German Slander Third Trial?


HH Slander Trial Cologne Germany PosterThe poster above lists a third trial on Sept 26, 1902.

According to The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist:

It being a disgrace for Schutzman Werner Graff to have this punishment on him, with the assistance of the police, he took it to the highest court in Germany, ” Oberlandesgericht, ” and there [Third Trial] the learned judges again gave Houdini the verdict from which there is no appeal.

According to Kellock:

Werner Graff took an appeal to the highest court.  There was much legal argument.  Houdini, the Schutzmann admitted, had indeed opened certain cell doors and handcuffs, but Houdini advertised also that he could open safes, and he had not opened a single safe in Germany.  Therefore, Werner Graff contented, the libel should be dismissed.  Houdini’s attorney ridiculed this argument.  Houdini, he said, had opened all of the Werner Graff’s locks, and he could open safes as well.

Finally the justice wearied of the argument.  He declared that he had a safe in his chambers, which offered an easy means of settling the dispute.  If Houdini could open it, obviously Werner Graff had lost his case.  If Houdini failed to open it, there was merit to the Schutzmann’s contention.

Houdini was in a dilemma.  He had never tackled a German safe, and he suspected that this untested strongbox might have a secret in its combination that would prove beyond his skill.  There was nothing to do, though, but accept the test.  He requested that he be permitted to work at the safe alone, and this plea was granted.

The justice himself led the way to his chamber, and indicated a heavy steel chest of German make against the wall.

Glancing significantly at his watch, he said: “You will summon the court as soon as you are ready.” Then he closed the door as soon as you are ready.” Then he closed the door and Houdini was alone in the room.

For a minute or so, Houdini dared not take a step toward the formidable box.  Was his continental career to end ignominiously in that room? He forced himself to cross the room, and he gave a vicious yank at the safe door.  It swung open — it had not been locked.

After a decent interval he called in the court to reveal his task completed.

Werner Graff was fined thirty marks, as well as all costs of the three trials, but most humiliating of all, he was compelled to publish a public apology, “in the name of the Kaiser,” in all the principal German newspapers, and Houdini was permitted to insert notices of the verdict in all the newspapers in Cologne at Graff’s expense.  German judges had a sense of the realities.

Thereafter in Germany Houdini was more than a handcuff king and distinguished Ausbrecher.  He was the young man who had actually whipped the Polizei in a court of law.

So was there a third trial and did it include an escape from a safe?

FWIW: Silverman does not mention the third trial with the safe.

That said, the definitive answer is most likely in the Houdini’s German Slander Trial Archive, 1902 that sold for $26,000 at the Potter and Potter auction on Aug 23, 2014.

Lot 60 HH German Slander Trial Archive AKA Cologne PapersNo Houdini biographer to date (which includes Silverman) has had access to this folio.  Hopefully the next major Bio will include any new information from this folio and answer any unanswered questions.


10 thoughts on “German Slander Third Trial?

  1. Wow! Great stuff here Joe! Thank you!

    Was that third trial a bogus story? Could be. Where did Kellock get his info for this third trial?

    • Well, the safe story certainly smacks of “Houdini”. Kellock may have gotten other info from “Houdini’s”, The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist. And, the poster was commissioned by “Houdini”.

  2. The question is “what is the truth about the safe story?
    Did Houdini by skill open it?

    If Houdini defeated it, why this story?
    Houdini would have been more the hero if he said he defeated it!

    Was it left open on purpose for political reasons. To embarrass someone.
    Hard to believe it would have been left open by accident!

    Was a fix in? Dangerous in a country with autocratic rule, though possible with the right lawyer or connections.

    As many things Houdini, a mystery to us.
    Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich
    The Houdini Museum, Scranton, PA.
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini.


  3. The real question is as Joe had more or less written:

    So was there a third trial and did it include a safe challenge to unlock?

    Does anyone know who owns that $26,000 archive folder?

    • AFAIK, the safe story didn’t appear until Kellock; seems like it should have appeared in Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist.

      Not sure who the current owner is, but I believe Kevin Connolly previously owned it.

  4. Yes…Kevin Connolly previously owned it. From what I can recall on his blog, he had been after this archive folder for 20-30 years. Then finally had a chance to buy it. He did share a number of scanned images from the folder. I am sure he would remember some details from it. I maybe mistaken on some of the finer details. Purely from memory.

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