Happy Birthday Bess!

By Tom Interval

Happy Birthday, Bess!

Bess Houdini, born 138 years ago today as Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (Jan. 23, 1876 – Feb. 11, 1943)

Although many sources cite January 22 as Bess Houdini’s birthday, John Cox of Wild About Harry has uncovered evidence that Houdini himself celebrated Bess’s birthday today—January 23. At least, that was the case in 1921. The evidence? Compliments of John C. Hinson: A copy of Houdini’s book, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, inscribed by Houdini to his “Sweetheart Wife” on January 23, 1921 “on your birthday.” John (Cox) also sites California death records indicating January 23 as the day of birth. While most Houdini fans realize Houdini’s claims and recollections of birth dates are not always the most reliable, the two pieces of evidence John provides are pretty convincing. Even so, the skeptic in me still needs to be convinced by an official birth certificate obtained from the New York City Department of Records. Does anyone out there already have a copy? If so, please drop me a line. And if you happen to be in a giving mood, I’d love to see a scan of it! In the mean time, Happy Birthday, Bess!

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4 Responses to Happy Birthday Bess!

  1. Ah, I see what you’re saying. Just because Harry and Bess celebrated on Jan 23 doesn’t mean her real birthdate couldn’t have been Jan 22, which might have been discovered after she died. It’s the April 6 vs. March 24 thing for Bessie. I actually didn’t consider that. It would be good to know the source of the Jan 22 date.

    By the way, the year is sometimes credited as 1875. A birth certificate could help there too.

    I sometimes wonder how sure anyone was back then of their birthdays. Not much in the way of paperwork in those days. They probably just had to rely on their mother’s memory. And when you have seven children, well…

  2. Houdini says:

    Hi John. The fact that Houdini himself celebrated Bess’s birthday on the 23rd is significant, though, so that’s quite the find. I would still love to see a birth certificate, but you make a good point. Even if there is paperwork for her birth, is it as accurate as a birth record from today would be? We many never know. I wonder if anyone out there has any other evidence to support the 23rd (i.e., another inscription from Houdini to Bess on that date, a letter, etc.). If that is the day they consistently celebrated it on, then it seems reasonable to acknowledge her birth on the 23rd until proven otherwise. I plan to research all of this, including the Jan. 22 date, when I have time. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. Brenda says:

    Bess is my great-great aunt and would love any information that you are able to obtain

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