Houdini Connection – Potential Economic Impact to Community

“The Houdini connection is worth an estimated $1 million a year in economic impact in the community” according to an Associated Press (AP) story for the economic impact of the Houdini connection for the small populated area of Appleton, WI, where Houdini spent just a small part of his childhood. This, even though Houdini famously said: “The best escape I ever did was the day I left Appleton!”  Imagine the huge  impact Scranton’s Houdini Museum has in the Northeastern U.S. area which draws from over 55 million people, or about about 17% of the U.S. population on less than 2% of the nation’s land area.
Here are a few recent ways Scranton’s Houdini Museum is reaching out and bringing these potential customers to their area:
1) Associated Press newswire story covered around the world with 5 sample links:
2) On Mysteries at the Museum, The Travel Channel, twelfth time this year alone.
Apr 29: Saturday, 8am | 7c
Mysteries At The Museum: Doyle & Houdini
      Filmed at Scranton’s Houdini Museum
Doyle & Houdini, Host Don Wildman examines a captivating portrait.
ALSO FOUND THE VIDEO!

      The Travel Channel put it up on youtube and Amazon as well.

3) HoudiniOpoly! Highest funded & most backed KickStarter in Scranton history. The 2nd highest funded Houdini project in KickStarter history.

 

 

What was the Worst Fix Houdini had ever been in? Part 1 of 2

So, if you asked Houdini what was the worst fix he had ever been in, what would he say?

 “I was performing in a portion of the west where there were a great number of Indians.  They were vastly interested in my performances, and when the sweeping challenges which I had issued were translated to them, they were deeply moved at what they regarded as my arrogance and effrontery.  They determined to test my powers.  Forthwith one of the big-wigs of the tribe sent me a messenger, who demanded to know if I would submit to be bound as they dictated, and agree to escape from their toils.  At first, I was tempted to stipulate that the nature of the test be explained to me beforehand, an invariable rule in my challenges.  But here was an unusual case.  The teasing uncertainty of it; the advertising possibilities; and many other features about it; appealed to my imagination.  I did not know what I was doing, but I told the Indians to ahead and do their worst.

The theater was crowded with Indians the next evening.  I invited their committee on the stage, and told them to proceed, I was then at their disposal, and made the most of their opportunity.  They bound me with thongs, and twisted the fetters until I could have struck them in my pain, but I let them go on.  I got out in less time than they required to bind me.

Would you believe it, they were not satisfied?  They wanted still further proofs of my prowess.  The next day a committee of red-skins called upon me and begged me to come to their land, where they gave me, then and there, about the worst test to which I have ever been subjected.”

Care to guess before I reveal the details in my next post?

Houdini and Hardeen are Step-Brothers!!!

A P R I L  F O O L S ! ! !

Image courtesy of John Cox Collection

However, according to an article, When Houdini was President” by William Frazee in a 1953 MUM:

Some of the New York City boys told me that the research department of Paramount studios discovered that Houdini and Hardeen were step-brothers.  Well, it is no surprise to any of the old timers as we all knew this, but it came as a surprise to the younger generation.  As Houdini was the oldest one and both had the same mother, what was Houdini’s right name?

That said, Okito, a friend of William Frazee, wrote in the January 1954 MUM, that he had often heard rumors, yet could not possibly substantiate this fact.  In the same article, Okito mentioned that when he visited his late friend Ottokar Fischer in 1926 he proved to him by authentic documents that Houdini was born in Hungary and that his name was Ehrich Weiss.

Is the Houdini Museum one of the wierdest?

Here is a story on Penn Live that calls Scranton’s Houdini Museum one of the 9 weirdest museums in Pennsylvania.  In fact they are listed as Number 2.  Sounds awful, but when you read the story by the writer who attended the show he says…

“Scranton’s Houdini Museum features artifacts related to the life and career of magician Harry Houdini. Visitors are guided through the museum which is very small, yet packed with many amazing mementos from his life. The highlight of the museum, however, is the magic show conducted by two of the world’s best magicians, including Dorothy Dietrich, the only woman to ever perform a bullet catch with her mouth and escape from a straitjacket while suspended from a burning rope.”

Well, I had the distinct honor of visiting Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz at the Houdini Museum in 2015 and it was one of my best experiences:

I highly recommend you check it out and decide for yourself.

3 New HoudiniOpoly pawns announced

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton have revealed three more pawn pieces for their upcoming HoudiniOpoly board game:
A Playing Card Pawn, a Trunk and a Plastic Gold Coin.
To go with:
Houdini’s Beer Barrel, Houdini’s Milk Can Escape, and a Hypnotic Eye.
Their kickstarter project ends in  3 days but turns out they keep it up for 2 weeks or more.  So there may still be time to participate at one of the following links below:

Chef Houdini Recipes

In honor of Chef Gene, a fellow Houdini nut, who just got married, I thought I would do a post on Houdini recipes.

The first two recipes are courtesy of Houdini’s niece, Marie H. Blood:

  • Houdini’s Chicken Paprika:

  • Houdini’s Bread Pudding:

The last two recipes come from a couple vintage cookbooks I recently purchased.

  • Celebrated Actor-Folks’ Cookeries: A Collection of The Favorite Foods of Famous Players (1916), where Houdini has a recipe for “Bread-and-Butter Custard”:

  • The Stag Cook Book: A Man’s Cook Book for Men (1922), where Houdini has a recipe for “Scalloped Mushrooms and Deviled Eggs”:

Congrats Gene and Kirwan!  Hope you enjoy the recipes and the cookbooks.

Gotch Defeats Hackenschmidt and turns down Houdini

On April 3rd 1908 in Chicago, Frank A. Gotch defeated George Hackenschmidt the “Russian Lion” in an international wrestling match for the champion of the world.

Well supposedly in 1906, Houdini Defeated Hackenschmidt.   Let’s take a closer look.

According to Solomon in Disappearing Tricks:

The year 1906 also marks one of the earliest documented uses of cinema by Houdini. In March, a film listed as Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt was shown immediately after Houdini’s performance at Keiths Theatre, Boston. All we know of this film is its title and a one-word description in the unpublished managers’ reports of the Keith vaudeville circuit: “Fair.” The title of the film is ambiguous because it is not clear how Houdini might have managed to defeat the heavyweight wrestler George Hackenschmidt.”

Houdini befriended Hackenschmidt while they were both touring Europe. Hackenschmidt’s act consisted of feats of strength and displays of his muscular body.  It is quite possible that the victory over Hackenschmidt alluded to in this film’s title did not occur in an athletic contest.

According to Silverman:

“Not one to be outdone, Houdini threw Hackenschmidt. Like Sandow and other strongmen, Hackenschmidt had a popular music-hall turn, exhibiting his build in attitudes meant to recall statues. He and Houdini often compared receipts, Hack conceding that the boxoffice record of 210 pounds he set at Sheffield had been overcome only by Houdini, at 300. Houdini discussed with him the possibility of copromoting a top-rank wrestling match, and hoped to bring him to the United States, presumably as his manager to star in vaudeville.”

Well in 1908, Houdini made an offer to Frank Gotch through Harry Day the London Agent to appear in the London halls, but Gotch turned down England:

Later in 1908, there were ads that alluded to a likely return wrestling match between Frank A. Gotch, the champion of the world, and Hackenschmidt although Houdini was not the promoter or was he?

Mystery of the Medicine Show Photo and its Performers

Last week I posted the above medicine show snapshot dated 1894 that most Keaton Historians believe was actually taken four years later.

The couples pose outside a tent with Dr. Hill, the resident Kickapoos, and a pair of dogs.  Bess and [pipe-smoking] Mira are dolled up in frilly gowns and hats, but it is Joe who dominates the picture, slouching like one of the outlaw Dalton brothers, legs defiantly apart, one hand on his hip, hat cocked at a rakish angle, a half-smoked cigar held between his fingers. [Buster Keaton Cut to the Chase]

It is believed to be a snapshot taken in the Winter (Dec 1897- Feb 1898), when the Houdini’s (Harry and Bess) were traveling with the Keatons (Joe and Myra) as part of Dr. Hills California Concert Company (Medicine Show)

[Note: Per Silverman Notes to Houdini, HH played with medicine shows earlier as part of the “Brothers Houdini”, having toured with Hamlin’s Wizard Company in Iowa in Feb 1893, and with Oliver’s Wizard Oil Company in Illinois in 1894.]

