Bess Houdini’s infamous note in the safety deposit box

According to Houdini’s Lawyer, the infamous note that spells out exactly how Houdini would communicate from beyond the grave if he could “only existed in Bessie’s imagination”.

Well, thanks to a discovery by Gregory Curtis at the Harry Ransom Center, we know there is a note that was handwritten by Houdini’s widow. The front reads as follows:

This message was written by Beatrice Houdini – the original one written in 1913 having been destroyed – the name Rosabelle was substituted – the first name chosen was Mike – both names were enduring names.  Rosabelle is the title song, the first Houdini heard me sing in 1894. Rosabelle – answer-tell-pray answer-look-tell-answer answer – answer.

Along with the note was an envelope from the Manufacturer’s Safe Deposit Company, then on 5th Avenue in New York.  Written in ink on the envelope, in an unidentified person’s handwriting, is “Box 872 Key.”  In pencil, in Beatrice’s handwriting, we find the words “In name of Beatrice Houdini.”  One must assume, therefore, the envelope contained the key to Box 872, which was rented under Beatrice’s name and the Box 872 contained Beatrice’s note.

[August 2011 Magic Magazine – Believing in Rosabelle by Gregory Curtis]

Prior to this discovery, there was no evidence that the note existed or was there?

According to Kalush:

On January 4, the day before the final Ford sitting where Houdini’s code came through in its entirety, Bernard Ernst, Houdini’s longtime lawyer and confidant, was summoned to Bess’s house…

She told him that the code was in the safe deposit box of the Houdini Estate at Manufacturers Safe Deposit Company.  When the lawyer informed her that he had inventoried what was in the box and that there was no secret code from Houdini, Bess neglected to tell him that she had placed the code in the box in November, using, it was later discovered, an envelope that had been manufactured after Houdini had died.

[Note: She held one key to the box, and Bernard Ernst held the other]

According to Houdini Unmasked:

While newspapers were hailing this phenomena, Mrs. Houdini accompanied by those who had attended the séance at her home, rode to 5th Avenue Branch of the Manufacturers’ Trust Co., and withdrew a sealed envelope that had been locked in the Houdini vault.

Before the witnesses, she broke the seal and laid the papers on a desk before them.  The words were identical with those given by Fletcher while Arthur Ford was in trance! Even the request that Mrs. Houdini remove her ring and sing “Rosabelle” had been set down as a part of the test.

According to the December 1954 Mystic Magazine:

She replied, “Of course I knew the code message but I had no idea of what combination of words Harry would use; and when he sent the ‘believe’ it was a surprise.”  Before she could check the message that came through Ford she had to go to the Manufacturers Trust Company in New York and, in the presence of reputable witnesses, obtain the envelope containing the code message, and open it.

Bottom line: the infamous note (code message) written and placed in a Safety Deposit Box by Bess after Houdini died does exist.

That said, I believe Houdini’s lawyer decided it was best if it only existed in Bess’s imagination.

The Celebrated Straitjacket Release

To kick off July, thought I would share a Pharmaceutical Calendar Ad from 1977, I recently acquired about Houdini’s Straitjacket Release:

In this stunt, Houdini used the same kind of straitjacket that was commonly used in institutions for the criminally insane.  The straitjacket was constructed of heavily reinforced leather or heavy canvas, and had a deep leather collar and leather cuffs.  The outfit was laced tightly up the back, strapped and buckled.  Extra-long sleeves with closed cuffs were then folded across the chest, the ends brought around the back and tied together.

[it then goes on to explain in detail how he escaped]

As a further refinement, Houdini also performed his escape hanging upside down.  To conserver his strength, he employed ankle supports and a guy rope to keep his body from swaying.

Did the death of Houdini’s Father cause Houdini to turn on spiritualists?

On Brad Meltzer’s Decoded, Patrick Culliton was interviewed and asked the following question:

Why do you think Houdini started to engage in anti-spiritual diatribe or became part of anti-spiritualism movement?

His chief assistant, a guy named James Collins said he first turned on spiritualists when he was a teenager.

His father died when he was 19 and there was some important insurance papers that they couldn’t find and Houdini pawned the watch his father had left him and paid a spiritualist to give him a reading and tell him where these papers were.  And the papers weren’t there and the money was just gone and the watch was gone and that was sort of a pivotal event in Houdini’s life and kind of soured him on it.

H A P P Y  F A T H E R ‘ S DAY ! ! !

Second Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery Poster

We are very familiar with the above Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery Poster, which can be found in many Houdini books.

