Showing posts sorted by relevance for query congress. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query congress. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Houdini Testifies Before Congress Continued

(Library of Congress Photo)
Before I can get to the next day(s) of testimony, I should mention that Houdini was doing double duty in Congress. He first met with the House Committee, which I covered in my previous article. Then later in the day he met with the Senate Committee.  The unfortunate thing is that though there is a complete record of the House Hearings, but so far I've not been able to track down the Senate hearings so all I have is newspaper accounts. So you know, I'm leaving out some of the more popular stories of these proceedings that have been told before, like Houdini putting Bess on the stand and verifying that he is 'a good boy.'

During the first day of Senate Hearings on the Anti-Fortune Telling Bill, the big revelation was the members of Congress and their wives often visited and consulted with the mediums and fortune tellers. It was brought up that even the White House was known to consult these folks. Here was information I'm sure the D.C. class didn't want to get out, but it did. I wonder if that's why the second day of hearings wasn't until the end of May, because they were hoping people would forget.

On May 18th, 1926 the Congressional Hearings for HR8989 the Anti-Fortune Bill resumed. The hearings began by hearing testimony from Remegius Weiss of Philadelphia. Weiss, no relation to Houdini's family, was an investigator into mediums and spirit phenomenon. He was another of the many investigators working for/or with Houdini. Weiss shared how he had exposed the famed Henry Slade, and even got Slade to sign a confession. The name of Conan Doyle also came up during the testimony and the Congressman were under the belief that Conan Doyle was a great authority on Spiritualism.

Moments later, Houdini addresses the Congressman in regards to Doyle. Mr. McLeod again reiterates that Conan Doyle was an authority on Spiritualism. Houdini jumps in and says, "Conan Doyle is not an outstanding authority." McLeod responds, "He is accepted as one of the best." And Houdini follows, "No, he is not accepted as one of the best. He is one of the greatest dupes, outside of Sir Oliver Lodge. Conan Doyle stated I posses mediumistic powers, which I deny."

McLeod says, "How can you prove it?" Houdini replied, "I admit that I do not have mediumistic powers. They claim in a London psychic college I dematerialize my body, and that I ooze through and come out again and put myself together." Mr. McLeod follows with, "How do you do it?" Houdini says something which is quite remarkable, "I do it like anybody else would do it. There is nothing secret about it. We are all humans. Nobody is supernormal. We are all born alike."

Then Congressman Bloom, one of the resolutions authors, says, "Have you ever heard of another city in the United States that has a similar law to the one in the District of Columbia in regards to fortune telling?" Houdini then explains that no city gives such a cheap license to fortune tellers and in fact, most cities actually have laws prohibiting it. Of those cities that do offer a license, they have fees like, $1500 per year, $1000 per year, $5 per day, $500 per quarter and $150 per month. Whereas the District of Columbia charges a mere $25 per year.


Next to testify would be Rose Mackenberg. She would again open up that source of embarrassment for quite a few Congressmen which was first revealed in February. Rose had visited two of the key mediums in the audience, Madam Marcia and Rev Jane Coates, prior to the days proceedings. She visited them separately, but a key bit of information was shared by both mediums. That devastating bit of information was that Congressman often visit mediums in town. Not only that, they included the White House among their group of spiritualism devotees. And then, she mentions that Senator Fletcher's wife is a medium herself.

This revelation also includes the clue to a question I have had for a while. That question is, "how did all these mediums and fortune tellers know about the hearings in order to show up?" Well, along with the fact that many Congressmen attend seances or get readings, Rev Jane Coates also mentions that she has been lobbying Congressman and had interviewed 22 of them and 16 were 'entirely favorable towards spiritualism'. Obviously, with members of Congress being so friendly with the spiritualist community, it's easy to see who told the mediums about the hearings, the Congressmen!

Reading Rose Mackenberg's testimony is certainly fascinating, but I'd like to share with you now, testimony from 'the other side'. No, not from the spirits, lol, but rather from one of the spiritualists. On May 20th, 1926, Reverend H.P. Strack, secretary of the Nationals Spiritualists Association of America, gives his testimony. What he tries to do is shred the statements made by previous speakers.
He began with Remegius Weiss's testimony about Dr. Henry Slade. Reverand Strack says, "In the testimony given by the man from Philadelphia (Weiss), he refers to a seance conducted by the medium named Slade. If the committee will remember, in this man's testimony he stated the medium would take his foot and kick a book, and the book would remain floating in the air. That is concrete evidence of mediumship, the law of levitation forcing a book to remain in the air that has been kicked by a medium." Now, let's look at what Weiss really said. "A book extended over the edge of the table, Dr. Slade slyly gave the book a kick with his left foot from under the table. The book turned over like a flap door. There is nothing remarkable in this trick. Still up to this time, spiritists say 'Dr. Slade floated a book in the air.'"  So, Weiss actually showed that Slade's attempt to 'float a book' was actually done by secretly kicking the book. And that it merely flipped over. It did not float in the air. And despite this, the spiritists claim the book floated, NOT Weiss, who again, exposed it. So Reverend Strack was misleading in this part of his testimony.

Strack also mentions a curious exchange that took place during the Senate Hearings. The speaker had
mentioned that Houdini claimed that all of these mediums were fakes and frauds and asked if he would include the Davenport Brothers in that statement. Houdini apparently replied, "The reason I have not included the Davenport brothers was because they are personal friends of mine, and I am a student of Dana Davenport."  I haven't been able to check this against the actual record, but it's fairly obvious that Houdini simply didn't want to include his friends in all this nonsense. The Davenports never claimed to be real mediums, but they also never claimed that they weren't. Houdini said the Davenports shared their secret rope tie with him. At this point though, they were no longer performing.

