Is Hardeen Full of Ice?

Like Houdini, his brother Hardeen has a story about Ice.

Police and Hardeen Prior to Ohio River Bridge Jump

Police and Hardeen Prior to Ohio River Bridge Jump
[Photo: Life and History of Hardeen]

On September 26th, 1907, Hardeen allowed the Chief Police officials of Louisville, Kentucky, to securely fasten heavy handcuffs and leg irons on him. These weighed almost thirty-five pounds. So shackled, before a crowd of 15,000, he jumped into the Ohio River from the 18th Street Bridge which was 60 feet above the water. It looked like sure death but Hardeen released himself from the handcuffs as he sunk in the water about fifty feet below the Bridge, and made his triumphant re-appearance holding the cuffs high in the air.

Hardeen jumping from bridge into Ohio River
[Photo: Life and History of Hardeen]

He later repeated this feat many times, but on February 10th, 1908, he almost met death when he jumped into the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, Virginia, when the stream was full of ice.

As he hit the water he was working to release himself from his handcuffs according to his version, so did not note that they were two large pieces of ice floating down the water as he jumped.   He hit one and was practically knocked unconscious, fell underneath the second one and when he tried to get to the surface of the river for air, still working to free himself, he came up under the ice.  Not knowing the size of it, he sunk down and tried to reach the surface again.  On his second attempt, he was successful, completed the escape and swam to shore.  He had a large lump at the top of his head where he hit the ice when coming up, and one of his legs was badly cut from the piece of ice which he had originally hit.


  • Life and History of Hardeen by Hardeen 1914
  • Hardeen Memorial Issue Conjurer’s Magazine July 1945

Related Post:

Today is Houdini’s Adopted Birthday

April 6th is Historical!

April 6th is Historical!

Houdini’s adoption of April 6th as his birthday will remain a mystery, although he explained in a letter [dated November 22, 1913] to his brother Theo that he would celebrate on April 6 because that was the day his mother acknowledged his birthday. It is interesting to note that by 1910 both Houdini and Bess knew with certainty that his actual birthday was on March 24.  While in Australia that year, Bess gave Houdini an engraved watch as a birthday present.


Ever Houdini Remembering In Complete Happiness



Not only was his birth date correct, but Bess employed a code in the dedication as well.  When you isolate the first letter of each word in the message, it spells out Harry’s real name E-H-R-I-C-H.


  • Kalush, The Secret Life of Houdini
  • Letter- Walter B. Gibson, Original Houdini Scrapbook
  • Watch – Magicol, Number 87, May 1988

Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon

Last Sunday, some of my Houdini colleagues and I went on “The Haunted Houdini Tour” of Los Angeles conducted by Richard Carradine, a renowned ghost hunter.   See John Cox blog at Wild About Harry for a full report of the places we visited.

Lookout MountainWhile discussing Houdini’s movie career, Richard Carradine showed a photograph of the site of the former Lookout Mountain Inn, that is just West of Laurel Canyon.  On October 26, l9l8, disaster struck the Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon area when a fire, fanned by strong winds, burned about two hundred acres and totally destroyed the famous Lookout Mountain Inn.

Richard then displayed a movie still from the 1919 movie, The Grim Game, and compared it to the photograph above of Lookout Mountain.

HHC L302-84 Postcard

Based on his familiarity with the area and the photographic evidence, Richard suspects that the Grim Game still was taken at the site of the former Lookout Mountain Inn.

On the tour, I confirmed his suspicion. That is, a plane had been positioned on the brow of Lookout Mountain so that, once inside, Houdini could be photographed against the sky as if in flight.

It’s Official! Harry Houdini celebrates his 140th birthday today.

Happy Birthday Harry Houdini!

Happy Birthday Harry Houdini!

The evidence for Budapest, and the 24th March [140 years ago today], is incontrovertible, unless we assume a fantastic, elaborate forgery of the records.  The house, the names of the midwife and godmother and the Rabbi who performed the circumcision rite, are recorded.  Full details can be found in Milbourne Christopher’s wonderful Houdini: The Untold Story. [Abracadabra Saturday, 23rd March 1974]

And the final report on June 1, 1972 from the Houdini Birthdate research committee concludes that the evidence supports Budapest and recommends that henceforth March 24, 1874 – Budapest, Hungary be known as the official date and place of birth of Harry Houdini.

