Harry Houdini, magician and escape artist, never escaped from the grave although his wife, Bess, held yearly séances for ten years following his death. Finally Bess admitted that “ten years was long enough to wait for any man to return.”
Just who was Harry Houdini? Born with the name Ehrich Weisz on March 24, 1874, in Budapest, Hungary and immigrated to America. When he was just seventeen years old, he started doing magic shows before civic groups, in music halls, at sideshows, and at New York’s Coney Island amusement park. He became a world-famous magician and escape artist, consummate showman, American superhero, and anti-Spiritualist crusader.
According to the Appleton Public Library, “When America entered the First World War in 1917, Houdini tried to enlist in the army, but was rejected as being too old at age 43. Unable to fight, Houdini preformed free shows for service men, during which he would produce five dollar gold pieces from the air and toss them to the audience. He claimed to have distributed $7,000 in that manner. Houdini also organized shows in support of Liberty Bonds to help finance the war.”
He was essentially our first Bob Hope – entertaining the troops while they served in the military. He was never recognized for his humanitarian efforts in this manner.
However, Houdini did get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1975.
In the end, even Houdini couldn’t escape from death and succumbed to a ruptured appendix left unattended for several days, it turned into an infection that struck Houdini down during a performance in Detroit, Michigan. Rushed to a hospital, he held on for a few days before dying in his wife’s arms on October 31, 1926 which was Halloween day.
Even in death Houdini knew how to create publicity. His widow made headlines by announcing that every year on the anniversary of his death she was going to try to make contact with his spirit. This went on for some ten years until his wife Bess admitted, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”
Harry never gave an encore performance after his death but you can visit the Jewish Museum in NYC to tour the first exhibition in a major American art museum on the master magician and his lasting influence in visual culture, Houdini: Art and Magic from October 29, 2010 – March 27, 2011.The Harry Houdini Museum near Scranton, Pennsylvania is open to the public and you can visit them here.