I'm not sure who Dana Davenport is though, as it wasn't the name of either of the brothers. Perhaps it's a misspelling or the stenographer didn't take down the name properly. The brothers were William Henry and Ira Erastus. The photo to the right is of Houdini and Ira Erastus Davenport. The other brother had died back in 1877 when Houdini was just a child.

A curious moment happens when President Abraham Lincoln's name is brought up. Lincoln seems to be a favorite 'spirit' among mediums as he has a habit of showing up in many so-called seances. The spiritualists communities often point to Lincoln himself being a devote spiritualist. Houdini at one point decided to squelch this statement by bringing for into evidence a letter, written by Lincoln's son, denying that his father was ever a believer in spiritualism. Mary Todd Lincoln was the one so desperate as to seek out these folks, but not Abraham Lincoln.

Some of the additional highlights from the proceedings include Houdini giving a demonstration of spirit voices speaking through a trumpet, which was well received by the congressman. A bit later, one congressman mentions a stunt that Houdini did where he was blindfolded and drove around town, and he would stop the vehicle and retrieve a missing object. At first this seemed to me like a blindfold drive, but now I think it's probably more akin to a mere blindfold stunt or at the most some sort of hellstromism (muscle reading).


At a later point in the proceedings Houdini gives a demonstration of Slate Writing, which he prefaces that 'anyone can do'. In other words, it's not supernatural. He shows two school slates, and the numbers 1-2-3-4 are written on the respective sides of the slates to show that they contain no other writing. Then the numbers are cleaned off and the two slates tied together with a handkerchief and placed a piece of chalk between them. Next, Houdini produces a dictionary that was purchased that morning and asks a member of Congress to drop a card within the pages of the book, so marking a page. He comically asks the Spirits to tell him the number of the page, the first word in the book and some sentence that he would not know. Sure enough, when he unties the slates, writing is seen, the page number is correct, the words are correct, and there is a sentence which is actually a message for someone in the room.

The mediums all say that Houdini simply demonstrated what they knew, that he himself was actually a spirit medium. Houdini denied the accusation. He said he was bound by his art not to reveal magic tricks, but he had no problem exposing spirit tricks. And then shared how he knew in advance the various words and numbers and how he eavesdropped on an earlier conversation and used that as his secret sentence on the slates. At the finale, he exposed the full secret of the slates. (By the way, the photo above has a blemish on it. Houdini is not holding a cigar in his mouth, despite the way it looks.)

Oh, but there was one more thing. Madame Marcia, whom Houdini called Madame Marchia, and it was recorded that way in several publications. Madame Marcia made a prediction that Houdini would soon die. She wasn't the only medium to predict that, or wish that. And in this instance, that prediction would ultimately come true.

In the end, despite 4 days of testimony from Houdini, his investigators, Madame Marcia, Reverend Coates and others, there would be no Anti-fortune telling bill. The bill rode too closely to the line of infringing upon religious liberties.  Reading through the transcripts from the House Hearings, I think Houdini missed his calling as a lawyer!

The Government Printing Office published a booklet entitled, FORTUNE TELLING Hearings Before the Subcommittee On Judiciary On The Committee Of The District of Columbia House of Representatives 69th Congress First Session H.R. 8989. The last word that appears in the official transcript from the House of Representatives published by the Government Printing Office........the final word.........HOUDINI.

In case you missed it, please go back and read part 1 of this story http://www.themagicdetective.com/2018/05/houdini-testifies-before-congress-day-1.html

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Houdini Fake News Or Laurel/Yanny 1926?!

Houdini leaving Congress (Library of Congress Photo)
There was one exchange that took place during Houdini's Feb 26th testimony before Congress, that I left out of the previous article. I wanted to double check some things before I posted about it. I must admit, I was excited about using the popular term 'Fake News' in a headline, especially given that it was from 1926. But before I could make the accusation, I had to check one source. Now that I've done that, I'm more confused than when I started, lol.

The story appeared in a number of newspapers on Feb 27th, 1926. It was put out by the Associated Press (AP) and picked up all over the country. One of the things that is mentioned in the various articles is the fact that Capital guards had to be summoned to stand ready to prevent any physical combat between the spiritualists, fortune tellers and Houdini. This I believe, though it was not recorded in the Congressional record. You see, a booklet was published by the Washington Government Printing Office called 'Fortune Telling-Hearings Before The Subcommittee on Judiciary of the Committee on the District of Columbia House of Representatives-69th Congress First Session on H.R. 8989'. This is the complete transcript of events that took place during the hearings. And, it's basically an eye witness source for what took place that day.

Before I go to the source, let me give you the essence of the 'fake news story'. Houdini, according to the stories, says that persons claiming supernatural powers were nothing but fakers. This part is true, and is reflected in the transcripts. Though a couple papers put down the word 'fakir' instead of 'faker', which is something different altogether.

Next, the stories say that Houdini offered $10,000 to anyone who could tell him what was in a telegram he tossed upon the table. Representative Reid, Republican from Illinois, spoke up and said, "Why it says, 'I can't be there today'." Houdini replies, "That's a guess, and you are not clairvoyant." Reid responds, "Oh yes I am!" and the audience bursts out laughing. The articles further state, that it turned out the Illinois representatives quotation of the telegram was correct, but Houdini insisted it was all an accident.  Wow. how embarrassing for Houdini. This was reported by the AP and went out to newspapers all over the country.

