trying fool grieving people into believing they could talk to dead relatives. As it turned out, Mumler was acquitted of the charges.

But why was he acquitted of the charges if what he did was clearly fraud? Because, his methods were not so obvious. He had actually developed a system which would later become known as The Mumler Process. And this term was used outside of the spirit world. Mumler's process allowed for what is called 'photo-electrotype' plates. The best description comes from the book, The Apparitionist by Peter Manseau, "the Mumler process, as it was known, allowed printers to forgo the usual step of having a photographic plate copied by hand by an illustrator or wood engraver, revolutionizing the ability to reproduce images by the thousands." In other words, we have Mumler to credit for newspapers and magazines being able to print photographs rather than woodcuts or drawings. 

Mumlers most famous spirit photograph was taken in 1872. A woman, dressed in black, turned up at this studio. She was the widow of Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln. This particular photograph would be the last known photo taken of Mary Todd Lincoln, and would be Mumler's most iconic. Mary Todd was known to be a true believer in Spiritualism and remained so all her days. Her photo remains one of the better and spookier images to ever be produced.

Another individual who also stumbled upon a process for making spirit photos was William Hope from Cheshire England. He developed his first spirit photo in 1905. He soon started his own Spiritualist Church. His procedure was wrapped around saying prayers, singing hymns and then eventually taking the photos. Wrapping the whole thing in a religious ceremony would certainly make him different than many of the other photographers who took such photos.  Hope was so impressive with his photos, he fooled famed investigator and scientist William Crookes. Eventually, however his methods were exposed and he was revealed to be a fraud.

Spirit Photography has gone through its phases of popularity, as has Spiritualism. A few years after the Civil War, it was on the decline. But during and after WW1, Spiritualism began to rise again due to the number of deaths during the war. Families desperately wanted one last word with loved ones, and Spiritualism and mediums apparently offered this opportunity. In comes, Harry Houdini. And actually, it was during this time that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was involved as well. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and avid believer in Spiritualism. In Doyle's eyes this was another example of proof. Sir Arthur could be relied upon to be duped by just about anything. He was no Sherlock Holmes in real life.  In 1922, Doyle published a book called, The Case For Spirit Photography, complete with a cheesy Spirit Photo on the cover of the book.

Houdini on the other hand recognized fraud. In fact, he set up shop in his own home to be able to produce his own Spirit Photos.  I'll say for not being a professional photographer, Houdini's Spirit Photos are as good as any. A few of them, even better than the average. One of his most iconic, also utilized Abraham Lincoln. There are numerous versions of this one. In one he is holding a book and looking at Lincoln. In another, he has his wrists handcuffed. In yet another he has his hands tied. Strangely, Lincoln never changes his pose, but remains the same in every picture. By today's standards we can tell it's faked, but I'm sure it was impressive in his day. 

I think my favorite of the Houdini spirit photos is the one below. There is another that I like which is a close runner up, you'll find that one below this spooky one. Both of them were taken inside Houdini's home in Harlem. Of course, Houdini, being the great debunker, and including an expose of fake spirit mediums methods in show final show, helped to squash the fad of spirit photos. In 1924, Houdini wrote his book, A Magician Among the Spirits, which he systematically exposes the various characters and methods of the Spiritualism movement. The first photo in the book, is of Houdini and Conan Doyle. After the publication of the book, Doyle and Houdini's friendship came to an end. 

from the McCord Museum Collection

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Houdini's Daughter, Captured on Video!!!


It may come as a shock to many, but apparently Houdini had a daughter! Here for the first time anywhere, is archived video footage of Flo Houdini, presenting one of her dangerous escapes that she learned from her father Harry!

Ok, actually, it's Carol Burnett, in a skit that I'd never seen. It's quite hilarious to be honest, but then again, Carol Burnett could make anything funny, she was an amazing performer. Enjoy the video below!

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Houdini's Conradi Lamps


These are Houdini's Conradi Lamps that he used in his 3-In-One Show in 1926. These are being presented by Doug Henning on one of his annual TV specials. The clip is short, it only shows the Conradi Lamps.

Friedrich Conradi was a German Magic Dealer and builder who built wonderful apparatus magic around the turn of the 19th into 20th centuries. 

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Podcast on Houdini's Needle Mystery

Finishing my Houdini Week is podcast Episode 75. In this episode I take a deep dive into Houdini's Needle Mystery. I've written about it several times on the blog. So I took ALL of that information, plus some info from other articles and some new information and compiled them into a great episode.

For those who would like to listen to it, well, just look below!

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Trick That Fooled Houdini

 He Fooled Houdini

The event took place Feb 6th, 1922 at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago. There was a banquet for the Society of American Magicians and Houdini was the guest of honor. At some point in the evening Sam Margules brings Vernon over to meet and show Houdini a trick. One article I read said, Houdini rolled his eyes and reluctantly agreed. The young Dai Vernon, brought out a deck of cards, shuffled them and had Houdini remove a card and sign it. Houdini wrote 'HH' on the card. Then Vernon, took the signed card and placed it second from the top. Everything was very slow and deliberate. Vernon then turned over the top card and there was the selected-signed card. Houdini was stunned. Dai Vernon did the trick again. The second time Houdini was also surprised. He began to call out possible methods, all of which were incorrect. A third showing, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and seventh and Houdini was fooled each time. One telling of the story features this addition, "Mutual friends seated at the table said: "Don't quibble, Harry, you're fooled this time". According the a promotional piece of Vernon's, Houdini finally made the admission and added, "Vernon is certainly the best man I have ever seen with cards." 

