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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Magicians of old » » Houdini Actually Deserves This One (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

houdinisghost
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If you will check the texts of all of the books you might have on Houdini written prior to 1980, there is one date given for Houdini's historic first airplane flight on the continent of Australia. That date is March 16, 1910. That is the date that is given in the various editions of Houdini's Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist, the Kellock, Gresham, and Christopher biographies of Houdini and every article which touched on the subject. March 16. The October 1942 Genii magazine has a whole section of contemporary Australian newspaper clippings. The date for Houdini's first flight is March 16. In some cases, the newspaper articles have been doctored to read March 16.
In the 80s, several people discovered that the first flight in Australia by Houdini was actually made on March 18. When Manny Weltman visited the library at the University of Texas at Austin, he observed that the famous plaque which Houdini was awarded identified the historic date as March 18. As Weltman looked into the matter he discovered that Houdini hadn't inadvertently changed the date, he had a reason. Weltman and some others including Alfred Hayes discovered that there was a claim to an earlier flight by a man named Fred Custance. A newspaper of the time that carried the news of Houdini's successful flight at Diggers Rest also carried an account of a successful flight in a Bleriot monoplane by Custance in the early morning hours of March 17 at Bolivar near Adelaide.
The evidence is pretty clear, that Houdini knew about the Custance flight, which according to the news article occurred in the predawn, in pitch darkness, in front of a few neighbors who heard the engine and out of curiosity came to the field. Fred Custance, according to the article, made three circuits of a field, by following a fence which he could barely see. As it began to get light, he tried a second flight, but, crashed, badly damaging the plane and injuring himself. Frederick H. Jones was the owner of the plane and the source of the news account.
An effort was made to secure for Fred Custance the place in history he deserved. That effort has culminated in the following: there was only one witness to what was almost certainly a single attempt at flight by Custance in the Bleriot on March 17, 1910, and that was his sponsor, Jones. No neighbors, no eyewitnesses. Jones, who later referred to the "first flight" as "mythical," made it all up.

When Houdini was on his deathbed, he told the surgeon who had operated on that he wished he had become a doctor. The doctor, Dr. Kennedy, could hardly believe what he had heard. He told Houdini, "you've entertained millions and I am just an ordinary surgeon." Houdini told him, "but what you do is real, while I, in almost every respect, am a fake."
I have no doubt that one of the things Houdini may have thought he was a fake about was that first flight in Australia. Otherwise, he wouldn't have changed the date--or tried to.
On March 18, 2010, people around the world will commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the first thoroughly successful airplane flight on the continent of Australia. No question about it, it was made by Houdini at Diggers Rest in Victoria, Australia. Too bad, he went to his grave thinking there was a cloud over his record. There wasn't, it appears that in Frederick H. Jones, Houdini ran up against as big a liar as he was himself.
MagiClyde
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The old adage is true here as well. If it isn't documented, it didn't happen. No reporters, no pictures, no proof! Houdini's was well documented and he deserved the glory of first flight in Australia! Sadly, he never, as far as we can tell, flew again after doing that. Maybe he felt there was no more challenge to it.

Ironically, Houdini thought he would be remembered in the history books more for that one event than for his escapes.
Magic! The quicker picker-upper!
Mick Hanzlik
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I always understood that Custance didn't get the recognition, as the story goes that his plane had no steering or brakes, so it wasn't a "controlled" flight, which is what Houdini's achievement was registered as.
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