There is one small problem. It's not clear that it happened that way. Here is the dialog straight from the transcript:

Mr. McLeod: It is possible to have a genuine clairvoyant, is it not?
Mr. Houdini: It is impossible, I claim. I will give $10,000 to any clairvoyant in the world that will do one test.
Mr. Reid: What is the test?
Mr. Houdini: Any test I want them to do.
Mr. Reid: Let us get the $10,000
Mr. Houdini:Unfortunately, I didn't bring it with me. But I can telegraph for the money, if you wish.
Mr. McLeod: There are witnesses here.
Mr. Houdini: They will say under oath and swear to it; I tell you I would not believe a clairvoyant or fraudulent medium under oath, so help me God.
Mr. McLeod: Wood you by proof?
Mr. Houdini: By proof, yes: certainly by proof.
Mr. McLeod: Here is a witness that can prove it.
Mr. Reid: How long have you been fighting them?
Mr. Houdini: About 35 years.
Mr. Reid: Have you been fairly successful?
Mr. Houdini: I have had more mediums arrested in two years than have been arrested in seventy, because I know their tricks; I know how to catch them.
Mr. Houston: You have never tried to catch them on a test, have you?
Mr. Houdini: On a test (turning to the audience) Tell me the name my mother called me when I was born? {no response from audience}  Tell me the pet name my father used to call me? {no response from audience} (At this point Mr. Houdini threw on the committee table the crumpled up piece of paper.)
Mr. Houston: We ought to know something about the subject matter.
Mr. Houdini: You asked for a test?
Mr. Houston: Sure.
Mr. Houdini: Here is a telegram (turning to the audience). Read that, you clairvoyant mediums and show me up. Tell the contents of the telegram. {no response}
Mr. Reid: I will tell you what it says: " Please send more money."
Mr. Houdini: Does anybody want to read that wire?
Mr. Reid: I have made a guess.
Mr. Houdini: She {indicating one of the audience members} is a clairvoyant.
Mr. Reid: I said, "Please send more money."
Mr. Houdini: You can make your own deduction. That is just what it is. You are not a clairvoyant?
Mr. Reid: Oh, yes I am (laughter from audience)
Mr. Houdini: All right, if you are clairvoyant, tell me what this wire is. Go ahead {producing another telegram}
Mr. Reid: It is asking if you didn't come?
Mr. Houdini: No, sir. Everybody guesses at it.

The sections in red are the most important. The newspapers record that Reid said, "I can't be there today." But what Reid actually said was, "Please send more money." So they got that wrong. Houdini doesn't admit that Reid correctly guessed the message in the telegram either. What he says to Reid is: "You can make your own deduction. That is just what it is." Then he adds, "You are not clairvoyant."
Congressman Reid was making light of most of the days events, and here is another example. But I don't see here where Houdini replies, "ok you guessed that correctly, let's try again." NO, he  says basically,"that was a guess". But he pointed out that Reid was not clairvoyant and really the question was to the crowd. When Reid would not stop, Houdini hit him with a test all his own, which he got wrong.

Now, I've read this numerous times. Perhaps: "You can make your own deductions. That is just what it is." could be interpreted to mean, 'You can make your own deductions. Your statement is correct'. But I tend to think, IF that is what was meant, then it would have followed with a notation about laughter from the audience or the audience getting out of hand. Because the next line has that. And surely if someone guessed correctly after Houdini made such a grand statement, the audience would have gone crazy. Not to mention the fact, that Reid doesn't say anything about claiming the $10,000 prize. And given his antics during the day, I can't see how he would have missed such an easy joke. Later sections of the report do show when the proceedings had to be stopped because the audience was getting out of hand. Don't you think a room full of fortune tellers and mediums would have gone wild over someone apparently beating Houdini at his game? I am unclear now. At first when I read it I didn't think that was the case. Now, after having read it numerous times, I can see the other side of the argument. One this for sure, it makes for a funny story and that's why the papers ran with it. Is it fake news? Probably not, although I did think so at first.

Tell me, what do you think? Do you think Reid guessed it correctly? Or do you think he got it wrong and Houdini just moved on to another test? Maybe it's a case of Laurel/Yanny from 1926, you hear it one way or hear it another, lol?!

Part 2 of Houdini In Congress will be coming in a couple days.

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


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast Ep 7-Houdini & Congress 1926


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

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

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

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


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Houdini in Chicago

Houdini (right) in Chicago
Chicago, like Boston and NYC is another city very important in the life of Harry Houdini. His first appearance in Chicago was during the 1893 Columbian Exposition also known as the World's Fair. According to Pat Culliton Houdini was there, along with Jacob Hyman and Dash. Several of the Houdini biographies suggest that the 'Brothers Houdini' presented the Metamorphosis on the mile long midway.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Houdini In Congress -1926, One More Story

I left this story out of my articles on Houdini Testifying before Congress, but this newspaper piece that appeared a couple weeks after he died, has a great sentence at the end which changed my mind and now I'm including it. This is from the Abilene Daily Report Nov 15, 1926.

Please note that last line: "Houdini was not merely the greatest magician of all times, but in addition he was a first-rate man." Indeed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Houdini's Week in D.C. Feb 1912

(Library of Congress)
Houdini opened for a week at the Gayety Theater in Washington D.C. Feb 12, 1912. He would play the Gayety until Saturday Feb 17th. The Gayety Theater was located on 513 9th St. NW Washington, D.C. The Gayety opened in 1907 on the street known for it's theaters and nightlife.

According to an ad in the Washington Times on Feb 12, "Houdini-the Handcuff King, Who will perform astounding feats with locks, straitjackets, and handcuffs at every performance. The Original HOUDINI." The ad also mentioned that Houdini would perform twice a day, a matinee in the afternoon and then again in the evening.

Through newspaper records I've been able to track Houdini's performances for the week. It would appear that his opening on Monday Feb 12, he presented a number of feats and then let the audience know of the first 'challenge' for the week. This would take place on Tuesday evening Feb 13th. I will print exactly what it says in the newspaper ad.