Thereafter, Dai Vernon, who was going by Dale Vernon at that time, used the moniker 'He Fooled Houdini' in all his promotions. Quite reminiscent of Thurston's approach with Herrmann. If you're wondering about sources, I found this story in Genii Magazine, but also in the book, He Fooled Houdini-Dai Vernon A Magical Life by Bruce Cervon and Keith Burns, and it's in other books as well.  

And now, watch The Trick That Fooled Houdini!

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???

Monday, November 1, 2021

How Houdini Became Famous- Marketing Podcast Interview


Once Upon A Time, I wrote a book about the methods Houdini used to become famous. Actually, I wrote it, but didn't finish the last chapter. Then I was about to finish it a few years ago, when my Dad died, followed soon after by my Mom. In other words, LIFE got in the way, and those things are more important.

But now it appears I'm back on track with the book. Not only is the last chapter finished, but the entire book is getting a re-write, or perhaps update is a better word.  

The book deals with the Marketing Methods used by Houdini to become famous, AND how you can use those same techniques to find fame in your own career, life, etc.. No, you're not likely to become AS famous as Houdini. But if you apply some of these concepts you may find it helps you to get that promotion you were looking for, or become more famous in your own little part of the world.

My friend and marketing genius, Billy Diamond, recently interviewed me about the book and about HOUDINI. It's a great interview and I know you'll find something interesting here. It's part history, part marketing and all Houdini. 

For the Houdini buffs, I believe I borrowed a story from either Blackstone Jr or Pat Culliton about Houdini and the Milk Can. At the time I meant to credit the story, and the way the interview ran, I didn't get it done. There is also reference to an odd escape from a horse, which comes from the book, Metamorphosis by Bruce MacNAB. 

Here is a link to the podcast. Enjoy.

To get a free Chapter Excerpt From my Book:

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Special HOUDINI Playlist

I didn't realize it until just last night, but you can actually set up your podcasts by a playlist, just like you can with music players. With that in mind, here is a sample playlist with all the episodes featuring Houdini. In truth, I could have included a couple other episodes that he is also featured in, but these currently make up the core of the Houdini episodes. And I'm taking it one step further. I'm embedding the episodes in the following order so you can listen to them from right here!

BTW: the additional episodes where Houdini is mentioned include the Samri Baldwin Episode, The T.Nelson Downs Episode & the Raymond Episode. I did not put them on the playlist.

ep  5  Early Years
ep 32 Martin Beck
ep 01 The section on Houdini’t trip to Germany 1900
ep 03 The section on Queen Victoria’s Dress 
ep 35 Milk Can
ep 10 Harry Kellar
ep 34 Protege
ep 33 Evanion
ep 26 Minerva
ep 22 Anna Eva Fay
ep 50 Men Who Fooled Houdini
ep 46 Radio Illusion
ep 7   Houdini & Congress
ep 36 His Own Words
ep 6   Final Days

Just the Portion on Houdini's Trip to Germany 1900...starts at 13:35 into the podcast

Just the Portion on Queen Victoria's Dress.....begins at 21:30 into the podcast

Monday, March 2, 2020

Chase-ing Houdini's Radio

The photo above is Houdini's Radio Illusion. An unusual production effect that was used in his 3-In-1 Show/The Final Houdini Tour. The woman is Dorothy Young, one of Houdini's assistants. She lived longer than anyone in the Houdini show and was featured in several documentaries about Houdini where she always spoke about the Radio Illusion.

Episode 46 of my podcast I talk all about this illusion. But then I mention ANOTHER Radio Illusion. You'll need to hear the podcast in order to find out more. But below is a photo of THAT Radio Illusion. You may note, the front of Blackstone's Radio, it has the same size dials that Houdini's cabinet had. The inner workings are likely being held by the assistant on the far right, somewhat different than those that Houdini had. But awfully ODD that that both Blackstone and Houdini had a Radio Illusion at the SAME TIME?!?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Houdini Testifies Before Congress Day 1

In 1926, Harry Houdini stepped way beyond his role of magician, escape artist, showman, and actor. He does something which was rare for an entertainer. He testified before Congress. This was the ultimate act of attacking the fake spiritualists. Oddly, the bill before Congress was an anti-fortune telling bill.

Fortune Telling? I thought Houdini was after fake spirit mediums?! The spiritualists were not happy to be lumped in with so-called 'gypsy fortune tellers', even though many of them ran in the same circles. Here is an interesting thing I found from an issue of Stanyon's Magic. In the early 20th Century, the spirit mediums began to refer to themselves by a new name, 'psychist'. This word means someone who believes in psychic phenomenon. Of course, in the later part of the 20th century, we would refer to these folks as psychics and even psychic mediums. They could apparently read your mind and tell you the future.

The bill before Congress was House Resolution8989 and it was sponsored by Sol Bloom of NY. It
Congressman Sol Bloom
would prohibit all forms of fortune telling within the D.C. limits. Several other states and localities had similar laws that they were using successfully, so here was an attempt by Congress to implement the same thing. Sol Bloom has an interesting history. He had a background in entertainment. Not only that, he was the man responsible for creating the Midway at the Chicago's World Fair! And among the many entertainers at this event... Yes, Houdini. An article that appeared in the Oct 16th, 1942 edition of The Washington Post mentions that Sol Bloom had an interest in magic. In fact, the title of the article is Master Magician of Capital Hill.

So, if you're going to propose a bill about stopping spiritualists in D.C., and you know you can't do that because the spiritualists claim it's a religion, and they have protection under the Constitution. Then you take a slightly less direct route and go after Fortune Telling and write the bill in such a way that you can snag the fake spirit mediums along the way. And if you're going to do that, who better to call for advice and knowledge, than the number one Spirit Debunker in the country, Harry Houdini! And, it seems clear that the two must have known each other. On the rare chance they didn't meet at the Chicago World's Fair, then they surely met while Bloom was representing Gentleman Jim Corbett. Houdini was in the line-up with Corbett during the 1917 Benefit Shows to raise money for the war effort.

