Houdini’s Last Seance – October 31, 1936 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Harry Houdini born Erik Weisz; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-American escape artist, magic man, and stunt performer, noted for his escape acts. His pseudonym is a reference to his spiritual master, French magician Robert-Houdin (1805–1871).
Houdini began his magic career in 1891, but had little success. He appeared in a tent act with strongman Emil Jarrow. He performed in dime museums and sideshows, and even doubled as “The Wild Man” at a circus. Houdini focused initially on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the “King of Cards”. Some – but not all – professional magicians would come to regard Houdini as a competent but not particularly skilled sleight-of-hand artist, lacking the grace and finesse required to achieve excellence in that craft. He soon began experimenting with escape acts.
In 1894, while performing with his brother “Dash” (Theodore) at Coney Island as “The Brothers Houdini”, Houdini met a fellow performer, Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Rahner. Bess was initially courted by Dash, but she and Houdini married, with Bess replacing Dash in the act, which became known as “The Houdinis”. For the rest of Houdini’s performing career, Bess worked as his stage assistant.
Houdini’s big break came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in St. Paul, Minnesota. Impressed by Houdini’s handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900, Beck arranged for Houdini to tour Europe. After some days of unsuccessful interviews in London, Houdini’s British agent Harry Day helped him to get an interview with C. Dundas Slater, then manager of the Alhambra Theatre. He was introduced to William Melville and gave a demonstration of escape from handcuffs at Scotland Yard. He succeeded in baffling the police so effectively that he was booked at the Alhambra for six months. His show was an immediate hit and his salary rose to $300 a week (equivalent to $9,772 in 2021).
Between 1900 and 1920 he appeared in theatres all over Great Britain performing escape acts, illusions, card tricks and outdoor stunts, becoming one of the world’s highest paid entertainers. He also toured the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia and became widely known as “The Handcuff King”. In each city, Houdini challenged local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes, he was first stripped nude and searched. In Moscow, he escaped from a Siberian prison transport van, claiming that, had he been unable to free himself, he would have had to travel to Siberia, where the only key was kept.
So when he died of Peritonitis from a ruptured appendix on October 31, 1926 the legend and lore around his death created a sensation. It was determined that he had told his wife and close friends that he was going to make contact from “the other side”. And so, for the next ten years, a seance was held in an attempt to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini – none with any success.
Like everything else associated with the legend of Harry Houdini, the seance was broadcast throughout the country.
Here is that broadcast, as it happened on October 31, 1936 – Houdini’s Last Seance. (thanks Wikipedia!)
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