Houdini Then and Now

By Tom Interval

We all have our time machines, don’t we? Those that take us back are memories, and those that carry us forward are dreams.
– Über-Morlock, The Time Machine (2002)

It’s about time. Literally and figuratively.

You see, this week I found a time machine of sorts, and I’m finally starting to use it. I write “finally” because it’s been around for almost six years.

You might have heard of it. It’s called Historypin, an online archive containing historical photos and videos people “pin” to corresponding locations on Google Maps.

But it’s not just about geographically pinpointing historical events and experiences. It’s a virtual cornucopia of then and now.

Users can superimpose old pics and vids onto Google Street View, allowing them to visually compare past and present locations using a slider bar to fade the old image in and out.

As someone who has already done historical location comparisons, I was excited about the prospect of creating Houdini-related pins on Street View. As of this writing, I have only five Historypin posts but plan to contribute many more as time allows.

Here’s one example most Houdini buffs will remember. It’s a well-known photo of our shackle-shedding hero with an unidentified gentleman in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1908. After doing some research, I’ve concluded the photograph was taken at the northeast corner of N. Pennsylvania St. and E. Wabash St., between the Grand Opera House (to become B.F. Keith’s) and the Denison Hotel. Houdini, who is standing on Wabash in the photo, would perform at Keith’s a couple years later. I’ve animated the picture so you can compare “then” vs. “now.”


Thanks to Flickr user Evan Finch, I verified the location after I found the following postcard, which features wonderful painted art from 1908 showing the same intersection and the left side of the very same Pluto Spring sign board (bottom-center, just above and to the right of the car).


Another source that helped me pinpoint the location was an Indianapolis Sanborn Map from 1915—seven years after the Pluto Spring photo was taken. On the map, you’ll notice “Piano S. all fls.” within the pink rectangle on the left. It refers to the same piano shop that’s in the photo directly across the street from Houdini. It’s Pearson’s Piano House, located at the time at 134–136 N. Pennsylvania St.


Here’s a photo of Pearson’s, at the same Pennsylvania St. location in November 1928, courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society.


If anyone has more information about the Indianapolis Houdini photo, I’d love to hear from you. In the mean time, please jump into the virtual time machine and visit my Historypin Houdini collection for more examples of the past literally merging with the future.



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Happy 142nd, Harry

By Tom Interval

Harry Houdini, born March 24, 1874

Harry Houdini, born March 24, 1874

Newborn Erik Weisz (Americanized Ehrich Weiss), who would later generate fame, fortune, and folklore as Harry Houdini, escaped his mother’s womb in Budapest on this day in 1874.

For those who don’t know much about the man, calling Houdini a magician would be like calling Elvis Presley a singer.

Liberating himself from the bonds of bland, Houdini sculpted his own image as a performer of the impossible, redefining a profession now known as escapology.

His pitch: He could escape any contraption made of any material devised by even the most ingenious of inventors. This appealed to many people of his day—millions of immigrants like him, seeking to escape a mundane existence, fighting as underdogs to survive in a competitive world.

Aside from his boundless technical knowledge and ability to manipulate any lock, shackle, or rope, his true brilliance centered on manipulating the minds of his audiences with classic showmanship and innate charisma.

He almost died during each performance. At least, that’s what he wanted people to think. And they did. This, combined with his knack for getting front-page publicity in almost every city he visited, led to his superstar icon status and, ultimately, to his immortality. That’s why we’re still talking about him to this day.

Harry Houdini—self-liberator, illusionist, showman, author, actor, inventor, publicist, aviator, athlete, stuntman, scholar, magic historian, and fraud fighter—would have been 142 today.

Happy birthday, Harry!

