Kalush and Sloman in the previously cited book The Secret Life of
Houdini claim that during the First World War Houdini was a spy for the
British and Americans against Germany. The book suggests that Houdini's
death was induced by agents sent by Adolf Hitler out of concern that
Houdini, an ethnic Jew, would do to the coming Third Reich what he had
supposedly done already to the German Empire during the First World War.
Houdini's funeral was held on November 4, 1926, in New York, with more
than 2,000 mourners in attendance. He was interred in
the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York, with the crest of the
Society of American Magicians inscribed on his gravesite. To this day,
the Society holds its "Broken Wand" ceremony at the gravesite on the
anniversary of his death. Houdini's wife, Bess, died in February 1943
and was not permitted to be interred with him at Houdini's Machpelah
Cemetery gravesite, because she was not Jewish.
In Houdini's will, his vast library was offered to the American Society
for Psychical Research on the condition that research officer and editor
of the ASPR Journal, J. Malcolm Bird, resign. Bird refused and the
collection went instead to the Library of Congress.
Fearing that spiritualists would exploit his legacy by pretending to
contact him after his death, Houdini left his wife a secret code -- ten
words chosen at random from a letter written by Conan Doyle -- that he
would use to contact her from the afterlife. According to The Secret
Life of Houdini, this fear of the Spiritualists was well-founded: Arthur
Conan Doyle's campaign to hijack Houdini's legacy came to a head when a
Spiritualist minister friend of Conan Doyle, Rev. Arthur Ford,
conspired with him to bring alleged messages from Houdini and his mother
back from the grave in séances. The Secret Life of Houdini alleges that
Bess Houdini was ill and self-medicating with alcohol (other accounts
add that she was taking pain medication after a bad fall ), and Ford
may have talked her into conspiring to assist him in creating the
impression he had contacted Houdini's spirit. The book also states that
Houdini's wife felt so depressed that she actually tried to commit
suicide on the eve of the séance.
Ford claimed to have gotten other spirit messages pertaining to Houdini.
In 1928, he said he had heard from Houdini's mother, who had said
"forgive". However, Bess had mentioned to a reporter the previous year
that an authentic message from Cecily would include this word. 
At the séance, Ford claimed to have contacted both Houdini and his
deceased mother via Ford's spirit guide "Fletcher", and stated that the
message received was in the pre-arranged code worked out by Houdini and
Bess before Houdini's death. A brief letter supposedly signed by Bess
Houdini appeared, which read in full: "Regardless of any statements made
to the contrary, I wish to declare that the message, in its entirety,
and in the agreed upon sequence, given to me by Arthur Ford, is the
correct message pre-arranged between Mr. Houdini and myself." On January
10, 1929, New York Graphic reporter Rea Jaure filed a story entitled
"Houdini Message a Big Hoax!" stating that Ford had confessed in an
interview to having paid Bess Houdini for her cooperation, but Ford
later claimed the interviewee was an imposter. Further muddying the
waters were Bess Houdini's conflicting statements about the success of
Ford's experiments; she is alleged to have written an impassioned letter
to the famed columnist Walter Winchell initially defending Ford, and a
New York Times article from January 15, 1929 has her responding to
rumors that the code had been "leaked" in advance by stating that, "No
one but her husband and herself could possibly have known the details of
the code. Neither overtly nor covertly could it have been gleaned... To
this argument she clung." But by March 18,1930, both the New York Times
and Bess Houdini had modifed their stance. "Numerous attempts to
convince Mrs. Houdini that her husband is communicating through a medium
were made," the Times said, "but she steadfastly denied that any of the
mediums presented the clue by which she was to recognize a legitimate
Bess Houdini held yearly séances on Halloween for ten years after
Houdini's death, but Houdini never appeared. In 1936, after a last
unsuccessful séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, she put out
the candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini
since his death, later (1943) saying, "ten years is long enough to wait
for any man." The tradition of holding a séance for Houdini continues by
magicians throughout the world to this day; the Official Houdini Seance
is currently organized by Sidney H. Radner.