Happy Birthday Harry Houdini!

Spanish-language Master Mystery Ad

Here is a Spanish-language Master Mystery Exhibitor Ad.  This is a double-sided card-stock insert from Cine-Mundial, the Spanish-language version of Moving Picture World magazine.


The Houdini Serial has taken the country by storm.  It is gold mine for independent exchanges. Territory going fast.  Produced by B.A. Rolfe.


Mystery Terror and suspense abound in the Houdini serial.  The greatest open market proposition ever presented.

Did Houdini ever perform an overboard box escape in Pittsburgh?


Houdini (in white circle), shackled in Pittsburgh steel, leaped into the Allegheny River from the original Seventh Street Bridge
Bruce Averbook Photo from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I was intrigued by a recent post that John Cox at Wild About Harry did about Houdini being trapped under the ice. John discovered a telling of this story in Houdini’s own words where the location was Pittsburgh and it wasn’t a handcuffed bridge jump, but an overboard box escape.  It made me wonder.

  • Did Houdini ever perform an overboard box escape in Pittsburgh?

Well, as evidenced  by the photo above, we know that Houdini (in white circle), shackled in Pittsburgh steel, leaped into the Allegheny River from the original Seventh Street Bridge and emerged free of the handcuffs. But this was not an overboard box escape. BTW, the bridge was torn down in 1924.

I searched the internet (i.e., blogs, articles, ads) and my Houdini books for other references to Houdini in Pittsburgh and this is what I came up with.

From the internet:

It is very hard to discern which facts of Houdini’s life (and death) are factual because there are so many myths about him (many of which were perpetuated by him).  For example, Houdini claimed the he jumped into a hole carved out of ice on the Detroit River, freed himself of handcuffs, and went back up for air only to discover that the current had moved him away from the hole.  He survived by breathing in air trapped between the ice and water and, at the last minute, the spirit of his dead mother guided him to the hole.

It is a great story but it never happened.  The Detroit Free Press published a story refuting Houdini’s claim, noting that the Detroit River was not freezing on November 27, the day Houdini jumped.  So Houdini changed his story, and then he changed it again, and again.  Detroit became Pittsburgh, November became December, and so on.  [October 31st 2013 History/Herstory blog]

From Kalush:

On March 13, [1908] before his jump off the Seventh Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, Houdini told a reporter from The Pittsburgh Leader that the day before the leap he sent a cable to Hardeen, who was doing similar act then in Europe, and the charges came to exactly $13.  That same day Houdini’s mail consisted of 13 letters.  He switched rooms at his hotel and the new room, was no. 26, divisible by 13.  The letters contained 13 new challenges, the license plate of the auto that drove him to the bridge totaled up to 13, and the cinematographer who was filming the jump had exactly 1,300 feet of film in his camera.

“I feel nervous today,” Houdini said.  “There is a goneness in my innards that isn’t pleasant.” He ate an apple to settle himself down, then dove.  It was exactly 1:13.

“In a minute and half from the time, I struck the water I had freed myself and was ready to rise to the surface,” Houdini told the press.  “Small boats were cruising about looking for me, and, as luck would have it, I came rushing up at great speed just underneath one of these crafts.  So rapid was my ascent that in rising I hit my head a fearful blow…and sank back into the water again stunned and bleeding.  When I struck that boat I thought of the thirteens of the day and concluded that it was up to me to battle for my life.  Just when it seemed that all was over with me, I rose to the surface and willing hands dragged me to safety.  It isn’t any fun taking your life in your hands.  Really, I’m in earnest.  If a fellow wasn’t married it would be a different thing, though even a single man oughtn’t to be hankering for chances to risk his life”

From an article by Clay Morgan titled, “Harry Houdini and Pittsburgh – the ties that bind”:

Around 40,000 Pittsburghers were treated to the nail-biting exhibition one century ago on March 13, 1908. Houdini stripped to his swimsuit, surrendered to tight manacles fashioned from Pittsburgh steel and leapt 40 feet from the original Seventh Street Bridge into the stinging Allegheny River waters.  In a short while, his head bobbed up and vanished before he emerged for good, free and holding the conquered cuffs.

