When did Houdini first meet Arthur Conan Doyle?

HH and Doyle imageaastrandblue

I recently came across an excellent article, Doyle, Houdini and The Strand Magazine By Stephen Forrester, where I found something that intrigued me:

Long before Houdini met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he wrote a letter to Sherlock Holmes:

“Characterless men,” had taken names similar to his and were stealing, “The fruits of my brain work, and years of research for new tricks. They are trying to get rid of me, by either crippling me for life or even going to the extreme of taking my life in cold blood.”

Some men had broken into Houdini’s trunks in Germany and were trying to bribe his loyal assistant. Houdini had no intention of mailing this letter, but it appeared as an illustration in Der Kettensprenger Houdini und der Welt-Detektif (Dec./1908) an anonymous paperback thriller published in Berlin. According to the story, Holmes crossed the channel, took a train to the German capital and soon had the criminals behind bars.

A quick search and I discover that mega Houdini collector Arthur Moses has a copy of this very rare 1908 paperback (Dec 22, 1908. n101) with an image of the cover and description in his Houdini Periodical Bibliography which he has graciously given me permission to share.

Early HH and Doyle pastiche - Arthur Moses

Credit: Arthur Moses

The Pulp magazine title (Der Kettensprenger Houdini und der Welt-Detektiv) translates as “The Lock-breaker Houdini and the World Detective.”  And Auf den Spuren Houdinis” translates as “On The Trail of Houdini”. In this short story, Houdini and his friend Sherlock Holmes get involved in a mystery and end up saving each others lives.

So Houdini and Sherlock Holmes were friends in 1908 according to the story, but when did Houdini really first meet Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes?



Soon after arriving in England in early 1920, Houdini dispatched a copy of his book The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin to a cold list of some 200 of the country’s leading figures which included Doyle.

On March 15, 1920 Doyle wrote and thanked him for the book.

Houdini and Sir Arthur Doyle exchanged a number of letters during this period:

“Am only too delighted to correspond with you”, he wrote on April 3rd, the trigger for Doyle’s invitation to lunch which Houdini received on April 11th.  Houdini instantly replied by telegram on April 12th, “[I] will avail myself of the opportunity of calling on you Wednesday morning, … Mrs. Houdini is with me, but will not be able to come at the present time, and wished to thank you for your kind thought.”

On Wednesday Apr 14, 1920 Houdini visits Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle at their home at Windlesham, Crowborough and the rest is history.

Houdini2 (1)Bonus:

Early in May 1920, the Conan Doyles traveled to see Houdini on stage at the London Palladium, where he escaped from a series of straitjackets, performed the Upside Down, and told the audience of his “many terrifying close calls” on the set of The Grim Game.

BTW: Conan Doyle attended a New York Screening of The Grim Game, and declared himself impressed.


  • Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle by Sandford
  • Houdini and Conan Doyle by Ernst and Carrington
  • The Illustrated Research Diary by Koval

The original pulp dime-novel series that later became Harry Dickson (The American Sherlock Holmes) began in Germany in January 1907 under the title of Detective Sherlock Holmes und seine weltberühmten abenteuer (Sherlock Holmes’ Most Famous Cases), published by Verlagshaus für Volksliteratur und Kunst, and comprised 230 issues in total, published until June 1911. The name Sherlock Holmes was actually used for the first 10 issues. After some concern about the rights of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the series was retitled Aus dem Geheimakten des Weltdetektivs (The Secret Files of the King of Detectives) with No. 11, even though the main character was still called Sherlock Holmes inside. Holmes’ Doctor Watson sidekick, however, was a younger man named Harry Taxon. Issue No. 101 (Dec 22, 1908) had the original series title, Der Kettensprenger Houdini und der Welt-Detektiv (The Lock Breaker Houdini and the World Detective), which was later released in other languages (e.g., Danish, Dutch, French, Romanian, Spanish)

Parrot pulls a Houdini

circa 1919 HandB with Parrot pandp

The photo above with a Parrot on Bessie’s shoulder may have been taken in Hollywood when Houdini was making “The Grim Game”.  And that may be “Pat Houdini”, their pet parrot that escaped his cage and disappeared into the Hollywood Hills.