The first day of the meetings was Feb 26th, 1926. The proceedings started at 10:30am . According to the Congressional Record, when the proceedings begun, the bill was read before the committee.

Here is how the bill reads:
"Any person pretending to tell fortunes for reward or compensation where lost or stolen goods may be found; any person who, by game or device, sleight of hand, pretending, fortune telling, or by any trick or other means, by the use of cards or other implements or instruments, fraudulently obtains from another person money or property or reward, property of any description; any person pretending to remove spells, or to sell charms for protection, or to unite the separated, shall be considered a disorderly person. Any person violating the provisions of this law shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $250 or by imprisonment not to exceed six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment."

Then Congressman Bloom addresses the committee. He is asked numerous questions, and there seems to be much debate on the proper placement of commas and such. Then they begin to grill him on content. There is a humorous exchange between Congressman Reid and Congressman Bloom.
Reid: What is telling a fortune?
Bloom: Well, telling a fortune is to make people believe what the future is, to give you a picture that you are going to marry a blond.
Reid: How do you know you won't?
Bloom: I want to tell you something, I am serious about this thing, and I don't want any kidding or joking from you.
Reid: That is the sad part of it.

After much bantering and bickering, Houdini, who may have arrived late, is welcomed before the committee. He answers a few questions in regards to his qualifications. Then he makes his opening statement. He begins with, "This is positively no attack upon religion. Please understand that, emphatically. I am not attacking a religion. I respect every genuine believer in spiritualism or any other religion, as long as it does not conflict with the laws of the country or laws of humanity. 
  But this thing they call "spiritualism" wherein a medium intercommunicated with the dead, is a fraud from start to finish. There are only two kinds of mediums, those who are mental degenerates and who out to be under observation, and those who are deliberate cheats and frauds. I would not believe a medium under oath; perjury means nothing to them."

And so it began. Houdini was not holding anything back. After his opening statement, the committee asks him questions. Congressman Rathbone asks Houdini if he has read the bill. Houdini replies he has read it eight or nine times. Then it is pointed out to Houdini that the bill never mentions spiritualism. They even direct a question to Houdini, "Is there anything in this bill that deals with spiritualism?". Houdini says, "Yes."

Clearly the committee is confused, and asks Houdini, "will you be good enough to point it out to me where the bill deals with spiritualism?"  Houdini follows with saying that under the guise of being a medium, they will tell fortunes. He makes the claim that 'mediums are clairvoyants'. And in D.C. the govt. gives licenses to clairvoyants for $25. He further goes on to say that there should be no distinction between fortune tellers and mediums as, in his mind, they are one in the same.

Then Houdini continues with describing some of the ways mediums operate, including wrapping themselves under the cloak of religion. They quote from the Bible, claiming it says various things about spiritualism. Houdini points out that he can refute any interpretation they make in regards to Biblical matters. Then Mr. Rathbone asks Houdini, if he is actually attacking spiritualism, because let's face it, it sure sounds like it.

Reading the actual transcripts of the events of Feb 26th, 1926 is fascinating. On one hand Houdini is claiming the bill says a great deal of things, that others claim it does not. For example, not once does it mention mediums or spiritualism. Yet to Houdini's mind, the very fact the bill says, "any person who, by game or device, sleight of hand, pretending, fortune telling, or by any trick or other means....shall be considered a disorderly person" and thus breaking the law and therefor covers mediums. He even declares as much. But when questioned about the difference between fraudulent vs. genuine spiritualist ministers, Congressman Bloom, the bills sponsor,  says the bill is only to weed out those who are bogus.

More than once it is suggested that the bill be redrafted to include some of the language that Houdini and Bloom are claiming is there, but isn't. Others on the committee are frustrated that this bill makes them all look ridiculous. Congressman Bloom points out that a similar bill was held constitutional by the State of New York. And Congressman Gilbert follows with, "Constitutional, but ridiculous."

As the session is nearing the end, Congressman Hammer speaks up and says to Houdini, "I didn't understand what your occupation is."  And I don't think he was alone in that. Some members had no clue who Houdini, one of the biggest names in show business was. Houdini follows with a classic line, "I am a syndicate writer; I am an author, and I am a mystifier, which means I am an illusionist.......I call it mystification, But I do tricks that nobody can explain." There is some conjecture about Houdini claiming real powers, which he flatly denies. He points out that others say he has these powers, but he has never made such claims.

Then Congressman Hammer makes a really astute observation, "These people claim they have divine power. Don't you think it is very difficult to do anything along the line of stopping them? I am talking to you. You have a religion; and I ask you whether, under our form of government, if we ought not to go very slow before we enact legislation along this line? I want some sort of bill; this bill or the New York law or something. I am in favor of amending and making stronger the law to prevent these things you have exposed, in doing which you have performed a great service, although you are rather severe in your strictures of those who disagree with you." This is all addressed at Houdini. Several of the members did think the idea of the bill worthwhile, but they knew that they were dangerously close to prohibiting religious liberties, and any such bill would be tossed quickly on those grounds.

The final person who was brought up to testify was a Mrs. Jane B. Coates, she was head of the American Order of the White Cross Society, and an ordained Spiritualist Minister. She had a clever angle. She pointed out that the bill made no reference to mediums who give spiritual advice, and that the bill should include language protecting the rights of spiritualists to give interviews to members of their congregations or to those who come to them in trouble and sorrow and needing advice. Then she further said their method of pay should be protected as well. Basically, she was wanting them to flip this bill on it's head and do the exact opposite that Houdini and Bloom wanted.