Was the photo misdated by four years to prove that Harry Houdini had been present at Buster’s birth?

The Three Keatons, New York ca 1899 by Feinberg (Studio)

Joseph Francis Keaton (aka Buster) was born on October 4, 1895.

His parents (Joe H. Keaton and Myra) were members of the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company, a traveling vaudeville show, (along with Harry Houdini?), and were in Piqua, Kansas when the baby arrived.

[Note: In September 1895, Houdini bought a half interest in the American Gaiety Girls and toured with the troupe (through eastern Pennsylvania and upper New York State and into New England) for five or so months as part proprietor and manager, before joining the Marco company in the Spring of 1896].

The story goes that when Keaton was a toddler (6 months old per Buster and 18 months old per Joe), Houdini witnessed him take a spill down a flight of stairs and emerged unharmed. “That was a real buster,” the legend has Houdini saying of the fall, and thus was a lifelong nickname born (unless the story is apocryphal, which is certainly possible).

Per Silverman Notes to Houdini, the myth was probably started by Buster himself, who admired and emulated Houdini.

According to Marion Meade’s, “Buster Keaton Cut to the Chase”: The first mention of Buster’s nickname appeared in a 1903 newspaper clipping, where Myra Keaton attributes the name to “a family friend” but didn’t mention the name.  The following year Joe identified him as George Pardey, the actor.  It was in 1921 that Buster (or his agent Harry Brand] decided to make Houdini a cornerstone of his legend.

So is the photo evidence that the Houdini’s (Harry and Bess) were traveling with the Keaton’s (Joe and Myra) as part of Dr. Hills California Concert Company in 1898?

To answer that, we need to be able to confirm their identity in the photo.

Harry Houdini was 5’-5.276” and Bess was lucky if she was 5’-0”.  Myra was not a tall gal (4’-11”) while Joe has been listed at 5’-11”.  So the women should be similar in height, but the woman identified as Bess appears to be much taller and doesn’t really look like Bess. As far as Houdini, the only one in that photo that remotely looks like Houdini is holding the dog on the left, not the one identified standing on the right.

I wonder if there is any legitimate print material evidence (photos, newspaper clippings, playbills, etc) ) to indicate Joe and Myra Keaton (Buster’s parents) were traveling with Harry and Bessie Houdini in the California Concert Co. (or perhaps, another traveling Medicine Show).   There is definitely evidence for Harry and Bessie:

BTW: According to Professor’s Solomon’s Lives of Conjurers, Volume Three, The California Concert Company was the joint enterprise of two medicine men, Dr. Hill and Dr. Pratt.  Dr. Hill was from San Francisco and in his early twenties.  He had shoulder-length hair (a coiffure popular with medicine men) and a full beard — a prophet hawking an elixir. Dr. Pratt was from Denver.  In Houdini: His Life-Story, Bess describes Pratt as “a white-haired old gentleman with the air of a retired clergyman”.  [Note: The doctor in the photo does not match either description for Dr. Hill or Dr. Pratt.]

If you have evidence for Joe and Myra Keaton, please share.

Special thanks to Ron Pesch for sharing controversial photo and newspaper roster clipping that inspired me to do this post.

Related:

Bonus:

Although not Medicine Show evidence, the following is evidence of Houdini on the same bill as the Three Keatons in a 1907 Boston Journal Ad that our friend Dean Carnegie found:

What’s wrong with the description of this photo?

Here’s a photo that a reader (i.e., Ron Pesch) shared with me that is very intriguing:

Is the date right? Is Harry Houdini and Bess Houdini really in the photo?

Please share any thoughts or comments on what is wrong with the description of this photo.  I will then follow up with a post that gives some more insight about the photo and the performers in the Medicine Show.