Memory of Harry Houdini on the day he died on Halloween 1926

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I have a thing for horror and I always asked, “Could this ever be real?” From time to time the worlds of fiction and nonfiction cross and make things blurry. Take the esteemed Harry Houdini, for example.

Image courtesy Rusty Gilligan.

October 31, 2021 marks 95 years since Houdini’s flight from his physical form and into the “Great Unknown”. I recently wrote an article about my adopted home, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for a local news site called On the PULSE. Knowing my interest in Houdini, the Grand Poo-Bahs of PopHorror, I asked myself to write an article about him, so let me start where I left off – in 1924 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Poster for Houdini’s talk. Photo credit: John Cox of WildAboutHoudini.Com.

Houdini’s disbelief in spiritualism

On October 9, 1924, Houdini held as part of his series of lectures entitled Deceitful spiritistic phenomena.

A few years earlier, Houdini – who was devoted to his mother – had received a communication from a being who claimed to be his mother. The medium that was part of the communication was Jean Doyle, wife of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes (the irony never escaped me) and Houdini’s ex-boyfriend.

Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini in 1923. Photo credit Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia.com.

“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes but (recently) a writer on spiritualism, and his wife (Jean), an automatic writer who claimed to have written a 23-page letter from (my) mother . ”Houdini said in an article by The Tennessee published March 12, 1924. The story tells of Houdini’s visit to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on the same lecture tour. “(The message supposedly from Houdini’s mother) was written in the purest English,” said Houdini. “And yet my mother could neither write nor speak English because she was educated on the European continent.” This drove him into a fight with the spiritualists, media and clairvoyants. As in the October 19, 1924 edition of Williamsport Gazette Bulletin, said Houdini that in all of his extensive travels he has not found a single real medium.

From left to right Cecilia Weiss, Houdini’s mother Houdini and Bess Houdini, wife. Photo credit: Wiki Commons.

To understand a little about what spiritualism exactly is, I turned to my old friend Robert Damon Schneck, known as America’s historian of the strange. According to him, spiritualism is the belief that clairvoyants and media not only communicate with God, but also with spirits and angels and other beings, not only with prayer, but with spirit tablets, automatic writing and possession by otherworldly beings.

I asked him how readings and seances were scheduled. “It wasn’t very demanding,” said Schneck. “Sometimes the media had assistants in costume pretending to be ghosts. They would also use foldable rulers that would extend and pat the victims on the thigh or shoulder. Remember, you have a lot of people waiting excitedly and expectantly for something to happen, so it didn’t take much. “

Photo credit Wikicommons.com.

Houdini said exactly the same thing. “Grief and the will to believe are the main reasons that the audience at seances are impressed by the bogus media activity.”

As for the fakes, the artist said he had a unique experience thanks to his decades of appearances on stages and films. “My business gave me an intimate knowledge of stage illusions coupled with years of experience with show people of all kinds. My familiarity with the former, and what I have learned about the psychology of the latter, has given me some advantage in uncovering the natural explanation of acts that may seem supernatural to the ignorant, ”explained Houdini in his book. Miracle Mongers and their Methods.

Houdini honored in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

“Houdini’s campaign against spiritualism fits his character,” says Dorothy Dietrich, co-owner of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, with Dick Brookz. In 2016, Dietrich and Brookz took part in the fact that a sign in honor of Houdini was put up in Williamsport.

Houdini plaque in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Don Everett Smith Jr.
A close-up of the Houdini badge. Courtesy Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“He would also travel the world and visit the graves of famous performers, and if they had to be repaired, he would take care of it,” Dietrich said in a telephone conversation. “In fact, he regularly gave money to actors and wizards in need.”

She also said Houdini was also a patriot. “Houdini loved America and he enlisted in the military, but they didn’t accept him. So he took a break from his normal shows and did shows and fundraisers for the American Red Cross, ”said Dietrich. “He really took care of it.”

Houdini. Photo credit Rusty Gilligan.