Rev. Jane Coates

Mrs. Coates got into a discussion with Congressman Bloom on fake mediums vs. real and she said she could trust no one that wasn't a mystic to be able to identify those who are fake. Congressman McLeod asks, "Is Mr. Houdini a mystic?". Mrs. Coates replies, "I think Mr. Houdini is one of the greatest mystics the world possesses today." And Congressman Bloom says, "But he says he is not." And Mrs. Coates follows with, "Mr. Houdini denies everyone's statement that is not on his side of the case."

Despite Houdini trying to butt-in and get his two cents back in the game, the session was closed due to the time. Houdini would have a couple months to reevaluate and prepare for his next meeting, which would take place on May 18th, 1926.

There was additional banter between Houdini and the Congressmen and Mrs. Coates. The newspapers of the day covered a few things that must have been struck from the Congressional Record. I have not included them here, but may post on one particular incident from the Feb 26th proceedings, on another date.

If you thought this session was wild, wait till you hear what happened in May!!!! Part 2 to follow shortly....

Originally published May 18, 2018

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Houdini Washington D.C. Hotels

The Willard in 1905 When Houdini Would Have Stayed There

I was curious as to where Houdini stayed when he was in Washington D.C. and I discovered rather quickly that one of the places was the Willard Hotel. The Willard is a DC landmark and has had many famous guests over it's very long life. Interestingly there is a plaque on the side of the building listing some of it's famous guests, Houdini's name is missing from the list. Yet I have no clue who a number of the people listed are. But on the Willards website they do list Houdini as a guest, as do a number of other sites related to the Willard.

The Willard is located at 1401-1409 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington DC.. This is across the street from one of Houdini's early theaters, Chase's Polite Vaudeville Theatre, which was located at 1424 Pennsylvania Ave NW. It was in the old Grand Opera House and was demolished long ago.

Houdini and Bess also stayed at The Hotel Washington on 15th St. That hotel recently became the 'W' Hotel. It is a few doors down from Keith's Vaudeville Theatre (15th and G St), where Houdini often performed and where he did one of his upside down straight jacket escapes in Washington D.C. On Jan 12th 1922, Houdini hung upside down in a straightjacket in front of Keith's. This is an iconic photo in the history of Houdini as it often shows the Treasury building across the street and some photos even catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument in the distance.

The old Munsey Building where in April 1916 Houdini did his first upside down straight jacket escape is not far from this, also on Pennsylvania Ave. and that location today is a Marriott Hotel, but Houdini did not stay there as it wasn't around at the time.

There were likely more hotels that the Houdinis stayed in as he performed in DC a lot during his career. But much has changed in DC, the majority of the theaters that existed at the turn of the century are gone. Keith's was demolished in the 1980s. The Gayety Theatre on 9th St. where Houdini performed in 1912 is also long gone. Even the Old DC Jail where Houdini did his famous escape from the cell belonging to Garfield's Assassin is also long gone. And that brings us back to the Willard because Houdini was performing at Chase's in 1906 when he did the jail escape so he likely was staying at The New Willard.

(This originally appeared in Nov 2010 on my blog. Some of the information was incorrect, so I have updated it and republished it nearly 10 years later, with accurate info!)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

T. Nelson Downs - Master Coin Manipulator

T. Nelson Downs is surely a name everyone in magic has heard of. Even if youre new to magic, you might have heard of the Downs Palm. Or at least the Misers Dream effect. And yet with his popularity, do we really know much about T. Nelson Downs? Probably not, and so, decided to put on the old Detective hat and find out more…

He was born Thomas Nelson Downs, March 16, 1867 in Garwin Iowa, though most references just say Marshalltown where he grew up. According to David Prices fine historical book Thomas was actually a twin, but his fellow twin did not survive, and word was that few believed Thomas would survive being only 2 lbs at birth. He did survive and was the youngest of three children. His father died when he was only 6 months old and the family moved around, eventually ending up in Marshalltown Iowa. 

How did Downs become interested in magic? Here is it is his own words, “"I was first inspired by a 'Town Hall' magician when I was about 12 years old, after seeing him turn ink to water and make cards rise magically from the pack, etc. It was all easy and simple to me s o I went home and duplicated t h e perform- ance and immediately commenced to study the art by pur- chasing all the books on the subject I could find." 

At least one of the books was likely Professor Hoffmann’s Modern Magic which came out in 1876. Downs himself also said, “Ed Reno got me started in the business”, but I think this refers to being a professional, NOT how he got started initially. Faucet Ross, in the Feb 1939 issue of The Linking Ring reveals that in Marshalltown Iowa, there lived a man named Frank Taylor. Mr. Taylor was the manager of a business called The Old Bowler which was right next to and actually part of The Chicago & Northern Railroad Station. Mr. Taylor was known to be an above excellent sleight of hand man and manipulator and is even mentioned in the book Leaves of Conjurers Scrap Books by Burlingame. 

It turns out that T. Nelson Downs worked as a telegrapher  or telephraph operator at the Railroad station, the same time Frank Taylor was working at The Old Bowler.  It’s certainly possible that Thomas Downs learned some magic from Taylor, though Downs never revealed this to anyone during his life. If nothing else, Taylor could have served as an inspiration to Downs who was just learning. OR Taylor might have been the magician that Downs saw as a kid? Hard to say. 