"HOUDINI-the Handcuff King Has just been challenged to escape from an airtight galvanized iron tank into which he will be locked by the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., after they have filled it with beer. Tuesday Night"

So here is 'Challenge 1' and it's obvious that this one was orchestrated by Houdini. The 'airtight galvanized iron tank' is Houdini's Milk Can escape, but filled with beer rather than the usual water. And instead of hauling it out as his original invention, it's presented as a challenge from the Brewery.

On Feb 14th, Houdini is again challenged. Here is how reads the ad for the Gayety Theater promoting this escape.

"HOUDINI the Handcuff King, HOUDINI has been challenged by the Beacon Shoe Company. They will search him, rope him and nail him in a box they have built and out of which they wager he cannot escape."

Things get really interesting on Thursday Feb 15th. The Gayety takes out a larger ad, this time promoting ONLY Houdini. In addition, small articles on Houdini appear in two different newspapers. One of those articles is promoting his challenge for that evening. The other article is quite telling. The headline for this article reads "Houdini Does Magic For Newspaper Men". This time, rather than go to the newspapers office, he went to the National Press Club. He presented some card manipulations and tricks with cards and then finished with his famous Needle trick.  Houdini must have given this exhibition for the Press Club sometime in the afternoon. The National Press Club is only a couple blocks from where the Gayety Theater was located.

On Feb 15th, Houdini actually presented not one but two challenges. The afternoon challenge is by the Blacksmith Gussmans. The evening challenge is by the Seaman Gunners from the U.S. Navy Yard which again, is not too far from the theater. You can see that ad to the left.

On Friday Feb 16th, Houdini again gets a small article featuring his upcoming escape for that evening. In addition the two big papers in town both print ads similar to the one above featuring the details of that days challenges. In the afternoon, Houdini accepts the challenge made by a group of Sailmakers. They will tie his hands and feet behind his back with ropes soaked in rosin and tar, then place him in two of their specially made burlap bags. One to be fastened over head and the other tied at feet.

The evening challenge carries the headline "The Supreme Test of His Career-TONIGHT". The rest of the ad reads, " Insane asylum attendants will roll him in soaked wet sheets in mummy fashion, securely tie him down with broad bandages to a hospital bed, pour 20 buckets of water over him to shrink the knots, and he will attempt to release himself in FULL VIEW OF THE AUDIENCE".

Saturday Feb 17th is Houdini's final day at the Gayety in Washington D.C.. He gets yet another small article in the paper featuring his challenges. The article begins by saying that Houdini has been breaking all records at the Gayety this week. The two big papers again feature very large ads promoting the final challenges for the week. The matinee challenge will be from 'Spanish Inquisition Irons from war museums.'. And the final evening challenge of the week might sound familiar to some of you folks who know Houdini. The final challenge reads "Mechanic's Automobile Challenge - They will bind and lock Houdini in two inflated tires. They guarantee not to choke him in locking his head to the tires." This is a duplication of the Weed Tire Challenge that he first performed in 1908.

There you go, a week in the career of Harry Houdini Feb 12-17, 1912 Washington D.C.

Inside the Gayety Theatre - Library of Congress Photo

The information for this article was gathered from the Washington Times Newspaper and The Washington Herald Newspaper from 1912.




Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Great Salon Magician Hofzinser

J.N. Hofzinser
I can't say I've been as nervous and unsure about a topic as I am with this one. I have been doing some research on Johann Hofzinser, the great Viennese Magician. However, during the course of my research, I've discovered that much of what I read was probably wrong. The early history of Hofzinser was recorded by Ottokar Fischer, but according to magic scholar Magic Christian, Fischer was wrong about a lot of his information. Because Fischer was wrong, many of the later biographies of Hofzinser are also incorrect. Houdini gets a lot wrong in his Conjurers Monthly Magazine about Hofzinser.

One fact that is clear, Johann Nepamuk Hofzinser was born June 19th, 1806 in Vienna Austria in the Landstra├če district. He was a cousin to fellow Viennese Magician Ludwig Dobler. It's possible that Dobler is the one who first sparked Hofzinser's interest in magic. Johan held a job within the Viennese government in the financial ministry from which he would eventually retire from in 1865.

Several years earlier he opened his first Magic Salon in 1857. He moved to 5 different locations from 1857 to 1865. Then after his retirement from the financial ministry it appears that Hofzinser took his show on the road. But it's his Salon work that is what is most important. Hofzinser was basically the father of Parlor Magic or Salon Magic. In his parlor presentations he presented both card magic, manipulation and apparatus magic.

According the Dai Vernon, Johann Hofzinser was the Father of Card Magic. I'm intrigued with his card magic but sadly am not quite as familiar with it as I would like to be. I know a bit more about his none card magic mainly because of the book 'The Magic of J.N. Hofzinser' by Ottokar Fischer.

The Rose Mirror
There are many intriguing pieces in his repertiore, but I am personally drawn to the routine known as The Apotheosis of the Rose.  

The effect begins with a hand held mirror which is shown on both sides. Then it's covered for a moment with a scarf and when the scarf is removed the image of a red rose is seen on one side of the mirror. As the performer speaks the rose grows paler and paler until it has completely lost it's color. The scarf is held in front of the mirror again and the image vanishes. The scarf is held over a glass vase and the white rose appears inside it. When he removes the rose from the vase it again changes color leaving the red rose.

And to that I say, WOW! I can't go into the workings, because I do not divulge magic secrets on this blog. But look at the photo to the left and you'll see the actual Rose Mirror used by Hofzinser, now in the collection of Ken Klosterman.

