The Perilous Escape From the “Spanish Maiden”

To kick off September, thought I would share a Pharmaceutical Calendar Ad from 1977, I recently acquired about The Perilous Escape From the “Spanish Maiden”:

Imagine a man stepping into an upright casket lined with sharp steel spikes and having it firmly shut and padlocked. Houdini escaped from such a device without the slightest injury and without leaving a clue as to how he did it.

The casket, painted with a resemblance of a Spanish maiden, was modeled after an instrument of torture used during the Spanish Inquisition. Spikes lined the interior in such a way that the body was trapped, but not pierced.  It was hinged on one side, and on the other there were padlocks.

[it then goes on to explain in detail how he escaped]

You gotta love the image of Houdini they used from “The Grim Game”.

Houdini Historic Film Footage on Two Tapes

If you don’t own the Miracle Factory and Kino DVDs on Houdini, you will definitely want to check out the Houdini Historical Film footage (taken from high quality 35MM nitrate originals which no longer exist) found on the following two tapes:

“The Master Mystery” Give-Away Booklet

While going through my closet the other day, I came across this remarkable 6 page give-away booklet to promote “The Master Mystery”:

Front and Back Cover

Pages 1 and 2

Pages 3 and 4

Pages 5 and 6

I picked this up for 50 cents when I visited the Houdini Historical Center in 1998.

While this is not an original, Mega Houdini collector Kevin Connolly does own an original which he shared last year with members of his Conjuring History Facebook group that made my jaw drop.


Harry Houdini Mysteries & Scandals 1998 Documentary PLUS Grim Game Fragments


Thought today I would share a E documentary that was hosted by AJ Benza. It was released 26 October 1998.

It contains fragments (0:08-11:00; 18:54-19:00; 28:32-28:36) from the Grim Game that also appeared on History’s Lost and Found (episode #22) that aired in 2000.

On Wednesday, December 8, 2010 John Cox at WildAboutHoudini first shared these fresh fragments from the Grim Game:

These clips come from History’s Lost and Found (episode #22) which showcased Houdini’s Water Torture Cell and first aired in 2000. In the introductory montage we see a collection of Houdini footage. Much of it is familiar — but then pops up three (two) distinct fragments from, yes, The Grim Game!
So where did these fragments come from, and how much footage was trimmed away? Is it possible these full sequences exist somewhere outside the infamous Larry Weeks print?
The show credits still and stock footage from all the segments together, but within the list we see a handful of suspects who could have supplied the clips: Houdini Historical Society, Sidney H. Radner Collection, Houdini, John Gaughan, Morris Young Collection, Archive Film and Photos, Budget Films/eFootage, Hot Shots Cool Cuts, Steamline Stock Footage, and WPA Film Library.
Okay, fess up! Who (else) is squatting on footage from The Grim Game?

Photos & Footage on the 1998 documentary are credited as follows:

So based on the documentary credits, that narrows these Grim Game footage fragments to:

  • Sidney H. Radner Collection Houdini Historical Center, Appleton WI Outgamie County Historical Society
  • Hot Shots/Cool Cuts

That said, as far as I can tell these fragments still exist (as flipped or reversed images) on the Larry Weeks (now TCM) print.

Anyhow, enjoy the documentary that includes some interesting comments from the late great Ken Silverman:

One of the stunts he done was stand on top of Bi-plane and jump into Lake Michigan handcuffed. (18:04-18:08)

Ruptured appendix caused peritonitis to set in. Peritonitis comes from bacterium and appendicitis comes from the bacterium and he couldn’t have got that from a punch in the stomach so he must have had it before. (20:17- 20:24)

Original Theme Music from The Grim Game

In 2015, TCM aired the restoration of The Grim Game on October 18th.

The first airing at 8:00 PM (ET) was the new Brane Zivkovic musical ensemble score.

The second airing at 11:45 PM (ET) was the new Steve Sterner piano score (which included a Main theme, Love theme, Villain theme and Servant theme).

Steve Sterner The Grim Game Main theme Copyright 2015 Steve Sterner All Rights Reserved

Well what was the music like in 1919?  Below is the Musical Synopsis from the 1919 Press Book for “The Grim Game”.

Unfortunately, a recording of this music played on the piano does not currently exist. That said, I was able to track down the original 1911 sheet music, Premier Amour, by Andre Benoist that was used as the theme for The Grim Game in 1919:


Houdini’s Connections with the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity House

Thanks to Chuck Romano, who recently commented on John Cox excellent post on the owners and occupants of 278, we learned that Houdini’s House at 278 W 113th Street in New York City was a Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house at one time:

278 was definitely rented to students in 1917-18. Several students belonging to the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity were listed in “Banta’s Greek exchange: published in the interest of the college fraternity world” with the address of 278 W. 113th St. The founders of Sigma Alpha Mu were all of the Jewish faith, and the fraternity naturally attracted men of the similar background.


This made me recall another Houdini connection to the “Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house” that Patrick Culliton (aka Houdini’s Ghost) shared on the magic cafe:

I hate to quote this much from Don Bell. Everyone who is interested in this subject should buy his book.