Young T. Nelson Downs, as I just mentioned took a job as a telegraph operator at the Chicago and Northern Railroad Station when he was 16 years old. He would continue working there until 1895. And numerous sources say that it was during his 12 years at the railroad station that he perfected his skills in manipulation. He was constantly seen with coins or cards while working. He worked the night shift when things were slower so that gave more time to concentrate on manipulation.  By the way, I’ll be referring to T. Nelson Downs as Tommy Downs from here on out. That was the name his friends called him.

In 1890, Tommy Downs married Nellie Stone. In October 1894, his son Raymond was born. But only a few months later, on April 8th 1895, his wife Nellie died. Raymond was sent to live with his grandparents and Tommy would go out on his own as a performer.

Now to back track just slightly. When Tommy was 16 he gave his first public performance. The program was a variety show with a number of performers, only one was singled out as probably being professional and that was Tommy. This event was recorded in his local paper, so we know that Tommy was doing shows even while working for the Railroad Station.  

Now if we fast forward to 1891, Tommy Downs did not start out as The King of Koins. He worked with a partner who was a mandolinist, Sam Siegal. Tommy presented manipulation, as well as escapes, hypnotism, and even mind reading ala John Randall Brown (which it says in the David Price MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurors In The Theatre). BTW, I covered John Randall Brown in Ep 15 of the podcast. I would imagine that either Tommy took gigs on his days off, or during the day, so his shows had to be close enough that he could make it back to the Railroad Station at night.  The partnership with Siegal didnt last long.

Now, we are up to 1895, Tommy’s wife Nellie passed away and he decides to go out on his own. Despite consulting with other magicians about the possibility to doing an ALL COIN ACT….he was discouraged to do so by everyone)…..he did it anyway. He took an engagement at the Hopkins Theatre in chicago with his Misers Dream act and it was a huge hit. In a letter to Faucett Ross, Tommy shares a story from that show. “Show business is a funny thing. The first vaudeville house I ever worked was the Hopkins Theatre, in Chicago. While there the manager told me, ‘DOWNS, you have a great act, but you will never be a real success in this country until you first make a success in Europe.’ He was 100% right. After a year in England, France and Germany, I was besieged with offers and contracts in America. And it is a poor rule that won’t work both ways. I have met a lot of European acts that got nowhere in their own country until they first made a hit in America.”

No one had ever seen an act like Tommy’s.  He was the first of the speciality acts and likely the first of the all manipulation acts. His success in the midwest caused his salary to rise and he went to New York City and then off to England.

Tommy claimed to have invented the Misers Dream…though the trick itself goes back many years having been presented by 19th Century conjurers as The Shower of Money, Aerial Treasury and other names. Rather it would be better served to say that Downs created THE ACT Known as The Misers Dream, as he did greatly expand upon the trick, adding unique sleights and clever moments and bits of business to the routine. A point not often mentioned, Tommy spoke throughout the act, it was not presented silent to music. So he had witty patter to go along with his amazing sleight of hand. 

His book, Modern Coin Manipulation does a great job capturing the various parts of the act. Though the book contains sleights that I can’t help but wonder are not things he used in his act, but put in to create the illusion of great difficulty to anyone reading it.

In Oct 1895, Mahatma Magazine said of Downs, “All his work is absolutely new, original and puzzling, even to magicians. We are frank to say that we believe him to be the cleverest man living with coins, and justly entitled to the name, “King of Koins”.

In 1895, the inventor of the handcuff act. Mr. B.B. Keyes, sold his act through the magic dealer W. D. Leroy of Boston. It was sold as, “Escape From Sing Sing, OR The Great Handcuff Act”. The first person to purchase it was Tommy Downs. But it doesn’t appear that he ever used them. In the November 1930 issue of The Sphinx, T. Nelson Downs relates a story of meeting up with Houdini at their hotel while Houdini was working the London Alhambra. Downs took from his trunk a ring of 52 keys and said to Houdini, "Here are the tools you do your act with." Houdini replied, "Tom, I don't use keys. You know I did not have the money to buy the keys" etc. Then Downs said, "Well you can't open them with hot air!"   

From Leroy's Catalog, the price of the Great Handcuff Act was $75.00. I went through the catalog and most everything was under $10. A few items reached $20 and $30 and a Sub-trunk reached $50. But here was the act that put Houdini on the map, and it's price much much higher than everything else. Perhaps Houdini, didnt have the money, lol. Or maybe he did.

There is a great story that is related in numerous sources about Downs first visit to New York City. Downs stopped into Otto Maurer's Magic shop and told him that he was in town performing, not only that,  he was making $100 a week. Maurer said to Downs, "No magician has ever been paid that kind of money, GET OUT of my shop!" At least one source claims the amount was $150.

Otto Mauer was known to have taught the Front and Back Palm to a number of magicians. But Tommy claimed he first did the trick at the Opera House in Boone Iowa around 1891. By 1898 he had turned it into an act of it’s own, by making multiple cards vanish, showing his hands empty and then reproducing the cards one at a time. He would use this as an encore to his Misers Dream Act.

In April of 1899, Tommy Downs secured a booking to play England, specifically the Palace Theatre in London.  It’s safe to say he took London by storm as no one had seen an act like his. He was constantly being interviewed in the paper for his unique act. Soon, other American acts would find their way to London, folks like Thurston, Houdini, Lafayette, William Robinson and more. David Price’s book even says Robinson confided in Downs that he was going to challenge the Chinese magician Ching Ling Foo. So Downs suggested to Robinson to use the name ‘Chung Ling Soo’.