Fountain of Love
The next routine that I find really interesting is called The Fountain of Love. It begins with a glass goblet containing some sort of murky dark water apparently from the 'Fountain of Love'. A borrowed ring is tossed into the water to test whether the volunteer who lent the ring has true love, for if he/she does, the water will turn crystal clear. The performer covers the glass goblet with a scarf for a moment and then when it is removed the water can be seen to be clear and there are a a couple goldfish swimming inside the goblet. But the even more amazing part, one of the fish apparently has the ring in it's mouth! A net is used to retrieve the fish and the ring.

That is a fantastic effect, but according to the book, Hofzinser was not happy with it and changed the props and even altered the method. The later routine became known as The Ink of the Enamoured and it was basically the same general idea but Hofzinser added some additional beats to the routine to prove there was really ink in the vessel. He put a white feather into the liquid which came out black and used a ladle to remove some of the ink and pour it into a glass.  In the collection of Ken Klosterman is the original Fountain of Love goblet along with the Ink Ladle which can be seen in the image to the right.

Another interesting effect in Hofzinser's show was called The Card Automaton. It was a small box in which a pack of cards was inserted. Any card could be called for and it would rise out of the box. According to the book 'The Magic of J.N. Hofzinser', the prop is actually in the possession of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. I do know that Ken Klosterman also has a Card Automaton in his collection but it looks a little different than the one pictured in the Ottokar Fischer book. Still, Klosterman might very well own the original, I don't know. I was not aware that the Library of Congress possessed any Hofzinser items, but apparently they do.

The list of Hofzinser's original sleights, card effects and apparatus tricks is staggering. He was an incredibly inventive artist who not only invented many methods still used today, but improved on countless props that existed in his time. On top of that he wrote poetry that was used in his presentations and also composed music for his act as well. In the video below, you can hear one of the pieces that Johann Hofzinser wrote for his show and see a number of wonderful images of the great Viennese Conjurer. Enjoy!



According to Magic Christian's wonderful website on Hofzinser (Hofzinser.net) the final performance that Johann Hofzinser gave was New Years Eve 1875. He would become ill shortly after this and was sick for six weeks until he finally passed away on March 14, 1875. He is buried in Vienna Central Cemetery in Vienna Austria.

By the way, there is a wonderful tribute to Hofzinser in the Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants Show. Ricky does a version of Everywhere and Nowhere with a nice twist at the end.  The routine is at about 36 minutes in....click the link to see the entire show on youtube.



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Episode 2 Additional Information

For the record, I love searching out the graves of dead magicians. Mainly because it's so darn hard to find the graves of living ones. On Episode 2, I showed three photos of graves of magic related people. The first was the grave of Anna Eva Fay Pingree. Anna Eva Fay was a phenomenon in her day. She was born Ann Eliza Heathman in 1851, just at the time that the Fox Sisters and the Davenport Brothers were making news as spiritual mediums. She apparently showed signs of having 'the gift' and was encouraged to move in this direction. Ann met a man who would become her manager and he taught her the actual gifts (the methods used by fake mediums).  They created an act where she would present 'Light and Dark Seances' on-stage for audiences. Among her interesting creations during the 'light seance' was the effect we know today as The Dancing Handkerchief.  Her 'dark seance' sequence was similar to the Davenport Brothers act, she would be tied to a chair inside a cloth cabinet and bells would ring, tambourines would play and other manifestation would occur.

Over the years she would move away from the seance aspect of the show and move more towards mentalism effects, all with a 'spirit' kind of theme to them. She retired from show business in 1924 and settled in Melrose Mass.

The next grave belonged to Mina Stinson Crandon, better known as Margery the Medium. She was the medium who The Scientific American Magazine was going to acknowledge to the world as being  a genuine medium and could really speak to the dead. Well, that is until Houdini got wind of this and he stepped in. Actually, he more than stepped in, he took over the investigation and an all out war ensued! Houdini had a special wooden box built to house Margery and prevent her from causing the manifestations to happen by her own hand. Her spirit guide 'Walter', who was her deceased brother, still spoke however and could be quite the salty tongued spirit.

Houdini successfully prevented the Scientific American Committee from awarding Margery with any sort of authenticity certificate.

She lived on Lime St in Boston and is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery. The photo was provided to me by escape artist and investigator Norman Bigelow. Norm is currently offering a lecture about Margery and Houdini and other mediums.

Last up is a fellow who I've done a LOT of research on, William Henry Palmer, who performed under the stage name of Robert Heller. He was quite the performer. His show included not only magic, but mind reading and music. You see, Robert Heller was an accomplished concert pianist. The Library of Congress even has several of his pieces of sheet music in their collection.

Heller traveled the world presenting his magic. He actually was from England but his career really blossomed in America. One of his most popular feats was his Second Sight routine. This was an early version of what we think of today as mentalism or mind reading. Heller used multiple methods to read the mind of Haidee Heller, a woman he called his sister but apparently she was not. Incidentally, there is a wonderful story I read that happened between Robert Heller and Haidee. After the musical section of the show one night, he and Haidee got into a quarrel behind the scenes. She refused to come out for the Second Sight routine. So Robert Heller walked out and announced "Ladies and Gentleman, this is the part of the program where Ms. Haidee Heller comes out, except tonight she refuses to do so. Let's wait and see." He then quietly took a seat on the couch and began to twirl his thumbs not speaking a word. A few moments a red hot Haidee came storming out. Heller said "Ah! I thought so" and they continued with the show.

Robert Heller died unexpectedly in November of 1878. He was on tour in Philedelphia and had performed at the Concert Hall on Nov 26th, but showed clear signs of being ill. It was pneumonia and he died the next day. His body was sent to Machepelah Cemetery in Philidelphia and was placed in a vault there. Sometime later it was moved to Mt. Moriah Cemetery where he remains to this day.

