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 I originally published this on a website that is no longer active so decided to archive it here.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!
The Houdini Grave
By Tom Interval
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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)…