Reading Rubbish – THE GRUNGE Blogs "THE TRUTH ABOUT HARRY HOUDINI"

The Grunge, a blog that claims “It’s just like reading books…but exciting!” might try reading books for research rather than copying incorrect information from the internet perpetuating historical myths and misnomers. Let’s look at some of this “Reading Rubbish”.

Their latest blog about Houdini’s life starts with a headlining picture which is not even Houdini!!! It’s a picture of an unknown escape artist hanging upside down in a straitjacket. I would love to know who this escape artists is so if you know please leave a comment.

Picture of an unknown escape artists
Rotated so you can see this is not Houdini

I’ve listed the mistakes the Grunge makes in italics and “” quotes below.

Houdini was “Born into complete poverty and obscurity”. NOT TRUE! The Weiss family fell into poverty after Houdini’s father Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss lost his position at the Appleton Synagogue. The family moved to Milwaukee, where they lived in poverty.

“Somewhere along the way, young Ehrich also acquired a few street grifting side hustles” and “at 6-years-old he could run the three cup scam well enough to fool passersby out of a few coins.”, NOT TRUE! Houdini worked shining shoes and as a messenger boy and earned an honest dollar or Nickel back then. On one account he bought a flower for a Nickel, sold it for a Dime, bought two more and sold them until he made up the $2.00 which his brother Theo had lost earlier that day. He didn’t need to “Grift” to make an honest dollar, he just needed his wits.

“He got himself incarcerated.” NOT TRUE! Harry was never arrested however on several occasions during his prison cell escapes the police would threaten to leave him locked up all night if he didn’t escape, however he always escaped. In Russia when Houdini attempted his escape from a prison transport cell they told him if he failed to escape, he would have to travel 21 days to Sackolin near Siberia where the only key that unlocked the door was kept. He got out!

The Grunge makes the common mistakes with the various versions of his name. They say he was called “Weisz” at age 15 and mixed things up with “Ehrich Weisz”. The truth is he was born Erik Weisz, that’s on his birth certificate, then they changed his name to Ehrich Weiss (German spelling) at age 4 in America and it remained Ehrich Weiss for the rest of his life!

“He’d also become (or perhaps always was) bow-legged. Some magicians speculate his unusual legs allowed Houdini to slip rope ties that would completely immobilize a regular body shape.” While Houdini was slightly bow legged, I am not familiar with this theory that it aided in his rope escapes. I’ll have to research this one but it sounds like a Houdini Myth to me.

The whopper! The Grunge claims Houdini’s accomplishment of being the first man to fly a powered aircraft in Australia was stripped from him. NOT TRUE! They write “He had a custom craft shipped there and in 1910, Houdini successfully got it off the ground for a grand total of three minutes. The news coverage of the day wasn’t exactly glowing, but the papers dutifully acknowledged his achievement and everyone got on with their lives. But Houdini’s achievement was stripped from him months later, when a rival aviator conclusively proved he’d achieved the deed months earlier than the magician. Houdini was despondent as his career as an aviation pioneer came to an abrupt end.” What happened was a man claimed to have flown a day before Houdini’s flight. The flight was witnessed by only one man, his sponsor, who years later admitted the flight was made up. Houdini is recognized as the first man to fly in Australia end of story.

For reference I used the following sources: Wild About Harry, and these Books: Houdini The Career of Ehrich Weiss by Kenneth Silverman. Houdini the Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher.

Conjurers Monthly Magazine 1906 September Vol. 1 No. 1 – Part 3

On page 12 Houdini wrote under the pseudonym “Herr N. Osey”.