Houdini’s first Pittsburgh plunge came almost a year earlier, on May 22, 1907.  A rare photo [seen above] from the time peers over the backs of spectators staring at the bridge in direction of the North Shore.  In the background, filthy factories pour billows of smoke into the lunchtime sky over the crowed waterfront.  To the right, onlookers crowd the rails of the bridge.  Over a dozen boats linger in the water.  In the center of it all is Houdini in mid-jump – dressed in a white bathing suit and falling, knees still up.  In less than two minutes he rose from the murky stage.

However, his first trip to Pittsburgh was in November 1905, The Jewish Criterion wrote: “He defies anyone to come on the stage of the Grand next week and bind him successfully.”

The Grand Opera House hosted Houdini during his first visits to Pittsburgh from 1905-08. Intense buzz in 1906 created so many sell-outs that Houdini stayed a third week so everyone around town could have a chance to experience the mind-jarring show.

He returned to the Pittsburgh Grand in 1913 [most likely 1915] and brought influences from afar, the East Indian Needle Trick and the legendary Chinese Water Torture Chamber.

On Nov 6, 1916, Houdini escaped from a Straitjacket while hanging from the Pittsburgh Sun Building 50 feet in the air.

On Nov 7, 1916, Pittsburghers packed in the New Davis Theatre to see Houdini headline.

In October 1919 (as Congress outlawed alcohol), “The Grim Game” opened in theatres such as the Grand, Strand and Belmar. Houdini played Harvey Hanford, wrongfully accused of murder and desperate to escape.

Pittsburgh’s strict “blue laws” also outlawed movies and performances on Sundays, so Houdini won by grabbing the headline show on Saturday evenings.  In Pittsburgh, he topped his buddies Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Tom Mix.

Over the final years of his life, Houdini dueled with Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Authur Conan Doyle, an avid supporter of spiritualism. The men took turns lecturing in Pittsburgh.  Houdini spoke at the Carnegie Hall on Feb. 21, 1924.  The following year he brought a full medium exposing show to the Davis Theater.  Once again, Pittsburgh demand kept him in town an extra week.

Houdini’s final Pittsburgh show was at the Alvin Theatre in September of 1925.

From Koval:

Nov 1905: No reference to Houdini being at the Grand Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

Sep 24-29 1906: Grand Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

May 20-25 1907: Grand Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

May 27 – Jun 1 1907: Grand Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

Mar 9-14 1908: Grand Theatre, Detroit, MI [Note: Mar 13, 1908 jumps from bridge in Pittsburgh, PA]

Mar 16-21 1908: Grand Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

Nov 13-18 1911: Grand Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

Mar 8-13 1915: Grand Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA [Morgan article mentions 1913 as opposed to 1915]

Nov 6-11 1916: Davis Theatre, Pittsburgh PA

Mar 6-11 1922: Davis Theatre, Pittsburgh PA [No mention in Morgan article]

Feb 21 1924 (only): Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh, PA

Feb 23-28 1925: Davis Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

Sep 14-19 1925: Shubert Alvin Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA

From newspaper or magazine references:

  • I was unable to find any newspaper or magazine references of any overboard box escape in Pittsburgh.

Although, Houdini appeared in Pittsburgh many times during his career, it appears that he only hit the water twice (1907 and 1908), and both times they were bridge jumps not overboard box escapes.

I am hoping that somebody can prove me wrong and produce evidence that he really did do an overboard box escape during one of his visits to Pittsburgh.

THE GRIM GAME Cinema Trade Promotion (Stills 298-54 and 298-63)

Last week I posted a snippet of an article by Bayard Grimshaw about THE STUDENT AND THE BLOW from Abracadabra Magazine Saturday 23rd March 1974.   This week, in honor of the Oscars, I thought I would share a Grim Game photo that was used in that same special edition of Abracadabra Magazine:

GG cinema trade photo 001

This came from a sheet issued to the Cinema Trade to promote The Grim Game Movie in 1919.

The bottom image is from still 298-54 .