Well, just the other day, another parrot, “Hocus Pocus”, that also has a lot in common with Harry Houdini, did a similar disappearing act.  Click the link below for details as reported by the WNEP news station:

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for sharing this touching story with me and allowing me to share it with you.

Two series of Children’s Good Night Stories by Harry Houdini?

While doing some research on Houdini, I came across the following:

Besides being conceded to be the king of escape artists, Houdini has gained considerable recognition as a writer.  Of all his hobbies, his books are his foremost.  He has written many published books, including two series of Children’s Goodnight Stories, one printed in McClure’s Magazine and the other in the New York World; “The Unmasking of Robert Houdin”, a book on magic; a number of Christmas stories, published in England and several other volumes.  For two years, he was the editor of The Conjurer, the magician’s magazine.  [June 1919 Photo-Play Journal page 45]

I was particularly intrigued by the reference about two series of Children’s Goodnight Stories written by Harry Houdini, one printed in McClure’s Magazine and the other in the New York World.

BahlYahntheStrongMan image

A quick check of Houdini Strange Tales by Patrick Culliton and you will find at least one of the two series of children’s good night stories.  That is, you will find the story of “Bahl Yahn the Strong Man” which was first published in the May 28, 1907 edition of the New York Sunday World.

McClure Magazine May 1907 imageBut what about the other series that is supposed to be printed in McClure’s Magazine.  The good news is that all of the volumes of McClure’s Magazine are searchable and available online.  The bad news is that despite an extensive search and individual review of each volume, I could not find one story written by Harry Houdini in McClure’s Magazine.  So what does this mean?  Either, it was published anonymously (under a pen name) or it never appeared in McClure’s Magazine.

FWIW, I did find “The Crackajack Story” by Harold Kellock in the November 1909 issue of McClure’s Magazine.  Harold Kellock was the author of “Houdini His Life Story from the recollections and documents of Beatrice Houdini” published in 1928.

Upon further searching, I found the following on page 57 of The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist:  Houdini:


As is the case with many great men, the gift of being able to do many things, and do each thing well, is Houdini’s, who besides his achievements as a mystifier has also won  wide recognition as an author.  That is he has found time to write a great deal is attested by his list of books, namely, “Miracle Mongers and Their Methods,” “The Unmasking of Robert Houdin,” The Sane Side of Spiritualism,” “The Right Way to do Wrong,” “Magic Made Easy,” “My Training and my Tricks,” “Paper Prestidigitation,” “Handcuff Secrets,” “Magical Rope Ties and Escapes,” “Good Night Stories for Children,” “Dan Cupid the Magician” (a series) and “Magicians’ Romances”.  Numerous magazine articles and stories swell his literary output to greater proportions. Editor for two years on standard work of magic, “The Conjurors Magazine.”

So it is possible that “Dan Cupid the Magician” may be the other series, but it was published in the Boston Evening Record (April 16, 1908) as opposed to McClure’s Magazine.  You can read the story in Houdini Strange Tales by Patrick Culliton. According to Mr. Culliton, “Dan Cupid the Magician is an unabashedly sentimental and romantic little story about a struggling young magician and the society girl with whom he falls in love.”

While, I didn’t find an unknown series of goodnight children’s stories by Harry Houdini, I did find out a lot more about the literary Houdini.


While searching for stories by Harry Houdini, I came across the August 1904 issue of the British monthly Wide World magazine that included “A One-Night Engagement” complete with illustrations and the infamous 1904 photo of Houdini:


Note: This story also appears in Patrick Culliton’s Houdini’s Strange Tales without the photo and illustrations.  According to Mr. Culliton, “while it was presented as a personal experience, it was almost entirely fictitious”.

Click on the pages below to read the rest of the story and see the illustrations with captions.

1900 vs 1904

Here are two photos of Harry Houdini.  Believe it or not, one is from around 1900 and the other is from 1904.

1900 Photo signed 1906

Date: 1900

We know the one from eBay is from around 1900, based on the image appearing on the front-cover of a four-page brochure distributed along with the theatre program to patrons of the London Alhambra Theatre in 1900. This image can be found on page 13 of Christopher’s Houdini A Pictorial Life.