“Death within a year in protest of the magician’s revelations”

However, after years of lecturing and performing, he encountered resistance, and it was not nice. I came across this article from The news journal of Lancaster, Pennsylvania on December 23, 1924, and reported that ghosts prophesied that Houdini would face death within a year of the fraud being discovered. The newspaper said that his impending death “Harry Houdini’s sentence for challenging the validity and honesty of Mrs.

Houdini seemed to take it calmly, although what he described next is actually frightening. “A puppet picture will be made of me. The doll will stand by my enemy’s bedside, who pierces it with penknife blades while he sings certain … curses characteristic of the black image of the Middle Ages. ” dark century, in which alchemy, astrology, demonology and Rosicrucianism united to confuse the minds of misguided people … That men and women of today still interfere in the rituals of this Antichrist and burn foul-smelling powder like in darkened cellars around the spirit Being from Beelzebub seems absurd, but it’s true … When the human intellect is caught between charlatanism and ignorance, the result is both absurd and malevolent. “

However, within two years of this article going to press, Houdini would be dead at 52.

Image courtesy Rusty Gilligan.

Houdini was in Detroit for a show when he was rushed to Grace Hospital for acute appendicitis. Houdini had performed at another local theater the night before, despite being in significant pain and having a temperature of 104 which was in. was reported The New Castle (PA) News on October 25, 1926. Apparently, Houdini broke down during a recent performance and went on the show against his doctor’s advice so as not to disappoint the crowd.

The next day, The Shamokin (PA) news dispatch reported that Houdini was “still in serious condition” with acute appendicitis. “Doctors treating him stated that his recovery was in doubt. They explained that the appendix was torn far on the left side of the abdomen and that peritonitis had developed, ”the article says.

The news got worse and worse.

On October 31, 1926 at 1:26 p.m. – although his death certificate said 13:30 – Houdini, “the magician whose seemingly miraculous escape” delighted audiences around the world, and whose exposure to fake media earned him the accolade of scientists , today succumbed to peritonitis, can finally no longer escape the call of death, “said the Pittsburgh Daily Post on November 1, 1926.

Now let me say this: Anyone interested in Houdini or his life knows about the controversy and speculation about the moron who punched him in the stomach and burst Harry’s appendix. There are a lot of conspiracies about his death. Some people believe the person was set up by the media to do Houdini.

Much like President John F. Kennedy, Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, Amelia Earhardt, and the like, writers, creators, investigators, and enthusiasts will continue to debate what really happened.

Houdini tomb. Photo credit: Rusty Gilligan.

Houdini’s final resting place

Houdini’s remains are interred in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York. An elaborate tombstone with a bust of his head was constructed. In 1983, however, another Knucklehead decided to desecrate it. According to a Newsday article published on August 15, 1983, “a thief who hacked the magician’s bust from his Queens grave mysteriously escaped with it sometime over the weekend.” It was to stay that way for almost four decades. Do you remember Dorothy Dietrich saying that Houdini would regularly repair the graves of forgotten magicians? This time she rose.

The website Houdini.org shows a great picture of Dietrich with her partner Brookz, who is standing in front of a newly reconstructed bust of Houdini’s head.

Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich stand with the newly restored bust of Houdini in 2011. Photo credits Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich from Houdini.Org.

“We have restored Houdini’s bust on his grave, which had been lost for 36 years,” said Dietrich. While they were working, a hawk flew down to watch them. Oddly enough, Houdini’s last show featured his pet hawks.

When I finish this essay, I can’t help but think that death at 52 is a premature case. However, Houdini continues to inspire people today. I would like to quote John Cox, the author and owner of the website, Wild about Houdini. He said that while October 31, 1926 is the anniversary of Houdini’s death, it is also the “beginning of Houdini’s amazing afterlife, in which he not only continued to be the most famous name in magic but became one of the most famous” . Individuals throughout the 20th century. “

Abracadabra!

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NOTE: Many thanks to Dorothy Dietrich of Houdini.org, John Cox of WildAboutHoudini.com, Robert Damon Schneck, of Historian of the Strange, and artist Rusty Gilligan for their assistance in creating this article.


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