Appearance and voice
Unlike the image of the classic magician, Houdini was short and stocky
and typically appeared on stage in a long frock coat and tie. Most
biographers peg his height as 5'5", but descriptions vary. Houdini was
also said to be slightly bow-legged, which aided in his ability to gain
slack during his rope escapes. In the 1996 biography Houdini!!!: The
Career of Ehrich Weiss, author Kenneth Silverman summarizes how
reporters described Houdini's appearance during his early career:
“ They stressed his smallness – "somewhat undersized" – and angular,
vivid features: "He is smooth-shaven with a keen, sharp-chinned, sharp-cheekboned
face, bright blue eyes and thick, curly, black hair." Some sensed how
much his complexly expressive smile was the outlet of his charismatic
stage presence. It communicated to audiences at once warm amiability,
pleasure in performing, and, more subtly, imperious self-assurance.
Several reporters tried to capture the charming effect, describing him
as "happy-looking", "pleasant-faced", "good natured at all times", "the
young Hungarian magician with the pleasant smile and easy
The only known recording of Houdini's voice reveals it to be heavily
accented. Houdini made these recordings on Edison wax cylinders on
October 24, 1914, in Flatbush, New York. On them, Houdini practices
several different introductory speeches for his famous Chinese Water
Torture Cell. He also invites his sister, Gladys, to recite a poem.
Houdini then recites the same poem in German. The six wax cylinders were
discovered in the collection of magician John Mulholland after his death
in 1970. They are currently part of the David Copperfield
Houdini's brother, Theodore Hardeen, who returned to performing after
Houdini's death, inherited his brother's effects and props. Houdini's
will stipulated that all the effects should be "burned and destroyed"
upon Hardeen's death. But Hardeen sold much of the collection to
magician and Houdini enthusiast Sidney H. Radner during the 1940s,
including the Water Torture Cell.  Radner allowed choice pieces of
the collection to be displayed at The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in
Niagara Falls, Canada. In 1995, a fire destroyed the museum. While the
Water Torture Cell was reported to have been destroyed, its metal frame
remained, and the cell was restored by illusion builder John Gaughan.
Many of the props contained in the museum such as the Mirror Handcuffs,
Houdini's original packing crate, a Milk Can, and a straight-jacket,
survived the fire and were auctioned off in 1999 and 2008.
Radner archived the bulk of his collection at the Houdini Museum in
Appleton Wisconsin, but pulled it in 2003 and auctioned it off in Las
Vegas on October 30, 2004. Many of the choice props, including the
restored Water Torture Cell, are now owned by David Copperfield.
On March 22, 2007, around 80 years after Houdini died, his grandnephew
(on his wife's side) George Hardeen announced that the courts would be
asked to allow exhumation of Houdini's body. The purpose was to look for
evidence that Houdini was poisoned by Spiritualists, as suggested in The
Secret Life of Houdini. In a statement given to the Houdini Museum
in Scranton, opposed the application and suggested it was a publicity
ploy for the book. 
* 1936 - On October 31, 1936, Houdini's widow held the "Final Houdini
Seance" atop of the roof of The Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood,
California. While Houdini did not come back, a sudden mysterious rain
storm after the memorial candle had been extinguished led some press to
speculate this was Houdini's way of signaling from beyond the grave. A
recording of the séance was made and issued as a record album.
* 1953 - Houdini, a mostly fictionalized biopic of Houdini's life, was
made. This movie, starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, has contributed,
in part, to several misconceptions about Houdini's life. For example, it
portrays the cause of Houdini's death to be the magician's failure to
escape from the Chinese Water Torture Cell. (Curtis' Houdini agrees to
seek medical attention "when the tour is over.")
* 1968 - The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame was opened on Clifton Hill in
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. At its opening, this museum contained
the majority of Houdini's personal collection of magic paraphernalia.
One of Houdini's death wishes was that his entire collection be given to
his brother Theodore (also known as the magician Hardeen) and burned
upon Theodore's death. Against his wishes, forty years after Houdini's
death, the items were taken from storage and sold. Two entrepreneurs
purchased the items and renovated a former meat-packing plant on Clifton
Hill, Ontario, Canada, to house the museum. The Hall of Fame was moved
in 1972 to its final location on the top of Clifton Hill. Séances were
held every year at the museum on October 31, the anniversary of
* 1968 - Stuart Damon plays Houdini in a lavishly staged London musical,
Man of Magic.
* 1975 - Houdini received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star
is located on the northwest corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Orange Drive,
just across from the Grauman's Chinese Theater and down the street from
The Magic Castle.