HRC 1904 photo

Date: 1904

And we know the other one from Harry Ransom Center is from 1904, based on the fact that it is dated 1904 and the evidence presented in an earlier post.

The suits are clearly different in the photos, as well as the pin affixed to his white shirt.

Special Thanks to John Cox for the reference on the image in Christopher’s Houdini A Pictorial Life.

Popular Mechanics – Aeroplanes Crash in Mid-Air as Camera Man Turns Crank


Click to enlarge.

Above is an ad, that I came across from The Morning Tulsa Daily World, dated Oct 14, 1919 that mentions on page 642 November issue of Popular Mechanics you will find a description (illustrated) of the hair-raising aeroplane accident recorded in “The Grim Game”.  So of course, I had to find a copy of this November 1919 issue.

Popular Mechanics Nov 1919 coverAnd below is page 642 of the November 1919 issue.

Popular Mechanics Nov 1919 page 642

Click to enlarge.

The “camera man” was none other than the director, Irvin Willat.  And you got to love the “acrobat” references, which of course was Robert E. Kennedy (stuntman for Harry Houdini).  However, the photo of the guy standing by the upside down aeroplane is misidentified as the “acrobat”.  It is actually David E. Thompson, who flew the pickup plane.

Is this flipped photo really from 1904?


The David Copperfield (DC) mirror cuff (shown above) is nearly always shown with its best side – with less plating missing.  It is believed that the Harry Houdini (HH) image in the photo was flipped to mirror it.  All other advertisements and postcards that I have seen, have the photo of HH holding the DC mirror cuff facing the other way without a date written on it.

This photo in DC’s museum has 1904 written on it, so does that mean it was taken in 1904? That’s what we are led to believe.  Note: March 17th, 1904 is the date of the famous Daily Illustrated Mirror Challenge.

Well, if we flip the photo (see below) to be facing the original way, 1904 becomes 4091.

10DCwithHoudiniPhoto_zps7986e002-1-300x234 flipped

So what does this mean?

Not sure, but we need to find when this image or a similar image was first seen.   Below is the first image, that I was able to find.  It has 1907 written on it, but it is actually from 1909. So far, not so good for 1904.

mirror handbill from laid bareHowever, below is a clearer image of him “sitting in a chair”, with the DC mirror cuff, but it is not dated.


If we examine his 1904 pitch book cover below of him “sitting in a chair”, it may very well be the same suit, hair, and chair as the image of him holding the DC mirror cuff.

harry023 (1)

1904 Pitchbook 20 pages Credit: John Bushey

The below postcard which sold at auction for $474 and matches the image on the 1904 pitch book shows it much more clearly, and it definitely appears to be the same suit, hair and chair and could have been taken during the same photo session in 1904.

HH Postcard Around 1904

Epilogue: On Saturday May 14th, 1904 Harry Houdini (HH) was presented with the solid silver manacle.  The solid silver manacle was always thought to be pictured in the photo with HH sitting, but we now know that it is really the DC mirror cuff.  HH obviously doesn’t want us to know that this is the DC mirror cuff, which could explain why he is covering the key hole and the center of the cuff in the photo. On March 20, three days after the challenge, Houdini offered a challenge to the Mirror that he would offer 100 guineas to anyone else who could get out of the cuffs with him present, which implies to me that HH was not supposed to be in possession of the DC mirror cuff. That said, it is likely that this photo with the DC mirror cuff was taken before he officially received the solid silver manacle and may have even been taken during his London engagement at the Hippodrome.

Related Posts:

Update: The photo from the 1904 pitch book also appears in The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin as well as a similar image in Silverman which was signed by HH on Aug 1904:

Photo of HH from The UnMasking of Robert-Houdin

Photo: The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin


Photo: Silverman

Update 2:

HRC 1904 photo

Photo: Harry Ransom Center


Ann Forrest as described by Houdini

298-82 snippetSnippet of Still 298-82 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

HOW HOUDINI DID IT. Ann Forrest, who has played the heroine in Houdini’s picture, “The Grim Game,” at the Pentridge since Thursday, is described by Houdini himself as “one of the prettiest girls on the screen.” She was born the Isle of Fan, just off the coast of Denmark, and received her education there. She is of a true Danish type, with masses of blonde hair, large blue eyes, and the complexion of a milkmaid. Houdini referring to the love scenes he played with Ann Forrest, pathetically complained that he could not “love” Ann Forrest with Mrs. Houdini as a spectator. After a consultation, Houdini solved the problem giving his wife a cheque to spend in the bazaars, whilst the love scenes were being filmed.