I recently just read a 2011 post that John Cox at Wild About Houdini did on the lost posters of Harry Houdini that referenced a 2010 post that Dean Carnegie did on the Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery

Both posts included the above photo of a Houdini theater display in Salem, Massachusetts, and commented about the poster on the right behind the packing crate possibly being a second Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery poster.  Well, I knew I had seen a frontal image of that poster in a photograph when I visited Fred Pittella’s Houdini & Escapes museum during my special visit to NY in 2015.  And that is absolutely a second Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery Poster.  Below are two images I took during my visit that Fred has given permission to share.

Special Thanks to Fred Pittella

Escape from Prison when Manacled in Handcuffs and Irons

To kick off June, thought I would share a Pharmaceutical Calendar Ad from 1977, I recently acquired about Houdini escaping from prison when manacled in handcuffs and irons:

Before attempting one of his jailbreaks.  Houdini had a committee of men thoroughly search him for keys, lock-picking devices or other implements that might help him escape.

….

He insisted that his escapes were authentic and had police certificates to prove that.

Before actually escaping from his prison cell, Houdini had to free his wrists and ankles from handcuffs and leg-irons.

[The ad goes on to describe various methods he would use to escape depending on if the handcuffs were regulation or not and whether he could reach the lock with his hand or not.]

Once his hands were freed, it was a simple enough to remove the chains and leg-irons.  Only one step remained – opening the cell door.

[The ad goes on to say that Houdini was never very specific about how he performed this part of the jailbreak].

To get the real secret of the Cell Escape, highly recommend the David De-Val book

Whirlwind of Colors

In honor of Memorial Day in May and Flag Day coming up in June, I thought I would do a quick post on Houdini’s “Whirlwind of Colors”.

This is the effect where Houdini turned a massive production of silks into a patriotic, get-on-your-feet extravaganza.

He performed it during the patriotic review show “Everything” at the Hippodrome during the 1918-19 season. Houdini did the silks from fishbowl production and produced a tame American eagle named “Abraham Lincoln” from the folds of a giant American flag. In reality, it was actually a red-tailed hawk passed off as an eagle that he trained himself.

This was also the last trick that Houdini performed onstage in 1926. That is for a finale, he drew from a small crystal bowl of colored water hundreds of yards of silken streamers and lastly a string of flags of all nations. Houdini collapsed at the end of the first act and this trick was actually finished by his assistants when Houdini was rushed to the hospital.

Source: John Cox, Patrick Culliton and Roger Dreyer

UPDATE:  Fred Pittella just let me know that Houdini’s Whirlwind of Color is safe with him.  This is how it looked when Bessie, Hardeen and Jimmy Collins performed it.

Image from Patrick Culliton’s The Key

And this is how it looks today in Fred’s Houdini & Escapes museum.

 

Special Thanks to Fred Pittella for allowing me to share.

Related:

Catchy Novelty Used For Houdini Serial

 According to the Exhibitors Herald and Motography May 3, 1919:

An advertising novelty that has caught the fancy of the theatre-goer and has therefore been the means of gaining no little amount of attention in behalf of the production it exploits is the invisible ink herald manufactured as an accessory to advertise the appearance of Houdini, the handcuff king, in “The Master Mystery,” the super-serial produced by  B.A. Rolfe for Octagon Films, Inc.

A sheet of paper but four or five inches in size, this novelty herald contains no visible ink advertising copy beyond the question, “Can you solve the mystery?” printed at the top of the sheet, and a footnote printed at the bottom instructing the processor to hold the sheet over the heat for a short while.  When these instructions are carried out the heat brings to the surface a scene from “The Master Mystery”, picturing Houdini caught in the coils of the villians of the story, together with the following reading matter: “How does he escape? See Houdini in B. A. Rolfe’s super-serial, ‘The Master Mystery.’”

On August 12, 2016 Chuck Romano did an excellent blog, Houdini – Movie Marketing – Part 2, where he noted:

  • Motion Pictures News also mentioned this clever novelty
  • Collectors can only dream if one of these rare pieces of Houdini ephemera still exists

At the time, I commented that A Master Mystery Hold-to-Light Mystery sheet does exist.  One (Lot 131) sold at Potter & Potter Auction on April 9th 2016 Auction for $325.

131. Houdini, Harry. The Master Mystery Hold-to-Light Mystery Sheet. New York: B.A. Rolfe, [1919]. Promotional novelty advertisement (4 1/8″ x 5 1/4”) for the Houdini serial, revealing an illustration of Houdini held captive by two men, upside-down in chains, and captioned “How Does He Escape?” when held over a heat source. Creases, corner tear upper left.

Well, apparently another one of these rare pieces (seen at top of this post) has surfaced and was part of a lot of Houdini Memorabilia on eBay that sold for $45.  Congratulations to the winner.