Will Golston wrote this of Tommy Downs “ T. Nelson Downs, the King of Koins—and truly he deserves the title, is "one of the best," both as Magician and Gentleman, and as talent is sure to come to the top, and he has an abundance of it, he has certainly got there.  His manipulation of coins is marvellous, his audiences are often to be seen open mouthed, and amazed at his wonderful dexterity. “

Downs tells this story about his days of working in the train station. Sometimes when things were slow he would go out into the waiting room and show tricks to the travelers, farmers, or whoever was there. There was one incident when he showed some coin magic to Fred Stone and his brother, they were working with the Taylor Circus at the time doing a high wire act. Well, fast forward 14 years and Fred Stone was in London performing. On this particular day he was visiting with some fellow performers. One of the entertainers was bragging about the incredible coin manipulations presented by T. Nelson Downs at the London Palace Theatre. Fred spoke up and said, “I’m sorry but the best coin man on the planet works at a little train station in Marshalltown Iowa.” Well it turned out they were both correct because that little telegraph operator was now headlining the Palace!

In another letter Tommy wrote, “One of the first magicians I met in London was Charles Bertram and he told me, ‘DOWNS, you are really not a magician but a manipulator and juggler. Why don’t you do tricks?’ I answered, The reason I don’t do tricks is because everyone else does tricks. If I did tricks I probably would not be playing the Palace!”

Another of Tommy Down’s first contacts in London was William Hilliar who saw Tommy at the Place Theatre. He soon became his agent. Tommy continued on at the Palace for 6 months. They actually wanted him to stay longer but he had other engagements to attend to. It was during this time that Tommy wrote the book, Modern Coin Manipulation, which would explain his entire act, plus many of the unique sleights he had developed over the years. William Hilliar edited the book.

Speaking of William Hillar, this incident involved him and takes place in the early 1900s. He says,  “I visited the Theatre de Robert Houdin in Paris. They had a replica of Houdin’s stage settings large center and two side tables with traps running through to the wings. The performance was given by a French conjurer named Carmenelli. One of his features was the Rapping Hand. A few years later,  I again visited Houdin’s theatre accompanied by Nelson Downs. Carmenilli did the aerial treasury, borrowing Down’s hat for the purpose. I wonder if he ever knew that he was using the masters hat!”

Here is more from Hilliar via Mahatma Magazine. “I have been in Paris the last month, but have not seen much conjuring. According to what I am told Magic does not seem to take on here at all. There is, however, one exception i.e. T. Nelson Downs (King of Coins) whose wonderfully clever coin act goes great here and he has, I understand, been re-engaged for the next three years at the Folies Marigny, the most fashionable theatre in Paris. This notwith- standing the fact that one ot his best imitators preceeded him in Paris, but when Downs appeared the public could tell at once that there was only one King of Coins. I wonder what Robert Houdin would say could he but witness Down's show ? If I remember rightly Robert 
Houdin said that with practice it was possible to palm 2 coins. Downs palms 45 ! But in addition to his digital cleverness, he has that gen- tlemanly appearance and pleasing manner which makes his show go. He is booked for three solid years in the finest theatres in the world at an enormous salary and he carries his apparatus in his waistcoat pocket ! Now I'll give you the secret of Downs' success—ORIGINALITY. He originated the "King" idea, and although he has been copied by hundreds, the others are not in it. There you are my mag- ical brothers, work out some new idea and you will suddenly become famous. “

Here is Down’s talking about an incident in Paris. “I have often wondered just how much an audience sees when a magician does a trick. In 1900 I was playing a long engagement at The Marigny Casino in Paris. One night I walked out on the stage, started to do the act and then suddenly discovered that I have forgotten to load up with coins. I had a top hat but no coins—-they were on a table in the wings. What could I do? Well, I started the act without the coins—just pantomiming catching them from the air for about 3 minutes. Then I took a bow and received terrific applause. During the applause, I stepped offstage, loaded up and continued the act but, honestly, I don’t think that audience ever knew the difference.”

And here is a story from a letter to Faucett Ross from Tommy Downs, “As you know I played 26 consecutive weeks at the Palace Theatre in London. After my first show there Mr. Morton, the Manager, came backstage and complimented the act. He said, Mr. Downs, I am particularly impressed by the slow and deliberate manner in which you walk off and on the stage. It is very impressive.’ Well, I did not have the nerve to tell him the truth. You see, when I first arrived in London I did a lot of walking in order to see the sights. The result was I developed sore feet and there was no choice- I HAD to walk slowly. So I’ve been doing it ever since. Another interesting thing happened during my Palace engagement. After a few weeks I decided to build up the act a bit by using the coin wand which I always liked. Well, after the first show using the wand, Mr. Morton came to the dressing room and said, “Mr. Downs, my patrons are utterly intrigued with your great digital dexterity, but tonight you disillusioned them by using that mechanical stick which has no place in your fine act.’ Well, I saw that he was right and I never used it again from that day to this. It’s a good trick, but not for me."

In 1901, John Northern Hilliard was the dramatic critic and editorial writer for The Rochester Post Express. He wrote a glowing review of Downs act. Here is a little of what he said, “There is a real magician in Rochester. His name is T. Nelson Downs and he is working his wonders at the Cook Operah House this week.  Mr Downs is billed as The King of Koins and there is no magician on any stage in any country today who can compete with Mr.  Downs as a manipulator of either coins or cards. This is much conceded even by members of Mr. Downs own profession. He stands absolutely alone in his chosen field.” 

While in London, Downs became a sensation. He not only worked the Palace Theatre, but he appeared before The Prince of Wales who would go on to become King of England, at a private event. The Prince loved Tommy’s magic so much that after the performance was over, he was requested to stay and teach some magic to the Prince, which he gladly did. 