Mary [Ann Forrest] is visiting Houdini at the jail to let him know that hoax is going according to plan.  The guard then gives them contrary news:  “They found the body [Cameron] in the old well – poor place to hide it.  Guess your trial will be a short one”.  Houdini smiles and voices his doubt.  The guard tells them he is not joking…Gradually the truth of the matter that Cameron is really dead is forced home on Houdini and Mary.  Houdini tells Mary to go see the others and tell them to explain the hoax and have him released. [scenes 212-225 Paraphrased from Paramount Files at Margaret Herrick Library]

And the top image is from still 298-63 and is part of the sequence where Houdini escapes from the jail after Mary leaves.  See the following earlier post for details:

The Student and the BOOK?

Whitehead Image

J. Gordon Whitehead circa 1950

The student is J. Gordon Whitehead, but what is the deal with the BOOK.

Whitehead is the one that punched Houdini in the dressing room at the Princess Theatre in Montreal on October 22, 1926.

Returning a borrowed book was supposedly how he gained entry to Houdini’s dressing room that fateful day.

Where did the return a borrowed book idea come from?

This question intrigued me so, I decided to investigate further.

If you examine all of the affidavits, none of them mention Whitehead returning a book.

If you examine all of the biographies, Milbourne Christopher’s, The Untold Story, appears to be the first one to mention a borrowed book being returned.  So where did Christopher and the later biographers get the idea.

The following snippet from an article written by Bayard Grimshaw gives a clue:


The full story of the events leading to Houdini’s death was first told, to the best of my knowledge, in a well-written, detailed article by Stanley Handman which appeared in the Canadian Weekend Picture Magazine for 12th September, 1953. The account is so circumstantial, and contains so many independently verifiable facts, that there is no reason to doubt its accuracy.

The full article, with its five illustrations, was reproduced as a supplement to The Magic Cauldron in October, 1965.  [Abracadabra Magazine Saturday 23rd March 1974  page 230]

Sam J. Smiley [student that made a drawing of Houdini in the dressing room] is the source of the article.  It is believed that Stanley Handman gave his column that week to Smiley.

Below is a portion of the Was Houdini Killed? article by Smiley that is applicable to this post:

While Houdini was thus discoursing and I drawing, there was a rap at the door, and Houdini’s secretary ushered in a rather tall individual – he must have been at least six foot two – wearing a blue gabardine coat that seemed much too small for him, and carrying three or four books under his arm. The newcomer appeared to have known Houdini and had, in fact, come that day to return a book Houdini had loaned him a few days before; his name was Whitehead, and he was the theological student at McGill University.
Whitehead was an oldish looking young man about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age. He impressed one as being the very genteel type of student. His face was ruddy, his hair very thin on top; his frame was powerful though loosely-knit, and his neck was inordinately long. He spoke softly with an exaggerated Oxford accent.
With the advent of Whitehead the conversation continued anew, and though I was disturbed from time to time by the fact that Houdini had to turn his head to answer Whitehead’s numerous queries (for he was an enthusiastic talker) I found a good deal of interest in what was said…
It seems that Houdini had been a detective for many years and had aided in unraveling so many mysteries and had read so many detective stories, that he boasted of being able to piece together any detective story, unknown to him of course, by hearing three or four paragraphs from different sections of such story. Whitehead, who had a mystery book with him, tried the experiment; he read excerpts from three or four different sections of the book, and Houdini apparently was able to give the gist of the story. At this juncture Houdini made an observation which I shall always remember, “think of the trouble I might have caused if I had used my talents for ill.”
More conversation and then Whitehead asked Houdini another question. “What is your opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible?”
Houdini tactfully replied, “I prefer not to discuss or to comment on matters of this nature. I would make one observation, however, – what would succeeding generations said of Houdini’s feats had he performed them in Biblical times? Would they have been referred to as ‘miracles’?”
Whitehead appeared to be somewhat taken aback at this statement.
It was at this point that Whitehead began to manifest what seem to me an astonishing interest in Houdini’s physical strength. Then, out of a clear sky, Whitehead asked, “is it true, Mr. Houdini, that you can resist the hardest blows struck to the abdomen?”

Of course much of the above now appears in the biographies by Silverman, Kalush and others.  As far as I know, Smiley’s article is the one and only source of a book being returned by Whitehead.  And it took almost 27 years since Houdini’s death to come too light. The 1953 article is also the first time that Whitehead’s name was first mentioned.

So, the return a borrowed book idea came from Smiley and only Smiley.

Thanks to Dick Brookz and Patrick Culliton for links to reference material (e.g., affidavits).

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