HHCE Magical Visit to SF

Last weekend, my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in San Francisco.

Harry Houdini, probably the greatest magician, appeared at least four times in San Francisco, nearly eight years apart: June 1899, September 1907, November 1915, and March 1923. He was 25 during the first appearance and was not yet famous enough to headline the theater billing at the Orpheum. But by 1907 he was known world-wide. In 1915, for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, he performed an escape from a manacled box lowered into the water at the Aquatic Park. He was also performing his famous Chinese-water torture escape at the Orpheum.  But his visit in 1923 was his biggest.  At the age of 49 and in front of 30,000 watchers, he performed his famous “escape from the strait jacket while in mid-air” at Third and Market streets. This visit was to be, unfortunately, his last.  Before he could return to San Francisco, he died three years later from peritonitis on Halloween, 1926.  [sfgenealogy.com]

We had an incredible visit to San Francisco that was very magical.  It started with dinner at Pier 39 over-looking the Bay.  We then walked around the shops and just happened to stumble across a Houdini’s Magic shop where I picked up a Houdini calendar celebrating Houdini’s 100th Anniversary of the Water Torture Cell; what is really cool about the calendar is that it identifies key dates and events in Houdini’s life.

100th Anniversary Water Torture Cell Calendar

We also stumbled into a shop at Pier 39 that specialized in displays of famous people signatures.  For $9000, you could own the display below which includes signatures of Houdini, Blackstone, Thurston, Wilson and Dornfeld.

SAM Display with autographs

We then took a taxi to the Marrakech Magic Theater to see an uproarious one-of-a-kind close-up show in an intimate, historic setting located right near San Francisco’s famous Union Square.

The first thing I noticed when we walked inside the historic building was a beautiful poster of Carter the Great and The Vanishing Elephant illusion.

Carter Disappearing Elephant Lithograph

Of course it made me think of a couple items displayed below that I had seen a few weeks ago at an antique shop (after seeing the acclaimed “Watson and The Dark Art of Harry Houdini” at the Sacred Fools Theatre) in Hollywood with some magic associates.

Carter Giant Lithograph from SF

  • A gigantic original Carter Poster from San Francisco

Hippodrome Spotlight

  • Spot light from the New York Hippodrome circa 1910-1920 which could have illuminated Houdini and his vanishing elephant

The evening at the Marrakech Magic Theater began in the Sultan’s Oasis lounge where we enjoyed cocktails, a little pre-show entertainment and a meet and greet with magician-owner Peter Morrison.  After about an hour, Peter personally took us into the main showroom.  The main showroom was an intimate close-up theatre, where Peter put on an amazing 75 minutes of extremely fun and entertaining magic.  He made sure to get every audience member involved in the show. I personally got involved in a multi-spectator mind reading prediction routine, where I had to write down the time to check out of the DEVON hotel (I wrote 1:19 PM).

Prediction from Marrakech Magic Theater

My favorite routines of his were the following:

  • Comedy Houdini Escape – where two strong men lock chain handcuffs behind Peter’s back and raise and lower a red velvet curtain upon his command where we find the magician, his suit jacket and the chain handcuffs in humorous positions and poses.  Eventually he escapes the suit jacket and the chain handcuffs.  Hilarious!
  • State of Mind routine – Peter drops four quarters as a prediction into an empty chest given to him by his wife.  A spectator throws 4 darts at a map of the United States that randomly end up on four different states.  Everyone is stunned, when the spectator opens the chest and removes the four quarters and finds that they are the four randomly selected states hit by the darts.  Amazing!

He also performed a very nice rope and ring routine, linking ring routine and multiplying billiard ball routine.  I would highly recommend Peter and his show if you are in the San Francisco area.

What a great night of magic!

The magic continued the next morning.  We had an incredible breakfast at the hotel and then walked to Ghirardelli Square where they had a “milk can” of chocolate that I just had to have.

Ghiradelli Milk Can

Walking through the park on our way back to check out of the hotel, we came across a strait-jacket hanging from a tree.  Only in San Francisco!

Strait-Jacket Hanging from Tree in SF

San Francisco was definitely a magical place to visit!

Houdini Hall of Fame Memories – 1968 to 1972

The Original Houdini Hall of Fame (photo from a later Guide Book)

The Original Houdini Hall of Fame

Each of the last two Sundays, I did a blog that included different ads for the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame that was located at 4983 Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls Canada from 1972 to April 30th, 1995.

I thought I would wrap up this series with ads from the Houdini Hall of Fame’s original location, which was located at 5019 (aka 1019) Centre Street, Niagara Falls Canada from May 1968 to 1972.

The ad below identifies the original location of the Museum as 5019 Centre Street:

Ad 1 (Front):

Houdini Museum Brochure from Original Location (Front Side)

Ad 1 (Back):

Houdini Museum Brochure from Original Location (Back Side)

This next ad identifies the original location of the Museum as 1019 Centre Street as opposed to 5019 Centre Street:

Ad 2 (Front):

Original Houdini Museum Brochure (Address Misprinted)

Ad 2 (Back):

Original Houdini Museum Brochure (Back Side)

Hope you enjoyed this series as much as I enjoyed sharing my pictures, ads and personal experience from the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame.

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