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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Magicians of old » » Houdini -- 80th anniversary of his death...this Halloween (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

fib
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I'm a reporter in real-life and I'm doing a story on the life -- and notorious, tragic death -- of Harry Houdini. He died at 52 some days after he was assaulted backstage. More on that later.
I've done research, interviewed some Houdini historians and would enjoy sharing this enterprise -- this story I'm writing for publication -- with the brothers and sisters of the Café.
So here we go:
Did you know Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, once friends, feuded over Houdini's public outings of "mediums?" Doyle believed in spiritualism. Houdini did not.
fib
chichi711
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Is that the end?

Is the Café "not real life"? That line made me smile.

I would enjoy reading the full story when it is done. Keep us posted.
fib
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Houdini trivia log 10/19

Houdini remains a legend in large part because of the multiple mysteries surrounding the circumstances of his death:
(1.)His attacker was a mystery man, never prosecuted -- living out his life as a recluse.
(2.) The attacker's motives remain a mystery, though he is said to have asked Houdini, "Do you believe in the miracles of the Bible?" before punching the reclining performer.
(3.)Even the cause of death is a mystery: A physician's report says the blows to Houdini's abdomen "aggravated an existing but still undetected case of appendicitis. ...Houdini continued to travel without seeking medical attention."

Finally, of course, the fact that Houdini died on Halloween is downright spooky.

Houdini apparently had premonitions about his impending death. In letters to friends, he'd say stuff like..."this is probably the last time I'll be able to write.."
He left a message for his wife in case of his unforeseen demise: a secret code. He wanted to be sure that spiritualists couldn't exploit his death by holding seances in which they'd claim to contact him. Only she knew the code words and held a seance for ten years straight on Halloween -- but gave up after failing to hear the code words. The secret code, according to Houdini archivists, were chosen from a letter written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

According to Dorothy Dietrich, co-director of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pa., Houdini left this code for his wife: the words he would say if he were really able to contact her from the dead: the title of a song: "Rosabell" and the word "believe."

A new book published in Britain claims Houdini was a secret agent for the U-S during World War One
Necromancer
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Hi fib,

Have you found anything new on this topic? So far, nearly all the points you've recited are more or less common knowledge among magicians who have done a modest amount of reading on the subject.

Thanks,
Neil
Creator of The Xpert (20 PAGES of reviews!) and the Hands-Off Multiple ESP System ("Quality and design far exceed any ESP cards on the market"-Genii), both at Penguin.
fib
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I make no claims about breaking new ground in the field of history. If I am breaking OLD ground, at the very least, it's good material to incorporate in a performance.
fib
fib
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To me, the most amazing and mysterious aspect is that -- still -- today -- 80 years after his death, there are varying accounts of the circumstances surrounding his death. Who punched him? Why? I just read the reason he was lying down when he was punched was that he was recovering from an ankle injury suffered during a performance.
fib
fib
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My point is, this isn't ancient history. This is still unsolved mystery.
fib
Malchat
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I'm still reading Brandon's 'The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini', so I don't know what it says about his death, but I do have a german magic history book by Werner Waldmann 'Zauberkunst' that mentions these details:

On October 16 1926, Houdini finished a lecture for the McGill university in Montreal. Two students expressed interest in his work and were invited to visit him in the theatre. One of the students was an amateur boxer and asked Houdini if it were true that he could tense every muscle in his body to absorb punches. Houdini confirmed this and stood up to demonstrate this. However, before he was ready, the student jabbed him in the stomach, damaging his intestines. Houdini continued the demonstration, ignoring the pain and later the fever. He died about a week later in Grace Hospital.

The 'secret code' Houdini agreed with his wife Bess was supposedly revealed during a seance on February 8 1928, when the medium Arthur Ford got the code from his familiar spirit 'Fletcher'. Bess received numerous messages from the late Houdini through Ford and Fletcher. However, reporters discovered that this was a fraud and that Ford was a longtime friend of Bess. She eventually admitted to the deception and shunned the media afterwards.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of these facts, but it does sound a lot more detailed than some of the other speculations out there. And a little less mysterious.
“You are what you pretend to be.”
Magnus Eisengrim
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A peculiarly compelling book is Don Bell's The Man Who Killed Houdini. Bell was a journalist from Montreal who spent many years trying to find any trail left behind by the man who delivered the fatal punch. Not much new about Houdini, but a fascinating read nonetheless.