[ Burnley News Saturday 20 November 1920]

Houdini to Write Kellar’s Biography

thegrimgame Arthur Moses Image

Kellar sitting in chair on set of The Grim Game Credit: Arthur Moses Collection

Houdini to Write Kellar’s Biography is the title of an article that appeared on August 16, 1919 in the Motion Pictures News Magazine.

Below is the text from that article:

The oldest of the great magicians of the past who is still living is Prof. Harry Kellar, Dean of the Society of American Magicians, now residing in retirement at Los Angeles.  Houdini is a particular friend of the famous conjurer and the latter had decided that the noted escape artist and star of “The Grim Game” shall write his biography.

Houdini is a well-known writer as well as illusionist, and has published numerous books on magic and kindred subjects.  He will begin at once adding to his large collection of data on the life of Kellar and will compile this material, adding the facts that he knows and will give to the story the continuity that will weld it into a delightful record of a most remarkable life.

According to Silverman notes, HH completed several hundred pages of the book, which remains unpublished in a private collection, together with some one hundred letters from HH to Kellar.

Just like the Grim Game, this material needs to become public.

Case For and Against Psychical Belief

The Case For and Against Psychical Belief Book Cover

On November 29 to December 11, 1926, there was a symposium, The Case For and Against Psychical Belief, at Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts.

Mr. Harry Houdini was to have been a speaker in this symposium, but his untimely death prevented.

The ideas for a seminar had come to Dr. Carl Murchison (1887 – 1961) during a luncheon in the grill room of the Bancroft Hotel in Worchester, Massachusetts. The Clark University psychology professor was dining with Professor McDougall and Harry Houdini and began talking about spirit mediums, psychic phenomena, and other matters relating to psychical research. Professor McDougall and Mr. Houdini were on friendly terms, but disagreed “concerning certain matters that had become of wide social interest because of newspaper emphasis.”  Murchison suggested they and other noted authorities should argue the entire matter in a public symposium.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was unable to attend the symposium, but he submitted a paper, “Psychic Questions As I See It.” He believed the key to validating physical mediumship lay in ectoplasm.

20141125cDr. Crandon presented his wife’s Margery astonishing phenomena.le-roiMina-Leroi-Crandon-Houdini-demonstrating-the-Seance-Box-Sir-Arthur-Conan-Doyle5-520x313

In consultation with Mrs. Houdini, it was agreed that the best existing statement of Mr. Houdini’s convictions in this field are represented in the chapters on Slate Writing and other methods, Spirit Photography, Sir Author Conan Doyle and Houdini’s Conclusion from A Magician Among the Spirits.  This book was only two years old at the time, and Mrs. Houdini agreed that it still represented Mr. Houdini’s final convictions on the subject.


  • The Case For and Against Psychical Belief, Carl Murchison, editor
  • The Medium Who Baffled Houdini by Elaine M. Kuzmeskus

The last tricked “spirit” photograph of Houdini in 1926; Who are the Spirits?

I thought I would share a tricked photograph of Houdini that I came across recently.


To debunk the “spirit photographs” that mediums were claiming as proof of their communication with the dead, Houdini manufactured his own.

I wasn’t sure if I had ever seen this tricked photo before.  I searched my library of Houdini books and found similar but different photos of Houdini with the same “Spirit Extras”.

  • Christopher’s Houdini a Pictorial Life p 177
  • Kalush’s The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare p 248

Neither Christopher nor Kalush identify the so-called “Spirit Extras”.

Christopher refers to it as the last tricked “spirit” photograph of Houdini in 1926.

Who are the spirit extras?  Feel free to guess. Bragging rights for the first one to get it correct in the comments.