* 1976 - Houdini was played by Paul Michael Glaser, of Starsky and Hutch
fame, in a 1976 TV movie called The Great Houdinis (aka The Great
Houdini), which was also highly fictionalized. The film focused on
Houdini's relationship with his wife and mother, who were portrayed as
frequently bickering (although, in reality, they had cordial relations)
and on his fascination with life after death. The cast also included
Sally Struthers, Bill Bixby, and Ruth Gordon.
* 1977 - Poem "Ha! Ha! Houdini!" published by Patti Smith.
* 1978 - Houdini was a key historical figure appearing in Ragtime the
1978 novel, the 1981 film, and the 1998 musical.
* 1982 - The Kate Bush album The Dreaming includes a song inspired by
Houdini and his wife.
* 1985 - The City of Appleton, Wisconsin, constructed the Houdini Plaza
on the site of the magician's childhood home.
* 1985 - Wil Wheaton played Houdini in Young Harry Houdini, a
made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC as a "Disney Sunday Movie." The film
also featured Jeffrey DeMunn as the adult Houdini. DeMunn first played
Houdini in the film version of Ragtime.
* 1989 - Canadian synth pop act Kon Kan release "Harry Houdini," the
third single from the Move to Move album.
* 1993 - Grunge rock band The Melvins released Houdini, their second
album. In the band illustration, each band member is shown with six
fingers (Houdini sometimes used a fake sixth finger to hide lock picks).
* 1994 - Appears in Spawn issue #20 and serves as Spawn's mentor
* 1996 - Australian Rock Band The Church released their album, Magician
Among the Spirits, inspired by Houdini's life; the cover features a
negative of a photograph of Houdini.
* 1997 - Actor Harvey Keitel plays Houdini and Peter O'Toole Conan Doyle
in the film FairyTale: A True Story, set during World War I and
portraying the alleged photographing of live fairies by two English
schoolgirls. The two are seen as collegial even though they disagree as
to the validity of spiritualism.
* 1998 - Ragtime, the Broadway musical version of the movie, premiered
on January 18, 1998. It featured Houdini as a character and has a song
called "Harry Houdini, Master Escapist." The book was written by
Terrence McNally, with music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn
Ahrens. The play ran on Broadway until January 16, 2000, and won four
Tony Awards. Both the movie and the play are based on E.L. Doctorow's
1975 novel of the same title.
* 1998 - Johnathon Schaech played Houdini in the TNT original movie
Houdini. The film co-starred Stacy Edwards as Bess and Mark Ruffalo as
his brother, Dash (aka Theo. Hardeen). The TV movie first aired on
December 6, 1998.
* 1999 - Novelist Norman Mailer played Houdini in the highly
experimental film Cremaster 2, which told the story of murderer Gary
Gilmore, who, in real life, claimed to be related to Houdini.
* 2001 - Houdini appears as a character in Glen David Gold's bestselling
novel Carter Beats The Devil.
* 2001 - The Houdini Seance is mounted as a theatrical piece in Chicago
by Neil Tobin and becomes an annual Halloween event at Excalibur
* 2002 - The United States Postal Service issued a postage stamp with a
replica of Houdini's favorite publicity poster on July 3, 2002.
* Penn and Teller make references to Houdini in their show Bullshit!.
They are doing some of the same things that Houdini did: magic tricks
and debunking claims of the supernatural.
* There is a Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It claims to be
the only building in the world entirely dedicated to Houdini and is run
by magicians Dick Brooks and Dorothy Dietrich. The museum also holds an
annual Houdini séance.
* While touring in the United States, Houdini met Joe Keaton and his
family vaudeville act. It's said that after Joe's young son fell down a
flight of stairs unscathed, Houdini remarked, "Your kid is quite the
buster" (buster being a stage name for a fall) and gave a name to comedy
legend Buster Keaton (the kid).
* 2007 - Houdini - The Musical, a theatrical production based on the
life of Houdini, premiered at The Playhouse, Weston-super-Mare before
going on tour across the United Kingdom. The show features many of
Houdini's famous acts, including the Chinese Water Torture Cell.
* 2007 - A movie, Death Defying Acts, starring Guy Pearce and Catherine
Zeta Jones was made which is based on Houdini's life.