Shortly after his performance for the Prince of Wales, he was appearing before Queen Victoria. In fact, his standing with the Royals of Europe was quite high. He performed before Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Abdul Hamid the Sultan of Turkey, and The Czar of Russia. 

As he toured throughout Europe he appeared in Paris at the Marigny Casino and the Follies Bergere, The Wintergarten in Berlin, and when he returned to London he appeared at the Empire Theatre for forty weeks at twice the money he made at the Palace Theatre. 

Now here is something that came as a big surprise. Tommy Downs was interested in illusions, as in Grand Illusion. As early as 1900 he had purchased an illusion, where a woman, is tossed into the air, away from any furniture or stage settings and vanishes in a flash of flame. He purchased this from William Hilliar. In 1905 he worked with illusionist Ernest Thorn (ep 41 of the podcast), and created and patented an effect for making a person or object vanish while suspended under table. He also worked with Will Golston and created and illusion where a person could appear inside a glass bottle which was also suspended in the air. The effect is in the book, LATEST CONJURING by Goldston, came out in 1905, the illusion is called, The Goldstone-Downs Bottle Illusion.”

In 1905 Tommy Married Harriet Rockey on June 3rd. She already had a son who was born in 1896. I don’t know if this son was his, or if he later adopted the boy. In 1908 John Northern Hilliard edited Downs book The Art of Magic. Years later John Northern Hilliard would go on to become Howard Thurston’s publicity agent.

In 1910, this illusion idea comes back up, this time he teams up with a fellow from California, who was fairly unknown at the time, his name was Guy Jarrett. 
Together they created a new act, which would start with Down’s Misers Dream Act, and then they would present 4 unique illusions. All of these were creations of Jarrett’s. The act was called ‘In Mid-Air Illusions’. He clearly has something for this concept. The first illusion was Guy’s Boy, Girl and Sack. It was a transformation effect where a rather large woman was placed inside a sack which was suspended in mid-air. She would vanish from there and appear in the audience, while a skinny man came out of the sack.  
Another effect was The Table Coat Dissappearance. A small undraped table that has been standing in plain view is now placed in center of stage. The assistant puts on a long coat and hat, climbs up on the table, the magician pulls the coat and hat up in mid-air by aid of a rope and pulley attached, when the coat collapses the man is GONE! 

The final illusion was called The Mystery of Mysteries. This was Jarrett’s Bangkok Bungalow Illusion, which was an incredible mystery, which later became a feature of Howard Thurston’s show. But Down’s was the first to get these illusions. The coin manipulator who always traveled light, was now hauling 2400 lbs of baggage and two additional assistants. For whatever reason, the act did not play well. Perhaps Downs was not cut out to be an illusionist. 

In another letter to Faucett Ross, Tommy writes, “I have never claimed to have invented all the tricks in magic. I did take the old coin catching trick, elaborated it, added a few new sleights, a new manner of presentation and made an act out of it. I do claim to be the originator of the famous Dime and Penny trick. I got the idea in 1909 and in 1910 a jeweler friend of mine made up the first outfit for me. After a few months, I showed it to a friend of mine who was a traveling man. He showed it, without my permission, to Carl Brema, the Philadelphia Magic dealer, who, not knowning it was mine, put it on the market. During the past 20 years, thousands of them have been sold, but as for me, I’ve never received any cash or credit. The moral of this is—if you have something really good, either keep it to yourself or make sure you will be reimbursed if it is placed on the market.”

Tommy’s mother passed away on February 19th 1910 in Marshalltown. But along with that a rather strange occurrence. The very same day Mrs. Down’s died, her sister who lived quite a distance away in New York City, also died. Both of them were 78 years old. Another strange connection that twins have I guess. 

In March of 1911, another tragedy struck, this time Tommy’s house caught fire. The odd thing was he had just sold the house but had not yet moved out. He lost all of his belongings, all his furniture, clothing, and his magic equipment. The loss was reported to be around $2500 worth of items, but his insurance policy only covered $500. What did Tommy Downs do about it? He quickly got back on the road and started working.

Tommy Downs was a man with a plan. And that plan was to make $50,000. The equivalent of a little over a million dollars today. He reached that goal in 1912 and set out to retire. I apparently purchased some rental property in Marshalltown and moved back to his hometown. He was 42 when he left the stage. He would occasionally come out of retirement for private gigs and charity events. In fact, he created  a full evening show, which is quite fascinating. Here again, in Tommy’s own words…”My full evening show runs about like this. I usually open with the torn and restored paper ribbon (his own version). Then a simple cigarette routine concluding with vanish of lighted cigarette at fingertips. I follow this with about 5 minutes of billiard ball manipulations. next the Misers Dream, my speciality. I then go into card work—-Ladies Looking Glass, General Card, Mental Spelling, Two Card Stabbing, a few fancy shuffles, and conclude with my BackPalm routine. Next a borrowed bill in lemon which amazes them. I think vanish a handkerchief and reproduce it from a spectators coat collar, followed by a showing of about thirty more handkerchiefs. I always finish with a patriotic  number. I produce a red, white and blue handkerchief and blend the into a 36 inch silk American Flag and then when the spectators think it is all over, BINGO, I produce two big six foot flags on staffs. Thats about all there is to it. Just a small three ring circus in one suitcase and no fuss or bother.”