Incidentally, these three folks were all connected in two ways. First they all had a connection to Houdini. Anna Eva Fay and Houdini were friends. Margery and Houdini were friendly enemies. Houdini re-discovered the grave of Robert Heller. Second connection is they all presented seances!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Few Talks With David Copperfield

On the Facebook page for the Essential Magic Collection, there are 7 video interviews that Luis DeMatos conducts with David Copperfield. Among the topics: Magic Books, Houdini, Chung Ling Soo, Dante, Robert Houdin and more. The interviews are fairly short but wonderful.

In the video that discusses magic books, David Copperfield tips the fact that he is trying to acquire the bookcase that was in Houdini's home at 278. I would imagine that he will eventually end up with it (IF he doesn't already have it). Copperfield also mentions he owns half of the Houdini Collection of magic books, the other half being in the Library of Congress.

As far as collections go, I never get tired of the glimpses inside of David's ever growing collection. And my admiration for Luis DeMatos goes up and up all the time when I see his incredible video projects both magic and now in this documentary style.

To see the videos, follow this link https://www.facebook.com/EMCollection/videos/vb.132396572192/10155986671877193/?type=2&theater

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Houdini On New Years Day - 1906


It was 108 years ago today, that Harry Houdini was in Washington D.C.. He visited D.C. many times during his career and enjoyed many successful performances. He was in town performing at Chase's Theatre.  On Jan 1, 1906, he went down to the 10th Precinct Police Station to attempt a jail cell escape. We actually have Houdini's own words to describe this event.

"I took a long chance there. They didn't give me a square deal. I went to them and as I always do in the cities I visit, offered them the chance to lock me in and keep me there if they could. But I made the condition I always insist on that I should see the cell in which they intended placing me and examine the locks to be used. The lieutenant of police at the precinct to which they too me agreed to this, but after the test started, I heard him whisper to one of his men to bring him the locks for another cell.

Naturally I objected to any change and he became most offensive in his manner. He told me his orders were to lock me up and keep me there, and intimated that if I was afraid I could pass the thing up and take the consequences. I remonstrated with him and told him to remember that I was not a criminal. That I had come to him of my own accord and deserved the courtesy due an equal. But he could not see it, and continued his brutal threatening attitude.

Then I lost my head and went ahead recklessly. I know now that I was foolish to do so, for my reputation is well established in every large city in the world, and I did not need the Washington test. Of course, I was endangering my reputation in submitting to a chance of locks, for if they had got me by any means whatever, my standing would have been badly damaged.

I got out in eighteen minutes, to the great surprise of the lieutenant. He had evidently been prepared to be anything that I couldn't do it. Why he would have staked his head on keeping me in. Not that that article is of any value."

Houdini went on to add, "Since my return to the United States I have broken out of stationhouses in New York, Brooklyn, Rochester, Buffalo, Detroit, and Baltimore, but it has remained for Washington to treat me like a common malefactor. The fact that my wife is present prevents me from telling you (a reporter) exactly what I do think of that lieutenant and his assistants. You can probably guess what I would say if she were not in the room."

This interview with Houdini appeared in The Washington Times Newspaper, on Sunday January 7th, 1906. It is interesting to note that this particular escape often gets forgotten because on January 6th, 1906, Houdini escaped from the Jail Cell of the assassin on President Garfield at the Old D.C. Jail.

Let's look at some additional details of this New Years Day escape at the 10th Precinct. The chief of
D.C. Police Chief Richard Sylvester (Library of Congress)
Police in Washington D.C. Major Richard Sylvester had his office there so he was probably  the one pulling the strings at this event. The lieutenant of the police precinct was Lieut. H. B. Elliot. The Lieutenant would later claim to have found a 'needle' in the jail cell that was not there prior to Houdini's escape, hinting that perhaps this had something to do with his escape.

A couple sources mention that Houdini was locked into an 'invisible bracelet' used by the Secret Service, but I do not know what type of restraint this was. In the book, Houdini, Tarzan and The Perfect Man by John Kasson, he mentions the invisible bracelet and also gives more detail of the Jail Cell. Houdini was locked in cell number 3. "Then the police shut the heavy barred door with a bar lock that is first set to lock three times. A lever throws another lock, and a Yale padlock completes the quintet of locks. A wire network around the padlock prevents a hand from being thrust from inside the cell."Yet despite all of these conditions and being treated like a common criminal, Houdini succeeded in escaping in 18 minutes, his 62nd Jail escape.


I originally wrote about this event on this blog in an article I did on Houdini's D.C. Challenges. At the time I thought that the 10th Precinct had been torn down. But I recently discovered that it is still very much in existence so I posted a photo. Perhaps one day, I'll see if they will allow me to take a photo of Jail Cell #3.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mayer Samuel Weiss's Bible


Here's an interesting picture I found through the Library of Congress. It's an image from the opening pages of the bible that was owned by Houdini's father, Dr. Mayer Samuel Weiss. Houdini has his bookplate on the far left hand side, and I believe the hand writing in the book is probably Houdini's as well.

But the most interesting thing to me is the actual business card belonging to his father which has been inserted into the book. The address 227 E 75th Street NYC NY is shown below. However, the building they lived in is long gone and today the place where their home was is a group a tennis and recreational courts.

If you'd like to read a more extensive blog on Houdini's Father, you must go to the HoudiniFile

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Magic Site Seeing in the Nation's Capital

Originally this blog article was specifically for those attending the Washington D.C. Symposium on Magic History. I wanted to share with you some interesting sites to see while you are in town that are all magic related. But now the S.A.M. Convention is here, so for all those attending please enjoy this guide as well!

