Friday, July 21, 2006

History Detectives and Houdini Posters Part 4

In the end, Lee Levin gets the only confirmation he really wanted. The poster is real. He also receives a parting gift, a program from Houdini’s appearance in Chicago. The History Detectives got their magic themed story. However, they never answer their own question, “Does this poster hold a secret about escape artist Harry Houdini and his desperate attempts to speak to the dead?”
If covered properly, the spiritualism exposure story is as thrilling as any crime novel. They missed most that story. The frustrating thing is they usually do a good, in depth story. The other two stories reveal this depth. Perhaps their audience is ignorant to Houdini and needs his whole overview of his life. Yet, in trying to cover the forest, they missed the tree. The background becomes the story, and the story of the Houdini poster and Chicago is lost.
If you wanted to make a living as a performer, Chicago was the place. It had always been good for Houdini. Sure, in his first few years his name was misspelled almost as often as he appeared. Nevertheless, his earliest appearances as Houdini the Wizard of Shackles at Middleton’s Clark Street Museum in 1899 thrust a new kind of performer into the world. Seven months before he perished, during pinnacle of his career as magician, escapist, and anti-spiritualist crusader in 1926, Houdini came back to Chicago.
While his show took much of his time, Houdini waged a war of many fronts against the spiritualism fraud. Exposed mediums fought back and began filing lawsuits for slander and libel. He estimated that he was being sued for more than one million dollars (including, I’m sure, the lawsuits filed by irate investors of his failed Houdini Motion Picture Company).
Houdini also found opportunities to socialize with his brother magicians. The Chicago Daily News reported, “The Society of American Magicians, Chicago assembly, numbering 150 members, will attend the Princess Theater this evening in honor of their national president Houdini. Twenty of the local members will appear on the Princess stage with Houdini and demonstrate their sleight of hand ability. This is the largest number of magicians to appear on a Chicago stage at one time. President A. P. Felsman, of the local assembly, will give a banquet in honor of Houdini immediately after the performance.”
The May Sphinx reported that Houdini attended the assembly’s 4th Annual Mystery Show on April 22. Unexpectedly(?), Houdini favored the crowd with a selection of tricks with handkerchiefs from his popular show. His exuberance took over and the curtain at the Princess was held. He was late for his own show.
Chicago American, April 24, 1926:
“Probably the hardest worker in the entire amusement world is Houdini, the master mystifier, who will end his engagement at the Princess Theater Saturday, May 1, establishing the world’s record for the greatest number of performances and length of run in America, as far as mystery and magic are concerned.
“Houdini’s success is due to persistent work and the love of it. He loves everything he does; he loves his profession and his work; he finds recreation in turning from one interest to another. He is never idle. Each thing he does, while he is doing it, is as important to him as the rest and even the smallest undertaking is given the most minute attention.”
That, in the end, is Houdini and Chicago.

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