He writes from Germany. He explains that he has resigned from writing for the Mahatma. He talks of circus, magicians, freaks and clowns and how magicians referred as “Tachenspieler” in Germany. He exposes how the brothers Kulperti do their trick, but the most interesting thing is the Magician Max Berol Belmont Konarah’s illusion called the “Mene Tenkel”. An inked ball floats around on a chalkboard magically writing anything the audience calls out. Bob Loomis the author of Houdini’s Final Incredible Secret wrote of finding a connection to this trick performed by Konarah and the trick Houdini used in his home to fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1922. Loomis first found a connection in a newspaper clipping in an unknown collector’s scrapbook of Houdini’s performance in the Chicago Examiner in November 21, 1906. It mentions the “Menetekel, the Mystic Ball performed at the Haymarket”. Houdini made notes on the clipping and signed it. Loomis concluded Houdini was aware of this trick and did research to see if it could be the source of his idea for the trick he later used to fool Doyle in 1922. Later Loomis also found an article about the “Menetekel” spelled with a “n” “Menetenkel” mention by Herr N. Osey AKA Houdini in The Mahatma and again here in Conjurers Monthly proving Houdini was quite aware of this trick.

More than half of page 16 talks about the Death of a German Houdini Handcuff King imitator named Max Rossner who went by “The Great German Handcuff King”.

German Handcuff King

Houdini had met him in 1900 and dined at his home. Rossner lost all of his money in the end and died of a sickness in his room. Houdini paid his respects to the Rossner family.

On page 17 we have Reading Rubbish. Houdini wrote a review of The Old & The New Magic by Henry Ridgely Evans a Baltimore Maryland Journalist that wrote books on magic. Houdini criticized areas of Evans’ book claiming there were many mistakes Evans made about magic history. Houdini approved of the “nice description” of Houdini, but disapproved of the “Expose of the handcuff act” which was basically a copy of the expose printed in the Strand Magazine.

Houdini’s research on old magicians was mentioned throughout this book.
Henry Ridgely Evans who went on to write many books on magic.
Photo’s taken from the Handcuff Expose copied from The Strand Magazine. Appearing in the pictures is Pollard a Plumber and Houdini mimicker from Bradford England. Houdini said “I wish it were that simple, than I should not have to do so much worrying!”

On Page 18 Houdini wrote about an extraordinary scene during his performance at The Palace in Halifax. A young man among the committee Houdini asked to come to the stage interrupted the act to challenge Houdini to allow him to tie his hands with rope. Houdini entered his cabinet and released himself. The young man was not satisfied and asked to re-tie Houdini. An audience member yelled out “I know him, he is Pollard, the handcuff man from Bradford, and the man that wrote the Handcuff Expose in the Strand Magazine”. Houdini pledged £500 pounds ($2,500) to the poor of Halifax if he could handcuff Pollard and he could release himself. Pollard objected saying they were foreign cuffs and he could only get out of English regulation cuffs (Darbies). Houdini produced a pair of Darbies and offered £100 pounds ($500) if he could escape those cuffs.

However, the “Exposer” of the handcuff
trick, as published in the “Strand”
(which Evans reproduces) refused.
Amid the jeering of the audience, he
then left, and as Houdini had held the
stage over the hour, the audience was
dismissed.

On page 19 Houdini concluded with:

SPECIAL NOTE.—When Mr. Evans informed
me of his book having a reproduction
of the “Strand” Magazine, I
made special effort to let him have a
copy of the above newspaper, and asked
“him in justice to myself to publish same.
But it failed to appear.

page 20 is a section where letters are printed with an offer to file complaints against any one you wish. A letter from Harry Day Houdini’s British manager is printed here describing a new Act Houdini had written to Day about. Day goes on to describe how they showed up to ask to be booked but later stood him up to show them the act! The most interesting letter is from A. F. Hill of Boston:

Not all approved of Houdini’s crusade to expose fake spiritualist’s.

13 Isabella St. today

Page 20 he mentions Chung Lee Soo is “Still catching bullets and a big salary”. Soo AKA William Robinson died of the bullet catch in 1918.

Page 22 the last article is written by Joe Hayman (originally spelled “Hyman”) the younger brother of Jacob Hyman Houdini’s first partner in “The Brothers Houdini” act. It is said that Joe played in the Brothers Houdini act after Joe and prior to Hardeen. Joe spent most of his career in England doing comedy acts.