1. The location of the old Al's Magic Shop. If you knew Al Cohen, or had ever been to the shop, you know what a great guy Al was as a demonstrator. His shop was a hang out for many over the years. The final location of the shop was at 1012 Vermont Avenue NW. The original shop location was torn down in the late 1970s.

2. Robert Heller spots. Robert Heller was a resident of Washington D.C. for several years. Neither of his homes are still there, but I will give you the locations. The first place he lived in Washington is 260 F. Street NW. which is today a parking lot that is at the corner of 3rd and F st. St. (see link)
The next place that William Henry Palmer/Robert Heller lived in D.C. was 447 13th Street NW. Today the Warner Theatre sits at this location. He also played piano at the Church of the Epiphany at 1317 G St NW, Washington, DC.

3.  HOUDINI in D.C.. Harry Houdini was all over the D.C. First spot would be Old Ebbitt's Grill,
which is located across the street from the Treasury Building at 675 15th St NW. This is the location of Keith's Vaudeville Theatre and also the spot where in January 12th of 1922 Houdini hung upside down and escaped from a Straight Jacket.  If you walk up the street to the brown building you can get almost the identical view as seen in the photo to the left. Slightly down the street from Keith's Vaudeville Theatre location is the 'W' Hotel, which used to be the Hotel Washington and Bess and Harry stayed here several times on their visits to D.C. That hotel was also featured in the Godfather Movie.
Houdini's first hanging straight jacket escape in D.C. was from the Munsey Building which today is the J W Marriott Hotel at 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Houdini also performed at the Chase Theatre while in town but it's long gone. The Old DC Jail where Houdini escaped from the cell of the assasin of President Garfield was located at 625 Park Road NW in D.C.(it is no longer there, a church stands in the lot where the jail used to be). See also, Capital Building and White House.
This link also describes the Challenges Houdini presented while in D.C. http://www.themagicdetective.com/2011/01/houdini-dc-challenges.html

4. Harry Kellar in D.C. Kellar performed a number of places in D.C. including the National Theatre (see address below) The Columbia Theatre 1112 F St NW but is gone now and Ford's Theatre on 511 10th St NW. 
 
5. The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW. This is a historic theatre which still happens to be open and operational. Magicians who had performed there include: Robert Heller, Alexander Herrmann, Harry Kellar, Harry Blackstone Sr. and Penn and Teller.

6. National Theatre/Helen Hayes Theatre this is a smaller theatre within the National Theatre. During the Civil War days it was a pool hall frequented by none other than John Wilkes Booth. Today it's a small theatre where performances are given on select Mondays and Saturdays throughout the year. Countless D.C. area magicians have performed in this room, including ME!

7. MAX MALINI in D.C. Malini performed in several places in D.C. including The Willard Hotel
1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (Houdini and Bess were also known to stay at this hotel). The Roosevelt Hotel 2101 16th St NW Washington is another spot where Max Malini set up shop, but today they are apartments. See also Capital Building and White House.

9. Alexander Herrmann in D.C.. Herrmann the Great appeared at the National Theatre (see address above) and also performed along with Compars Herrmann at the White House in the East Room to entertain none other than Abraham Lincoln.

10. Wyman The Wizard in D.C. John Wyman Jr. performed at Odd Fellows Hall fairly regularly when he was in Washington at 419 7th St N.W. He also performed for President Lincoln at the White House in the East Room. Wyman lived on 6th St in D.C. but I don't have an exact address and I'm sure the building is gone.

11. Signor Blitz in D.C. There is a story of Blitz running into Abraham Lincoln at the Summer White House (known today as Lincoln's Cottage) 140 Rock Creek Church Rd NW where Blitz did some magic and the President and magician had an interesting exchange.

12. The Capital Building & White House. There is more 'magic' going on in these places than any magician could ever do! But I'll give you a brief run down of some historical moments. Max Malini bit the button off Senator Hanna's coat on the steps of the Capital Building. Malini also gave an impromptu performance in the Marble Room of the Capital. Houdini gave his testimony before Congress at the Capital Building during the debate over Fortune Telling in the district.

The White House has seen countless magicians. Alexander & Compars Herrmann performed for Lincoln in the East Room of the White House. Houdini was known to have been invited to the White House. Howard Thurston performed there during the White House Easter Egg Roll, as did Al Cohen,
David Williamson, Silly Billy, the entire cast of the Le Grand David Spectacular Magic Company from Beverly Mass, Doug Henning, Harry Blackstone Jr., Steve Wyrick, Wayne Alan, Trixie Bond, Ralph The Great, Dean Carnegie, Dave Risley, Mac King, Ken Scott, Mark Daniel, Ray Goulet, Mike Bent, Emanuel Shabum, Eric Henning, The Pro Kids Show performers, Adam Ace, James Wand, and many many others from all over the WORLD!

13. Henry Ridgely Evans in D.C. Henry Ridgely Evans the prolific magic writer lived in D.C. and is buried here. His grave is in the Oak Hill Cemetery 3001 R St NW. Grave location: Stewart- Lot 610 East

14. Fords Theatre in D.C.. Of course, this is the historic theatre at 511 10th St NW where President Lincoln was shot. But it was also a spot where Harry Kellar performed and then years later, Lance Burton, The Pendragons and others have performed there for the Gala for The President. This building once had a sister location in Baltimore where Harry Kellar passed his mantle to Howard Thurston. That Ford's Theatre is no longer there.

15. Next is the Library of Congress which has quite a lot of magic posters and ephemera in it's collection. The Houdini collection is housed in the Jefferson Building and I think you need an appointment.



Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Magician Who Met Abraham Lincoln



This story has intrigued me from the first time I heard of it. In fact, I even wrote about it before. A friend sent me an article from a 1920 LA newspaper and it rekindled my interest in the story. So I'm reprinting my original article below with a couple corrections. These corrections came about by reading an article in the Los Angeles Evening Herald Feb 12th, 1920 edition. In truth, they really fill in more of the blanks than truly correct things. I hope you enjoy the updated article.

The individual in question is Horatio Green Cooke, born 1844 in Norwich Connecticut. As a youth his family moved around a bit finally settling in Iowa. In 1861, Horatio was working as a teacher.  In 1862, Horatio, who would go by the name Harry, enlisted in the Union Army. He had excellent penmanship and was also a fine marksman. Before long he was writing correspondence for various Generals in the Union Army, among them General U.S. Grant.

Due to Cooke's ability as a penman, he soon came to the notice of various people in Washington DC. His ability as a marksman, also played a part in his change in career and in rank. 




He went from being a private in the Union Army to being selected to be as a Captain of Lincoln's Federal Scouts.  He always carried with him a letter autographed by the President Lincoln informing him that he had been selected to be one of his special scouts.  In 1863, he fell under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Vicksburg. The surrender of Vicksburg by the Confederate Army gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union Army, and basically split the Confederacy in half. This event, along with the Battle of Gettysburg, were the turning points in the war for the Union.

R. Ingersoll, Gen Hancock, E. Stanton, Gen Sherman, A. Lincoln
On May 1st, 1864, Harry Cooke was ordered to appear before Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War in Washington D.C.. When he arrived  he found that along with Stanton, was General William Tecumseh Sherman, General Hancock, Senator Robert Ingersoll and President Abraham Lincoln. They had heard of the young scouts unusual ability to free himself from restraints and were curious. So he was tied up with fifty feet of rope. After he was securely tied, Cooke asked Lincoln to walk ten feet away. Then he asked him to return and before Lincoln got back, Cooke had freed himself from the confinement! According to the Los Angeles Evening Express Newspaper, Lincoln was amazed and jubilated. Lincoln said to Cooke "Here my boy, keep this to remember Uncle Abe by" and Lincoln then handed Cooke a two dollar bill. Harry Cooke kept that two dollar bill his entire life.

John Singleton Mosby - The Grey Ghost
In the Fall of 1864, Harry was assigned to join General Sheridan in Winchester VA. On October 19th, Harry Cooke and six other scouts were captured by Mosby's Raiders under the command of  'The Grey Ghost', John Singleton Mosby*. Mosby was notorious for his stealth-like raids against Union forces. When his band of raiders captured Harry Cooke and his fellow scouts they took from them all their possessions. In Cooke's pocket was the personal letter from Lincoln appointing him to the position of Federal Scout, a cherished memento. In Mosby's eyes Cooke was a spy and was sentenced to be hanged along with his other scouts. They were to get an early morning hanging, but their final evening on earth would be spent tied to a tree. Being the escape artist that he was, Cooke quietly freed himself from the ropes, and then proceeded to free his fellow prisoners and return back to the Union side under the cover of darkness. Due to the fact that not all of his fellow scounts could swim, they had to split up. Three swam across the Potomac River and the others made their way through the woods. One of the scouts who was swimming later drowned when trying to cross Harpers Ferry Canal.  Cooke and his companion finally made it back to a Union camp. From there, he took some men back to try and find those scouts who chose to make their way through the woods because they couldn't swim. They were eventually discovered, hanged and full of bullet holes. In the end, only Cooke and his other fellow scout that he swam with made it to safety.


Fords Theatre /Library of Congress photo
Harry had always been bothered by the theft of his Lincoln Letter by Mosby's Raiders and decided to try and get a copy from the President himself. On April 14th 1865, Cooke went to the White House in Washington to see Mr. Lincoln. Upon arriving at the White House he was told that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had left for an evening at Fords Theatre. Harry Cooke went to Fords Theatre, where the President and First Lady were watching the play "Our American Cousin". A short time after Harry Cooke arrived a loud shot rang out, and well, the rest is history. Cooke was there, in the audience, as John Wilkes Booth shot the President and then jumped to the stage and out the back doors of Fords Theatre.

It's hard to say when Harry Cooke got his interest in magic or where he developed the ability to escape from ropes. One thing is certain, he had an ability to escape like no one before him, and few since.  After the Civil War ended Horatio Green Cooke became "Professor Harry Cooke" and worked as a professional magician and 'Celebrated King of the Spirit Exposers". Years later he would become President of the Los Angeles Society of Magicians and would obtain the new moniker 'The Oldest Living Magician'. His favorite trick throughout his life was the Linking Rings and apparently his routine was one to wonder over.

On May 1st 1924, at the young age of 80, Harry Cooke duplicated his feat of escaping from 50 feet of rope for the Los Angeles area magicians. During this exhibition, Harry Cooke wore his blue Union Army uniform, the same one he wore during the Civil War. The result was exactly as it had been 60 years earlier when he presented the stunt before President Lincoln and his cabinet, HE ESCAPED! A a little over a month later Horatio Green Cooke passed away on June 17, 1924.


I must make note of the fact that though Harry Cooke was well known during his day, and appeared often in magic periodicals of his time period, and was even one of the pallbearers at Harry Kellar's funeral, he had largely been forgotten in recent years. It was Mark Cannon, escape artist and magician who brought the wonderful stories of Harry Cooke back to life through a fantastic article he wrote for MUM Magazine in April 2006. Mark had actually been fortunate enough to meet one of Harry Cooke's daughters at one of his shows and was given Cooke's personal scrap book. And it was because of Mark's wonderful article and my interest in magic history that I first started to delve into the world of Harry Cooke. Eventually, I too got to meet one of Cooke's descendants. You gotta love magic history, you never know where it will take you or who you might encounter!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tracking the Body of Houdini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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