Sam Smiley:

A month or so later they tell me there’s a letter for me in the Dean’s office. It’s from Ernst, Fox and Cane, the New York attorneys. They said, we understand you and your friends were in Houdini’s room, and one of your friends struck the blows, and so forth, we understand it was purely accidental. Our sole interest is in collecting on a double indemnity accident insurance policy for Mrs. Houdini. Would you help by telling us what happened?

I showed the letter to Harry Cohen, a lawyer who was living at the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house with us on Shuter (now Aylmer) Street. He said I should write it right down. I did. But I said, before recounting what occurred I want to make two observations: there were three persons in the room when the blows were struck, and the blows were struck by the third person, not by my friend or myself. The New York attorneys wanted to put it into affidavit form and I recommended Harry: and he was very grateful.

And he gets in touch with this fellow Whitehead. Cohen had had a peritonitis operation himself and he had this band around his waist and some of the bad matter was still oozing out of the wound. He tells me that when Whitehead came in for the affidavit, he was very arrogant and laughed about the incident, not in the least penitent. “Oh, it was nothing at all,” he says to them, “let me show you how I did it.” “No, no, don’t show me,” Cohen tells him. He thought Whitehead might be crazy enough to punch him in the abdomen like he did to Houdini.

So, Houdini definitely had ties to the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity House in New York and Montreal.  Something to ponder?


Photo Credits:

  • John Hinson Collection via
  • McGill University Yearbook

LINK: The Forgotten Partnership of H. P. Lovecraft and Harry Houdini

The cover of the May-June-July 1924 issue of Weird Tales

From the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas:

Special thanks to my friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for alerting me to this post.


Houdini Volare Rare auto brochures

Creative brochures featuring HOUDINI to advertise the 1976 Plymouth Volare Premier Sedan, Coupe, and Wagon.

These vintage ads draw comparisons between the legendary magician and the car.

They also include exposes (not shown) of the Dekolta chair, Sawing a woman in half,

and escaping from a locked safe.

I procured these three brochures earlier this year. Two of them I got from our friend Chuck Romano, who did an excellent post last year (October 7, 1916) on them:

The other one, which I hadn’t seen before, I got as part of a Houdini lot on eBay.

Houdini’s Secret Vault?

During the Final Houdini Séance in 1936, Edward Saint shared the following:

 “He had safes and vaults in his home, and vaults in banks that his lawyers had access to; but one secret, now made public for the first time, is the fact that Houdini had one safety deposit vault in a bank or trust company in the east under some familiar name other than Houdini, and of which the secret location rested only in Houdini’s brain.  In this vault was kept highly secret papers, and into which was always placed a certain glass case of jeweled medals and a diamond question mark pin with a rare pearl drop, a gift from Harry Kellar to Houdini.  The jewel box was always on display in the Houdini home.  But prior to closing the house to go on a vaudeville tour, Houdini always placed this box in the secret vault.  Many things were left untold because of the unexpected death of Houdini in Detroit.  There is a law, a time limit.  Madame Houdini has year by year awaited word that the Federal Government had located or opened the box, long overdue.  Perhaps the vault was rented and paid years in advance.  However, this Secret Vault has never been located to this day.”


Last week, I did a post on Bess Houdini’s infamous note (once thought by her lawyer to only exist in her imagination) found in a box that was a gift (?) to the Harry Ransom Center from a lawyer (?) that had worked on his estate so many years ago.  Did the contents of this box come from the Secret Vault?  Well, according to Saint, Houdini had multiple vaults, but the Secret Vault (revealed by Saint 10 years after Houdini died?) was under a familiar but different name and its location only known by Houdini. We know, Bess stored her infamous note that spells out exactly how Houdini would communicate from beyond the grave if he could, in a safety deposit box that was not a secret.

FWIW: A man from Providence (who claims he is the reincarnation of Houdini?), believes Houdini had entrusted the crystal box to the Eddy’s (who were employees and friends of Houdini) during his final tour, and it had been in their family since.  Jim Dyer is the caretaker of the family legacy and publisher for his grandparents through his company, Fenham Publishing.  When asked if he has the treasure box, Dyer said that Houdini trusted his grandfather and that Dyer sees his role as maintaining that trust. “My family has a lot of Houdini things, letters and assorted Houdini things, “Dyer said.” “I’m hesitant to tell anybody what the family has.”  Aware of the lengths to which Houdini and Lovecraft fans will go, he added: “We have them in a safe spot (Secret Vault?)”

[Excerpts from Taughton Daily Gazette article “Houdini’s spirit ‘led’ him to treasure box” by Donita Naylor Oct 31, 2016]

Unfortunately, we have more questions (????) than answers.  This includes where is the diamond question mark pin with a rare pearl drop, a gift from Harry Kellar to Houdini.

WRT the Secret Vault, I will leave you with this thought:

  • If I were a lawyer, I would say that the Secret Vault only existed in Ed Saints imagination.