T. Nelson Downs remained close to magic world, attending conferences, corresponding with and meeting with magicians when he could. He and Houdini were good friends spending many hours together talking magic. They originally met many years before at The Chicagos Worlds Fair. 
In the July 1901 Mahatma, this appears, “Travelers returning from Europe report the existence of a powerful mutual admirations society composed entirely of magicians, whose acts are features. The passwords are, “HOUDINI, I’ve seen all kinds of magical acts, but without exception, your is really the acme of perfection.” OR “DOWNS, I don’t often praise a man, but whenever I see your act I can’t help thinking that there can never be another act conceived that will be so really marvelous” It is rumored that there are only two members of this society. 
In Houdini's Backyard, Downs on far Right. (CarnegieCollection)

One year later both Houdini and Downs would be early members of the newly formed Society of American Magicians. There are many pictures of Downs and Houdini together. One taken very early in both their careers, probably in London. One of the last was taken in Houdini’s backyard. 

In 1935, Downs started suffering from an illness that lasted 3 years. He died on September 11th, 1938 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown Iowa.

I thought I’d end this podcast slightly differently than usual. Faucett Ross had exchanged many letters with Downs during his life. The GEN Magazine in Jan 1958 featured an issue with many of those letters. I’ve included several of them in the podcast, but Id like to leave you with some advice from T. Nelson Downs himself.

“If I had an constructive advice to offer a young person starting out in magic, it would be this—At the outset he should  do as many different tricks and routines as possible before the public. By so doing he will soon discover the things he can do the best and the ones that register most strongly.”

“I turned down a lot of chances to do my act for fifteen or twenty dollars. I could use the money but I can’t afford to lower my reputation by working cheap. The more they pay you the more they will respect and enjoy you. A fellow called me the other night and said, “Mr. Downs, we would like to book your act but we do not have much money right now.” I answered, “Well, I’m a patient guy, so I’ll be willing to wait until you get enough.”

“Magicians nowadays are always complaining that there is nothing new but the trouble is that they can’t see the forest on account of the trees. There are dozens of good tricks described in books that most magicians have never bothered to read and that one of them have ever tried out in public. Take my own book, The Art of Magic for example. Turn to page 107 and read the description of my own version of The Flying Cards. For nearly 30 years I have been doing the trick on stage and off exactly as described. The turn to page 71 and read details of The General Card. This is my favorite card trick and almost an act in itself. Let me have this one and you can keep all the rest of them.”

And finally a few words from Tommy Downs that should be eye opening to every magician.
This is from the Feb 1923 MUM Magazine
"Allow me to state that our late beloved Harry Kellar was not only my personal friend, but I was one of his most ar- dent admirers. However, Alexan- der Herrmann has always been to my mind the "Ideal Magician." Herrmann looked, lived and acted the part. He had three or four small tricks, brought to a state of, near, perfection. These tricks were a part of his personality, and he never lost an opportunity to exploit them. 
Now, I claim, the great trouble with most magicians is: They want to look and act like Herrmann, and what is more, and worse, they want to do the same tricks he did and in exactly the same style. "It can't be did.”"  By the way, you could take out the Name Herrmann here, and insert, Copperfield, Blaine, ShinLim, Darren Brown, I think you get my point.
He further goes on…

"The late Charles Bertram of, "Isn't it Wonderful" fame was  playing at the Grand Theatre in Chicago. The late William Robinson (Chung Ling Soo) took me down into Ber- tram's dressing room, where I did my full act for him. When I had finished 
Mr. Bertram said: "Very clever, young man, but—Why don't you do "tricks." I then replied, "the reason I don't do tricks is because other magicians do tricks." I believe neither Mr. Bertram nor I realized the full significance of the remark until several years later, when I was creating quite a sensation at the Pal- ace Theatre, London, where I re- mained a feature for twenty-six con- secutive weeks. Y our reference to the Winter Garden, Berlin, reminds me that I was warned by profession- al friends and theatrical agents not to sign a contract for that establish- ment, I was assured my act would be a complete failure there, and and would ruin me for Germany. The predictions, as you are aware, were all wrong, as I played there, eight weeks in 1900, and a month's return engagement about a year later. No doubt, the fact that I pos- sessed a very strong and penetrating voice, and knew how to use it to fairly good advantage, had consider- able to do with my success there and elsewhere. I have always con- tended that a magician, to meet with any marked degree of success, must be an actor—hundreds of people do tricks—but they cannot all CONVINCE, — yes, that's the word, CONVINCE an audience. My point is that it is not the particular trick that makes the magician, but it is the magician who makes the particular trick. I claim the public did not go to see Kellar's and Herrmann's tricks, but, on the contrary, they went to see the individuals, — great men's personalities in particu- lar. Their tricks were simply incidental. I will further elucidate: A few days ago I made a long voyage to see a celebrated mystifier—getting myself up at six A. M. with the thermometer at 20 below zero and traveling some seventy miles to see this miracle worker. Can anyone imagine me going seventy miles to see a mere magician do tricks! Not on your life!”" The man Downs was going to see was HOUDINI. I just found that line so incredible, “Hundreds of people do tricks but they can’t CONVINCE.” To do that takes a very special performer, part actor, part magician, a person who LIVES his or her material. That is incredible wisdom from Tommy Downs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the podcast. I do want to mention one other thing in regards to Down’s famous act The Misers Dream. Back in 2008 Levent, the great comedy magician and excellent manipulator, put out a DVD set on the Misers Dream. It has 5 hours worth of sleights and tricks, including the routines of Al Flosso, Charlie Miller, Roy Benson, Paul Potassy, Robert Houdin and of course, T. Nelson Downs. It’s well worth checking out. IT is extensive. And yes, it’s a teaching DVD. I honestly do not know if they’re available anymore, but you could contact Levent through his website to find out. 

All of the references are in Bold Letters within the article, so they are easy to find.
This was Episode 23 of the podcast and was one of the most popular of the entire run.

AFTER I put the podcast up, I wrote a companion article about Downs & Houdini which can be found here: