Trip to New York is Extra Special

Last week, I shared my adventures in Scranton, PA with my friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz (D&D). Well the adventure didn’t stop there.  After three incredible days of being treated like a celebrity in Scranton, D&D took me to NYC for one more extra special day.

June 15th, Monday morning, I picked up D&D at the Houdini Museum and between the three of us we had a lot of fun navigating our way to Queens, NYC.  Once we got to Queens, we made a pit stop (which I highly recommend, LoL) and had lunch before proceeding to Machpelah Cemetery.  It was a beautiful day when we arrived.

1099What an incredible feeling came over me, when I turned right into the cemetery and saw Harry’s bust sitting atop the monument in all its grandeur for the first time in person.

1175Thanks to the efforts of D&D, this bust returned permanently in September 27, 2011 after going headless since 1993.

1227Visiting Houdini’s gravesite had been on my to-do list for years and now I could check that box.  It was definitely a surreal feeling.

1092That said, I was surprised, as was D&D, about a few things we observed at the site.


  • The grass looked like it hadn’t been cut in quite a while – Dorothy made a phone call and was told had they knew she coming for a visit, they would have cut it
  • Houdini’s grave stone was covered with tasteless cards, rust deposits from various items left, and graffiti (i.e., someone had actually drew a heart on it).
  • There was no sign of any work being done on the SAM Mosaic emblem, other than the fact that there were some additional stones missing since D&D last visit.

1134While, we couldn’t do anything about the missing stones on the SAM Mosaic emblem, we could do our best to clean up the gravestone, tasteless playing cards, and weeds.

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And speaking of missing stones, D&D have made arrangements to have Leopold’s and Gladys’s (Houdini’s brother and sister) markers that got vandalized in the early 1990’s restored permanently later this year.  The Gladys and Leopold headstones were damaged when they were used as batterers to destroy the benches (which have since been replaced). So I was able to see the benches that got replaced in 1996 by S.A.M. with help from David Copperfield and James Randi, the bust that got replaced in 2011 by D&D, and in the near future, Gladys and Leopold headstones being replaced by D&D.  Plus the SAM Mosaic tile will be getting a face lift hopefully soon, courtesy of the S.A.M.

1230While we were at the cemetery, we wanted to also pay our respects to Larry Weeks who passed away on October 13, 2014.  He called himself “Houdini’s Biggest Fan” and was the previous owner of the only known complete print of The Grim Game before he sold it to TCM in 2014 just before he passed away.  After a number of phone calls, we were finally able to locate where he is buried; which is just on the other side of the hill from Houdini.


After a nice afternoon at the cemetery, it was time to go to our next special destination, which wasn’t too far away. Oddly enough, it started to rain as soon as we made preparations to leave the cemetery.  Thank goodness, we had nice weather during our visit with Harry and company.

By the time we arrived at our next stop, the brief rain had stopped.

1351Our next stop was at Fred Pittella’s apartment which was like a Houdini and Escapes Museum.  This was not only a first for me, but also D&D. Our jaws dropped as we entered this shrine where every wall, display cabinet and trunk was filled with Houdini, Hardeen, and Competitors memorabilia. Fred by far has the largest and best collection of escape king memorabilia that I have ever seen.

1279This included an incredible handcuff collection which included extremely rare pairs of Bean Giants.

1349One of my favorite items was the original box and keys for Houdini’s Defiance Handcuff Act.


Credit: Fred Pittella Collection

Note: The Defiance Handcuff Act did not provide keys for at least two of the handcuffs in this ad: the Houdini Bell-lock Cuff and the Russian Manacle.

1309He definitely needs to publish a book on Escape Kings. Fred was an amazing host and allowed us full access to his entire collection. It was amazing to see the originals of so many items that have been published, along with items that have never been published. I wish I could have spent another day just going through his albums of rare photos, letters, playbills, and programs.  If I am ever in the area again, I will definitely take Fred up on his open invitation to come back anytime.

1483It was getting late and we had 8 pm tickets to Monday Night Magic, New York’s Longest Running Magic Show.  So off we went. The theatre was located in Greenwich Village at the famous landmark, the Café Wha?

1475There is a reason, this is New York’s Longest Running Magic Show; it was “that good”.

