By Tom Interval
We know a few things about Harry Houdini’s New York City home at 278 W. 113th St. and even got a glimpse inside last year when the New York Daily News interviewed Fred Thomas, the current owner. For more than two decades, Houdini and his family lived in the 12-room brownstone until the iconic escapologist’s death in 1926. But who owned the home, and possibly lived in it, before Houdini purchased it in 1904?
According to real-estate websites, such as Zillow and Trulia, the 6,008-square-foot home was built in 1890 (five years earlier than what William Kalush and Larry Sloman wrote in their biography, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero).
The City of New York’s Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) records for the Houdini property (Block 1828, Lot 59) go back only to 1979, when Marie Hinson (née Rahner), Bess Houdini’s sister, was the owner. Since online city records go back to 1966, it’s unclear why the records for 278 end at 1979. Here’s a screen capture of that search (click to enlarge):
My assumption is that serious Houdini researchers and biography authors, such as Kenneth Silverman and Kalush and Sloman, already checked the physical records dated before 1979.* However, neither of their bios—Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss or The Secret Life, respectively—includes any information about homeownership before 1904.
After a bit of digging in the Google News archive, I found an article in the April 8, 1903, issue of The Sydney Mail, which mentions inventor and agriculturalist “David Lubin, of 278 West 113th Street, New York . . .” (see the accompanying image with the relevant line highlighted in yellow; click to enlarge).
Born in Poland, Lubin, an inventor of many agricultural contraptions, also lived in London; Attleboro, Massachusetts; Sacramento; and Rome, among other places. Assuming the Mail article is accurate (admittedly, when it comes to newspaper reporting, it’s not always wise to assume), it’s possible Lubin either lived in 278 or at least owned it. If so, Houdini might have directly interacted with Lubin during the property sale in 1904 and possibly enjoyed discussions or correspondence with him since both men had inventive minds (besides creating several original escape acts and paraphernalia, Houdini patented a diver’s suit in 1921).
If someone out there has evidence linking Houdini and Lubin, or any information regarding the ownership of 278 W. 113th St. prior to 1904, please contact me with relevant information and documents, and I’ll update this blog. Thanks!
*If you’re a Houdini buff living in New York and are interested in digging up old property records, the Manhattan City Register Office is located at 66 John St., 13th Floor, New York City, and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Their phone number is 877-254-7234. And if you’d like to share any records you find, please contact me.