– – –

Read more about Houdini:

Adults: Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, by Kenneth Silverman

Children: Harry Houdini: The Legend of the World’s Greatest Escape Artist

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Mrs. Houdini: A Novel

By Tom Interval

Mrs. Houdini: A Novel, to be released on March 1, 2016

Mrs. Houdini: A Novel, to be released on March 1, 2016

Mr. and Mrs. H would be pleased to know there’s a novel centered around their love life about to be published: Mrs. Houdini, by Victoria Kelly.

According to the publisher, Simon & Schuster (Atria Books), the book is a “captivating debut novel, meticulously researched and beautifully imagined, about the passionate marriage of Harry and Bess Houdini—a love story that defied death itself.”

Both the hardcover and ebook editions are available for pre-order on Amazon. The book ships on March 1.

Here’s the complete description from the Simon & Schuster promotional page:

A captivating debut novel, meticulously researched and beautifully imagined, about the passionate marriage of Harry and Bess Houdini—a love story that defied death itself.

Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife Bess from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. When a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.

In surprising turns that weave through the uncertain days of the dawn of the twentieth century and continue into the dazzling 1920s, Mrs. Houdini is a thrilling tale that will take you deep into the heart of one of history’s greatest love stories—asking what drives people to believe in something bigger than themselves—even as it reveals the famous magician’s most remarkable feat of all.

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Holiday Wishes

By Tom Interval

Best wishes to you and your loved ones this holiday season.


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Happy Thanksgiving from Young Houdini


I hope everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Tom Interval, Interval Magic, Houdini Museum


Note: The image above is Photoshopped, which should be pretty obvious to graphic designers and Houdini enthusiasts.

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Houdini Room at Copperfield’s Musha Cay

By Tom Interval

I was browsing YouTube tonight and came across a promotional video for Musha Cay, an island in the southern Bahamas owned by illusionist David Copperfield.

During the video, I was surprised and pleased to see that one of the buildings at the resort—The Landings— houses a Houdini room featuring original memorabilia including a very familiar Houdini bust, handcuffs, posters, photos, and a billiards table supposedly owned by the legendary escapologist. And, according to several media sources, including a recent Playboy article, there’s part of a water torture cell on display.

Here are a couple of promo pictures of the room. I’d snap some photos myself, but I can’t exactly afford the $39,000 per day it would cost me to vacation there. Maybe one of you wealthy hedonists out there can take some photos for me or treat me and my girlfriend to a well-deserved trip (*wink* *wink*).



Posted in Art, Bust, Collecting, Collections, David Copperfield, Ephemera, Handcuffs, Museums, Physical, Playbills, Posters, Posters, Scrapbooks, Sculptures, Water Torture Cell | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Honor of Mick Hanzlik

By Tom Interval

Mick Hanzlik

Mick Hanzlik

Mick Hanzlik, master locksmith, Houdini expert, and magician, died on November 1 of cancer.

I met Mick six years ago in Ontario, California, during Mark and Sheila Cannon‘s escape-artist convention. Although he and I were not friends, we were in contact on and off since the convention, and I regret not communicating with him more often.

Mick Hanzlik

Mick Hanzlik

A member of the Master Locksmiths Association and The Magic Circle, Mick operated a locksmith shop for 34 years on the south corner of Lutterworth Rd. and Covington St. in Northampton (Northamptonshire, England).

Armed with a brilliant locksmith’s mind—no doubt inherited from his father Josef, also a locksmith—Mick created one of perhaps only seven replicas of the famous Mirror handcuffs Houdini escaped from in 1904 at the London Hippodrome.

Mick’s death is a huge loss to the locksmith, escapology, magic, and Northampton communities. All the very best to his family and friends.

Mick Hanzlik

Mick Hanzlik

To learn more about Mick, you can browse his website, listen to his 2014 interview on BBC Radio Northampton, watch a 2008 Documentally video podcast, or peruse some of his YouTube videos, including one showing the Mirror-cuff reps in action! (See embedded media below.)


BBC Radio Northampton Interview:


Documentally Video Podcast:


Mick Hanzlik’s Replica Houdini Mirror Handcuffs:

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