MondayNightMagic NYC 001The MC and performers were all first-rate professionals and each one in their own unique way contributed to a fantastic evening of magic and entertainment.  And the management there was great as well. I highly, highly, recommend seeing Monday Night Magic.

1486After the show, we walked around the block to a diner, had some ice cream and hung out with all of the performers and people that made the show happen.  D&D shared their thoughts and expertise with the performers. We were having so much fun, we lost track of the time. It was now early in the morning the next day and we still had to drive back to Scranton, PA.

After hearing some more amazing stories from D&D, we pulled into the parking lot of the Houdini Museum in Scranton,PA  about 4:30 am and said our emotional good-byes.  This was an extra special trip and experience that I will never forget.

Special Thanks to Fred Pittella for sharing his amazing collection and to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for a trip of a lifetime.

How many times has the Houdini Bust been replaced?

For the first time since 1993, a bust of Harry Houdi ornaments his family grave site in Queens. David Dunlap of NY Times

For the first time since 1993, a bust of Harry Houdini ornaments his family grave site in Queens. David W. Dunlap of New York Times

According to a New York Times City Room Blog, “Houdini Returns (Of Course.)”, published on October 24, 2011 by David W. Dunlap:

A bust of Houdini atop the central pedestal of his family plot at Machpelah Cemetary in Queens was smashed or stolen four times between 1975 and 1993.  The Society of American Magicians, of which Houdini was president at the time of his death in 1926, then gave up trying to replace it.

The above quote implies that the bust was replaced three times between 1975 and 1993.

According to a New York Daily News Sunday Magazine, New York Live article, “The Trouble with Harry” on October 25, 1992 by John Bohannon:

Due to vandalism and theft, the bust has been replaced three times.

According to one of the Houdini New York Times article, “Houdini Returns (Of Course.)”, published on October 24, 2011 by David W. Dunlap:

Harry Houdini’s grave in Queens had gone headless since 1993, when the last of the four busts was wrecked.  In September, however, the Houdini Commandos struck.

That is, we know that the last (fourth?) bust was replaced with a replica in September 2011 by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the HOUDINI MUSEUM IN SCRANTON, PA.

According to Benjilini on Houdini (1994); Below are the dates and some information pertaining to the busts:

  • Original Mounted Bust Destroyed with a crowbar – April 1975
  • 2nd Bust (1st copy (shell) Stolen – August 1983
  • 3rd Bust (2nd copy (shell) Stolen – Nov 1988
  • Two Benches Destroyed – May 1994

According to a John Cox at WILD ABOUT HARRY blog, below is the Grave timeline:

  • 1916: Houdini erects plot and exedra in memory of his parents.
  • November 4, 1926: Houdini is buried in plot.
  • 1927: S.A.M. holds memorial service and unveils Houdini bust by John Cassidy (and exedra S.A.M. emblem?).
  • April 1975: Original Houdini bust is smashed by vandals.
  • Spring 1976: SAM replaces Houdini bust with replica.
  • August 1983: Second Houdini bust is stolen. Replaced by S.A.M. with replica.
  • 1987: Machpelah Cemetery goes into bankruptcy. State takes ownership.
  • November 1990: Third Houdini bust is stolen. (Replaced?)
  • 1993: Benches smashed and Gladys/Leopold headstones damaged.
  • 1996: Grave is restored with funds raised by the S.A.M. with help from David Copperfield and James Randi. Houdini bust and Gladys/Leopold headstones are not replaced.
  • March 2002: Police recover bust stolen in 1983 (returned to S.A.M. in 2011).
  • September 2011: Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz replace Houdini bust with replica.
  • January 2013: Anonymous owner shares photos of original smashed bust on WILD ABOUT HARRY.

If we compare Benjilini dates with John’s dates, we notice that the 3rd bust was either stolen in November of 1988 or November of 1990; and the two benches were either destroyed in May of 1994 or sometime in 1993.

According to Bohannon: One bust was stolen in 1983, and another one was stolen in the late 1980s [1988 perhaps].

