First Suspended Straitjacket Escape Not 98 Years Ago Today

Houdini-straightjacket1According to Kenneth Silverman (Houdini – The Career of Erich Weiss, 1996), the First Suspended Straitjacket Escape by Houdini was performed 98 years ago today.  Houdini did perform a suspended straitjacket escape 98 years ago today (September 29, 1915) hanging forty-five feet  from the office building of the Minneapolis Evening Tribune; it was just not the first place he performed it. I believe the first place was in Kansas City (September 8, 1915).

Three weeks ago, on September 8th, I did a blog about the First Suspended Straitjacket Escape by Houdini.  In that blog, I presented proof that Harry Houdini was in Kansas City in September 1915 and could have performed the suspended straitjacket escape then.  The evidence included the following:

  • Ad for Harry Houdini performing his Water Torture Act at the Orpheum Theater in Kansas City on September  11, 1915
  • Reprint of a Suspended Straitjacket Article from Kansas City Post Newspaper (undated) that appeared in Will Goldston’s October 1915 Magazine of Magic

The only thing left unfinished from my blog three weeks ago was to locate a copy of the Kansas City Post Newspaper that has the Suspended Straitjacket Article and verify the date.   Little did I know how difficult a task this would turn out to be!  After much searching of online newspaper archives, and numerous queries to different libraries, the infamous article was finally located by the Kansas City Public Library on microfilm which I will post here as evidence once I receive it in the mail.

Feature is not up to Expectations but Photography is Excellent

A couple weeks ago I did a blog on what is wrong with these pictures, “The Man From Beyond” and “Haldane of the Secret Service”.

This week, I thought I would share a mixed review from Variety magazine that said “The Grim Game” feature isn’t up to expectations:

 variety55-1919-08_0176_GGVariety Friday August 29, 1919 page 66

At least the review ended on a positive note saying the photography was excellent.

First Suspended StraitJacket Escape 98 Years Ago Today

GG Upside Down StraitJacketI was intrigued by a question that John Cox brought up on his blog:

  • Where and when did Houdini first perform the suspended straitjacket escape?

And of course, when I am intrigued by something, this blog is what you get.

Kalush via a mention by Will Goldston says it was September of 1915 in Kansas CitySilverman says it was hanging forty-five feet from the office building of the Minneapolis Evening Tribune on September 29, 1915 sourced to a newspaper in the Stanley Palm collection.

There is a very nice discussion on The Magic Cafe Forums but nothing is definitive.

Well the Sept 29th, 1915 date in Minneapolis is well sourced, so that leaves the Kansas City date that needs more research.

So what is this mention by Will Goldston?

It just so happens that I have the October 1915 edition of Will Goldston’s The Magazine Of Magic, with the article “Harry Houdini – His Latest Escape”.

OCT 1915 001

[Page 17]

OCT 1915 002

[Page 18]

But nowhere in the above “Harry Houdini His Latest Escape” article do we see a date.

So did he perform in Kansas City in September 1915?

I checked some other sources:

  • Koval (Houdini Research Diary) doesn’t mention him being in Kansas City at all in September 1915.
  • Brandon (The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini) mentions the following: In September 1915, “the greatest street throng in the history of Los Angeles” – 20 -25,000 people – had seen him swing from the Los Angeles Tribune building. The same month, 5,000 saw him in Kansas City, where the tie-in was with the Kansas City Post.   Los Angeles in September 1915 is clearly an error; Brandon doesn’t provide sourcing for Los Angeles or Kansas City, although Kansas City likely came from the October 1915 edition of Will Goldston’s Magazine of Magic.
  • Last but not least, Kasson (Houdini Tarzan and The Perfect Man) mentions the following: He appears first to have executed this escape in Kansas City on September 8, 1915.  By this time he had been wriggling out of straitjackets for almost twenty years but never before while suspended upside down over a street in full view of thousands.  For days The Kansas City Post, known for sensational journalism, had trumpeted the coming event to its readers… Now we have a possible date, Wednesday, September 8, 1915. 

Next I contacted the Kansas City Public Library:

Jeremy Drouin, Senior Librarian of Special Collections, searched their electronic newspaper archive and found an advertisement for a September 11, 1915 afternoon show at the Orpheum Theater where Houdini was performing his water torture act.

Kansas City Sun Sept 11 1915 p11

Here is the full citation provided by Genealogybank: Advertisement Date: Saturday, September 11, 1915 Paper: Kansas City Star (Kansas City, MO) Volume: 78  Issue: 218 Page: 11

Orpheum Theatre Kansas City

This evidence of him performing the Water Torture Cell at the Orpheum Theatre puts him in Kansas City in September 1915, which means he could very well have performed the suspended straitjacket on September 8, 1915 as sourced by Kasson.

Unfortunately, the electronic database at the Kansas City Public Library does not include copies of the Kansas City Post which based on the evidence should have an article to match Goldston’s reprint of the suspended strait-jacket event and possibly some ads leading up to event as suggested by Kasson.

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?