The name Houdini is inextricably linked with Halloween because of his death on October 31, 1926 at Grace Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. The Official Houdini Séance, held each year since his death, has its roots in Houdini’s efforts to expose fraudulent mediums. He claimed if there was truly a way to contact the living after one’s death, he would do so. He set up a code with his wife, Bess, who faithfully attended the annual seances awaiting his return for 10 years, after which time she gave up. The séance, currently organized by Sidney H. Radner, is held each year in a location of significant connection to Houdini’s life. While we wait for Houdini’s return, a visit to the Houdini Historical Center (HHC) is in order.
Photo: Magician Harry Houdini
Located in the Outagamie County Museum, the Houdini! exhibit recounts Houdini’s life and career from his boyhood to his worldwide fame and tragic death. The exhibit is filled with personal photos and letters, posters and handbills. Of course, escape apparatus – handcuffs, leg irons and straightjackets – even his Iron Maiden vividly bring his exploits to life. Visitors can see video footage of Houdini performing escapes and acting in silent films, hear the only known recording of his voice, and try on handcuffs and restraints similar to those used by Houdini.
HHC is caretaker of the Sidney H. Radner Collection of Houdini memorabilia, the world’s finest collection of artifacts and performing apparatus once owned and used by Houdini. At his death Houdini passed his secrets to his brother Theodore Hardeen who was also a performer and escape artists. Years later, Hardeen passed the collection and its secrets on to his protégé, Sidney H. Radner of Holyoke, Massachusetts. This magnificent collection remained hidden in Mr. Radner’s basement until 1988 when he placed it in the care of HHC. Subsequent to Radner’s contribution, other donors have come forward and contributed their Houdini collections to HHC to be enjoyed by the public.
Houdini – illusionist, escape artist, and debunker of occult fraud – grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. His family emigrated from Budapest, Hungary when his father, Samuel Mayer Weiss, accepted a job as Appleton’s first rabbi. The Houdini Historic Walking Tour map is available at the center. The map guides you to the places in downtown Appleton where the man who mystified millions once stood, played and dreamed of the astounding feats he would one day perform. The tour adds an invigorating dimension to the Houdini! exhibit.
HHC is a non-profit organization dedicated to gathering, interpreting and disseminating information and artifacts related to the life and career of Harry Houdini. It is open year-round and offers annual events including summer magic shows and Halloween with Houdini. HHC is located at 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, WI 54911. For online information visit their website or reach them by phone at 920.733.8445.