The Houdini Grave

I wrote the following article around 1990 after visiting Houdini’s gravesite in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York. I originally published this on a website that is no longer active so decided to archive it here. I’ve also included some photos I took that day. Note that the Houdini bust mentioned below has since been replaced. For more information and an aerial map of the Houdini family plot, including a list of everyone buried there, check out my other blog entry, Houdini Grave Aerial Map. Enjoy!

Listen to/watch this blog entry in video format →

Read on!

The Houdini Grave

By Tom Interval

The exedra, 1916

The exedra, 1916

As I walk along the crumbling cement sidewalk, tiny bits of glass from broken beer bottles crackle beneath my feet.

To my left, across the street, is an enormous graveyard crammed with headstones and grand monuments, many of which are defaced with graffiti. A black, weatherworn, wrought-iron fence standing about eight feet high surrounds the sacred place.

At last, I’ve reached my destination: Machpelah Cemetery in Cypress Hills, Queens, New York—the resting place of Harry Houdini and his family.

I enter the burial ground thinking, “I can’t believe the legendary Houdini is buried in such a run-down neighborhood.” But I guess things were a lot different in those days.

At the back of the Houdini exedra

At the back of the Houdini exedra

I wander through the maze of the granite city until I find myself facing the back of a large monument that carries the following inscription: “ERECTED BY | HOUDINI | 1916 | IN SACRED MEMORY | OF HIS | BELOVED PARENTS.”

I stroll around the left of the shrine to view it from the front. The granite, semicircular structure is impressive—about twelve feet wide. Three shallow steps lead up to a curved stone bench, upon which sits a large pedestal designed to hold Houdini’s bust. Just in front of the bench, at the base of the pedestal, is a life-sized statue of a small woman on her knees mourning.

Front of the Houdini exedra

Front of the Houdini exedra

Society of American Magicians (SAM) mosaic

Society of American Magicians (SAM) mosaic

The names “HOUDINI” and “WEISS” are etched on the face of the pedestal, just below the seal of the Society of American Magicians (SAM), a circular mosaic about ten inches in diameter. Although Houdini was president of the SAM until his death in 1926, the person who originally etched the stone had mistakenly carved “1927” instead of “1926” on the area above the mosaic. Now the inscription reads, “President – 1917-1926,” with the six overlapping the inaccurate seven.

Atop the pedestal, where there should be a Houdini bust, is nothing. In April 1975, vandals smashed the original cast. Perhaps the same fate befell the replacement busts.

A plaque honoring Cecelia, Houdini's mother

A plaque honoring Cecelia, Houdini’s mother

Each end of the monument features a vertical plaque honoring Houdini’s parents. The one on the left reads: “Here | in Eternal Peace | Slumbers | Our Darling Mother | CECELIA WEISS | Née STEINER | Who entered | Her Everlasting Sleep | July 17, 1913 | As pure and as sweet | As the day she was born | June 16, 1841.”

The plaque on the monument’s right end honors Houdini’s father, with Hebrew script engraved on the first seven lines, followed by: “Sacred to the Memory of | Our Dearly Beloved | Husband and Father | REV. DR. MAYER SAMUEL | WEISS | Rabbi & Teacher in Israel | Born | Aug. 27, 1829 | Died | Oct. 5, 1892 | R.I.P.”

View of the Houdini burial plot from the steps of the exedra

View of the Houdini burial plot from the steps of the exedra

In front of the main shrine itself, 10 headstones occupy a small, rectangular plot of land that extends about twenty feet from the monument itself: Father (1829-1892), Mother (1841-1913), Herman (1863-1885), Grandmother (1821-1887), William (1872-1925), Dr. Leopold Weiss (ND), C. Gladys Weiss (ND), Theo. Hardeen (1876-1945), Nathan (1870-1927), and one stone for Houdini (1874-1926) and beloved wife Wilhelmina Beatrice (1876-19××). Bess is not buried in this plot. She rests in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, also in New York. Why? Because she was Catholic, not Jewish, and the Machpelah Cemetery would not allow the interment of someone outside of the Jewish faith. This is in spite of the fact that Houdini stipulated in his will that he wanted Bess buried beside him.

Houdini's tombstone

Houdini’s tombstone

So there you have it, a brief description of Houdini’s gravesite. If you ever have the chance to go, take advantage of it. Although it’s not the most uplifting trip you’ll ever take, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to the world’s greatest escape artist, showman, and self-promoter—a man whose life was transformed into a myth, and whose death symbolizes an inevitable reality from which no one can escape.

A Few More Photos

Inscription on the back of the exedra

Inscription on the back of the exedra

A plaque honoring Samuel, Houdini's father

A plaque honoring Samuel, Houdini’s father

Sitting on the bench where Houdini once sat

Sitting on the bench where Houdini once sat

Theo Hardeen and Bessie Houdini

Theo Hardeen and Bessie Houdini

And finally, an animated image I made today using one of my photos and a photo of Houdini sitting on the exedra (Houdini photo credit: Jon Oliver)…


Houdini sitting on the unfinished exedra, 1916

Houdini sitting on the unfinished exedra, 1916

Original Image:

Houdini sitting on the exedra

Houdini sitting on the exedra, 1916. (Photo credit: Ruth Brandon’s The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini)

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8 Responses to The Houdini Grave

  1. Pingback: How many times has the Houdini Bust been replaced? |

  2. Cigar says:

    I hope to visit this grave of Houdini later this year. I have read much on him and seen rare video over the years. I have read many books as well. With the help of GPS, it should not be too hard to find this place. Pictures are a must.

    • Houdini says:

      Hi Cigar. Thanks for your thoughts! It’s definitely an interesting place to visit, to say the least. I’d love to see your photos when you get back! If you want to share them, just use the Connect link above to post them on the Facebook page. All the best! Tom

      • Cigar says:

        Hi Tom, it is not certain yet if I will be making this trip in the fall to see Houdini along with some other famous people buried in the NY area. If I do I will see about posting them where you suggested or have them on my FB page. Rick

  3. Pingback: Harry Houdini sitting upon his own grave 1916 - Bowery Boys: New York City History

  4. Jake steed says:

    Hey anyone reading this please check out a video on youtube called “grave robbing for morons” two people are shown with freshly dug up thigh bones and a skull, he says its his second time and that they are or were gonna try to get Houdini’s grave next, you can tell this footage is old, anyone in that area try and find out if anything has ever happened to his remains

    • Houdini says:

      Hi Jake,

      Thanks for the comment. Houdini’s remains…remain. The video you’re talking about is almost certainly fiction; although, I couldn’t immediately find anything online that definitively proves that. It’s part of a collection of oddball horror shorts titled, Ensuring Your Place in Hell, but I’m not sure which came first, the film or the collection. Various websites claim the short was made in the 1990s, when there were similar films made—twisted films that apparently had (and have?) cult followings. I watched several minutes of Grave Robbing and feel that it just doesn’t ring true, despite the fact that the young actor (?) is a good one. For anyone reading this who would like to see what Jake is referring to, the video is on YouTube:

      Thanks again, Jake, and all the best.

      Tom Interval

    • Claire says:

      Hey Jake!
      I found your comment, and wanted to reach out. I’m part of a indie documentary project who is working to find out more about Grave Robbing for Morons. Real or not, we are deep into investigation on where the video came from, making some exiting progress.
      I just wanted to let you know we have a Facebook page you can visit if you’re interested!

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