* 2008 - Stone Temple Pilots would reunite for the first time at his
estate in Hollywood
Houdini published numerous books during his career (some of which were
written by his good friend Walter Brown Gibson, the creator of The
* The Right Way to Do Wrong (1906)
* Handcuff Secrets (1907)
* The Unmasking of Robert Houdin (1908)
* Magical Rope Ties and Escapes (1920)
* Miracle Mongers and their Methods (1920)
* Houdini's Paper Magic (1921)
* A Magician Among the Spirits (1924)
* Under the Pyramids (1924) with H. P. Lovecraft.
* Brandon, Ruth. The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini (Seeker &
Warburg, Ltd. GB, 1993) ISBN 081297042X; ISBN 978-0812970425 (USA
edition): ISBN 0-679-42437-7 ISBN 978-0-679-42437-6.
* Henning, Doug with Charles Reynolds. Houdini: His Legend and His Magic
(Times Books, NY, 1978). ISBN 0446873284; ISBN 978-0446873284.
* Christopher, Milbourne. Houdini: The Untold Story (Thomas Y. Crowell
Co, 1969). ISBN 0891909818; ISBN 978-0891909811; ISBN 069040431X; ISBN
* Fleischman, Sid. Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini, (Greenwillow
Books, 2006). ISBN 9780060850944.
* Gresham, William Lindsay Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls
(Henry Holt & Co, NY, 1959).
* Kalush, William and Larry Sloman. The Secret Life of Houdini: The
Making of America's First Superhero, 2006 ISBN 0743272072.
* Kellock, Harold. Houdini: His Life-Story from the recollections and
documents of Beatrice Houdini, (Harcourt, Brace Co., June, 1928).
* Kendall, Lance. Houdini: Master of Escape (Macrae Smith & Co., NY,
1960). ISBN 006092862X.
* Meyer, M.D., Bernard C.Houdini: A Mind in Chains (E.P. Dutton & Co.
NY, 1976). ISBN 0841504482.
* Randi, James & Bert Randolph Sugar. Houdini: His Life and Art (Grosset
& Dunlap, NY, 1977).ISBN 9780448125466; ISBN 0448125463.
* Silverman, Kenneth. Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich 1996 ISBN
* Williams, Beryl & Samuel Epstein. The Great Houdini: Magician
Extraordinary (Julian Messner, Inc., NY, 1950).
* Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter B. Gibson, Prepared from
Houdini’s private notebooks Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., 1930. Reveals some
of Houdini's magic and escape methods (also released in two separate
volumes: Houdini's Magic and Houdini's Escapes).
* The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell, Hutchinson & Co., London,
1931. Reveals some of Houdini's escape methods.
* Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship by Bernard
M. L. Ernst, Albert & Charles Boni, Inc., NY, 1932.
* Sixty Years of Psychical Research by Joseph F. Rinn, Truth Seeker Co.,
1950, Rinn was a long time close friend of Houdini. Contains detailed
information about the last Houdini message (there are 3) and its
* Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young
Chilton, NY, 1960. Excellent reference for Houdini’s escapes and some
methods (includes the Water Torture Cell).
* The Houdini Birth Research Committee’s Report, Magico Magazine
(reprint of report by The Society of American Magicians), 1972.
Concludes Houdini was born March 24, 1874 in Budapest.
* Mediums, Mystics and the Occult by Milbourne Christopher, Thomas T.
Crowell Co., 1975, pp 122-145, Arthur Ford-Messages from the Dead,
contains detailed information about the Houdini messages and their
* Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead by Allen Spraggett with
William V. Rauscher, 1973, pp 152-165, Chapter 7, The Houdini Affair
contains detailed information about the Houdini messages and their
* Houdini: Escape into Legend, The Early Years: 1862-1900 by Manny
Weltman, Finders/Seekers Enterprises, Los Angeles, 1993. Examination of
Houdini’s childhood and early career.
* Houdini Comes To America by Ronald J. Hilgert, The Houdini Historical
Center, 1996. Documents the Weiss family’s immigration to the United
States on July 3, 1878 (when Ehrich was 4).
* Houdini Unlocked by Patrick Culliton, Two volume box set: The Tao of
Houdini and The Secret Confessions of Houdini, Kieran Press, 1997.
* The Houdini Code Mystery: A Spirit Secret Solved by William V.
Rauscher, Magic Words, 2000.
* The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell, Vehicle Press, 2004.
Investigates J. Gordon Whitehead and the events surrounding Houdini's