Joe Hayman

Next up – Part 4 of the review of the September 1906 issue No 1, Vol 1. Handcuff Secrets

Reference – The Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine reprinted by Kaufman and Greenberg the limited edition two Volume book set. PDF scanned format from The Conjuring Arts.  The Glorious Deception Chung Lee Soo by Jim Steinmeyer. The Old and New Magic by Henry Ridgley Evans. Wild About Harry, Blog by John Cox.

Houdini, Martin Beck sign contract Dec 16 1899!

Originally posted April 12 2016

In my latest quest to find local Houdini History I came across a story of a handcuff escape Harry made in Cincinnati in 1899. He was in town promoting his show at the Columbia Theatre. Martin Beck Houdini’s manager also paid a visit to Cincinnati and closed a contract with Houdini. And what’s also interesting is that Magician Leon Herrmann brother of the more famous Alexander Herrmann was in town too!

Here is the timeline and information I could find:

On Saturday 12/08/1899 Houdini walked into the Cincinnati Police Headquarters at the City Hall Building on Central Ave. Police Inspector Luke Drout, Chief of Detectives Ralph Crawford and a Dozen others placed two pairs of handcuffs on his wrists, a pair of Legcuffs on his ankles, and another pair of cuffs connecting them from his hands to his legs bringing him to a stooping position. To prove he had no keys hidden in his mouth he allowed them to cover his mouth with a piece of plaster. Behind a screen of chairs, Harry escaped in three minutes returning the cuffs interlocked.

City Hall

Houdini in a picture from a Mahatma advertisement . He would have been fettered in a similar manner by the Cincinnati Police.

Cincinnati Enquirer: Sunday 12/09/1899

Unknown newspaper article

Cincinnait Post Handcuffs 09 Dec 1899

Cincinnati Enquirer June 2, 1899 – Luke Drout (pictured below) was appointed acting inspector earlier that year.

The following week Houdini would Perform at the Columbia Theatre. Below are some images of it’s exterior and interior. According to Cinema Treasures it was “Located on the corner of 5th Street East and Walnut Street. Originally opened in November 1892 as the Fountain Square Theatre, it was designed by an architect Mr. McLaughlin. It closed in 1899. It was redesigned by architect James M. Wood and reopened as the Columbia Theatre which operated until 1909. It was taken over by B.F. Keith and he employed the recently formed (1907) architectural firm Rapp & Rapp to design or maybe redesign the theatre. It was the firms third theatre project and opened in 1910 as the B.F. Keith Theatre and it operated until 1921”

The Columbia (Pictures found at Cinema Treasures)

Late in the evening on Saturday 12/16/1899 Martin Beck and his Wife arrived in Cincinnati. Before retiring Beck closed a contract with Houdini for 3 years.

Sunday 12/17/1899 Beck and his Wife attended the Columbia in Box seats.

Cincinnati Enquirer 12/18/1899

Sunday 12/17/1899 Leon Herrmann brother of the more famous Alexander Herrmann who died in 1896 arrived to perform at the Grand.

Cincinnati Enquirer 12/18/1899

The Grand (Picture found at Cincinnati Views)

I think the signing of the 3 year contract is interesting. I cannot find anything in the History books describing Houdini and Beck finalizing or updating his contract in Cincinnati. Also it is exciting to find that the building where Houdini made his escape is still standing. I plan to pay a visit to City Hall and take their tour. I hope to figure out if the “Bertillon” room still exists. More to come!

The Houdini Museum Short Takes Video

Watch this video about the Houdini Museum in Scranton PA. It features Magician Dick Brookz talking about the history of the Museum and how he became interested in Houdini and collecting Houdini artifacts. Also the video features Dorothy Dietrich a well known escape artist. Dorothy talks about one of my favorite Houdini topics his Handcuff Escape Act and his many imitators. In the video you will see a replica of the famous Mirror Cuffs as well. Click the link below and I strongly suggest you visit their wonderful museum.

Houdini Museum VIA Short Takes

Visit http://houdini.org/ for details about The Houdini Museum.