Sometime in 1990, John Cox of WILD ABOUT HARRY visited the Grave on just an ordinary day and saw what looked like a permanent bust on it; he has a photo.  Tom Interval of HOUDINI MUSEUM also visited the gravesite around 1990; he wrote an article, The Houdini Grave, documenting his visit that included some photos he took that day; the Houdini bust is missing in Tom’s photos.  According to Benjilini on Houdini (1994), the bust which is a black/gray color is mounted only for the “Broken Wand Ceremony” which takes place on the 31st of October.  Benjilini had the honor of protecting the bust in October of 1990. The Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians keeps this bust in a safe place.

Tom Interval [Houdini Grave Aerial Map] mentioned that someone vandalized Leopold’s and Gladys headstones (Houdini’s brother and sister) in 1994, along with two hand-carved stone benches.  Other articles on the internet, like, mention 1993 when the vandalism took place:

More vandalism occurred in 1993, when the whole grave was wrecked. This time, famous modern magicians, including David Copperfield and James Randi contributed to the replacement of two granite benches and for the casting of a copy of the bust that was placed in position on the grave only at observances commemorating Houdini by the Society of American Magicians. The cemetery also contributed to restoring the family plot and prepared concrete bases for the new benches. The new bust was said to be ‘made of a marble-like compound which looks exactly like the original’.

So based on the circumstantial evidence above, do you think the bust stolen in November of 1988 (1990) got replaced and was it there in 1993 (May 1994) on the grave when it was vandalized?

Houdini Magical Hall of Fame Memories – Houdini’s Bust

Me with Houdini Bust in June 1980[Joe M. Notaro with Houdini’s Bust at the museum in June 1980]

Last week, I posted a blog about my memories of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in 1980.  It included photos of my visit and a comparison of 1979 and 1980 advertisements for the museum.  If we compare the Guide Books from 1979 and 1980, it appears that the Houdini Bust (as well as the Mirror Handcuffs) first showed up on display in 1980, the year that I visited; how lucky was that?

John Cox at Wild About Harry posted the following comment on my blog last week about the photo with me and the Houdini Bust:

  • Which bust is that I wonder?

There are assorted discrepancies in the history of the bust(s) as reported by the press, and the confusion is added to by comments made by James Randi in a 2008 interview in which he describes how he and a friend secretly ‘kidnapped’ a Houdini bust, which surely must have been a copy of the Cassidy work  (even though Randi says it was by ‘Church’) from the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and made a partial silicone rubber mould from it (only the face, as they did not have enough material) before secretly returning it, and that many copies were made from this mould. Years later, in 1995, the Niagara building was destroyed by fire, and its bust, which was probably a plaster version, presumably destroyed. [Snippet from John Cassidy Houdini Bust Link]

The 1980 Magical Hall of Fame Guide Book states that:

  • The Houdini Bust displayed here is provided courtesy of the Radner Collection.  The original bust that graced Houdini’s grave in Mackpelah Cemetary was smashed by vandals in April 1975. It has since been replaced by the Society of American Magicians.

A later edition of the Guide Book (date unknown) states that:

  • The Bronze Bust of Houdini which oversees the Entrance to the Museum is a second generation cast of the original Bust which dominates the headstone at the Houdini grave site. The original Bust which graced Houdini’s grave in Mackpelah Cemetary in Cypress Hill, Queens, New York was desecrated and smashed by vandals in April of 1975.  The Society of American Magicians, of which Houdini was once President have provided a replacement for the vandalized Bust. We are grateful to Mr. Sydney Radner, from whose collection the Museum’s Bust was cast, for making its presence here possible.

So what’s different from the later edition of the guide book than the one from my visit in 1980?

  • In 1980, it appears that the Houdini Bust on display (courtesy of the Sid Radner Collection) was most likely made of plaster.  At a later date, according to the Guide Book, the Houdini Bust on display appears to now be Bronze (cast from a bust from Sid Radner Collection)
  • The front cover is the same, but the back cover of the later edition has Houdini’s Bust and the 1980 version has the portrait of Houdini that he used to mark his books.

Houdini Museum Later Edition Back Cover (Houdini Bust)


Houdini Museum 1980 Back Cover

  • See below for a page by page comparison of the 1980 guidebook and the later edition:

Houdini Museum Comparison of 1980 Guide Book with a later version