John
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
fib
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Amazingly, to this day, many of the facts of the assault on Houdini have not been pinned down. For instance, historians I talked to for my story [see first post above] say the guy who punched Houdini walked backstage with the deliberate decision to hit him and hurt him -- for a reason. Before the assault, the perpetrator, J. Gordon Whitehead of McGill University, asked the reclining Houdini, "Do you believe in the miracles of the Bible?" Houdini responded with some curt reply -- all of which was witnessed by two other McGill students. Historians I talked to speculate the attacker assaulted Houdini at the direction of spiritualists who were angered by Houdini's efforts to out them as frauds. Houdini, in fact, had just done such an expose show at McGill University before he was attacked.
fib
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Responding to the comment above from a Neil Tobin, I would suggest that new ground broken today is simply this: that MUCH hasn't been resolved -- and in this day and age, you'd think there wouldn't be so many conflicting accounts about the death of a man still on everybody's lips -- not just magicians' -- 80 years later.
fib
David Melnick
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I don't know if this has been mentioned before, but the Libary of Congress has many photos and posters of Houdini available for purchase.
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/vshtml/vshdini.html
Bill Palmer
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Fib:

What's the point of this? You act as if you have some new information. I don't believe you do. If you haven't read Bill Kalush's book or Don Bell's book, then you don't even have a clue as to what everyone who has read these books knows.

The "conflicting accounts" don't conflict as much as you think they do. Some of the accounts were deliberately confusing for various reasons -- all of which are addressed in the books that have been mentioned -- from a possible attack by the Spiritualist community to simple death by misadventure.

The Kalush - Slomon book gives a slightly different timeline than you indicate. Before you start spreading unsubstantiated rumors, you should check all the new source material. You can do this for less than $50 US. The Don Bell book The Man Who Killed Houdini is available from amazon.ca (Canadian Amazon) for $16.75 CDN, and the other book is available from Amazon.com for $19.97. Add postage, and that comes up to less than $50.

If you plan to use Houdini material in your performance, it makes sense to have the latest documentable data, rather than to make remarks that a well-read spectator will be able to gainsay.

More books have been written about Houdini than any other person in history, save Napoleon. So it is understandable that there is a lot of misinformation about him in print. Kalush and Slomon have done remarkable research on the subject. Remember that none of the historians you have consulted have any more information than they do. Don Bell fills in the blanks on Whitehead.
"The Swatter"

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Decomposed
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Here is a interesting website with photos of his grave site, the room he died in.
One thing particularly interesting is a 20 second clip of his funeral:

http://www.houdinitribute.com/death.html
MagiClyde
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I just went to the Houdini site and was saddened to learn that his wife was never buried next to him because of her religious background. Something ironic in that. I'm surprised they didn't make an exception for this one case.
Magic! The quicker picker-upper!
Banester
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Houdini code for Bess- Rosabelle Beleive Rosabelle (name of song), Believe (was a numeric code that Magician and assistants used back then during performances).

It is kind of freaky that he died on Halloween. I have the last seance on audio, gives me goosebumps everytime listen to it. Although when Bess says the words 'Goodnight Harry' it really makes your heart sink.
The art of a magician is to create wonder.
If we live with a sense of wonder, our lives
become filled with joy
-Doug Henning-
Freak Prodigy
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Where is Bess Buried?
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http://www.bloudermilk.blogspot.com
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BrettELoudermilk@gmail.com
Damon
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Brett,

The answer to your question, along with “tons” of other interesting information on Houdini is available at the following web site.

http://www.houdinitribute.com/death.html


There is a great book by Bill Raucher titled The Houdini Code Mystery, which is still available from Mike Caveney. I can highly recommend it. A very nice extended write-up about the book is on Mike’s web site. Check it out.

http://www.mcmagicwords.com/

Enjoy, Mark Damon
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