A Harry Houdini Halloween

October 31, 2022
by Elizabeth Hyman

All of us here at AJHS hope you had a lovely Halloween.

But whatever spooky fun you got up to, Harry Houdini would have hated it.

by Elizabeth Hyman and Rebeca Miller.

Flyer for one of Houdini’s performances, from the AJHS Consolidated Collections.

That’s right: the legendary magician and escape artist Harry Houdini had no patience for gatherings of the spooky variety.

But let’s back up. The man known as Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz (1874-1926) to Hungarian Jewish parents in Budapest. He emigrated with his family to the United States in 1878. Erik began practicing magic in 1890 under the stage name Harry Houdini; an appellation inspired by the French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin.

His big break came in 1899, when a high powered manager attended one of his shows. This manager, Martin Beck, advised Erik to stick to escape acts, and before they knew it, his career took off on the vaudeville circuit, and soon, across the world.

At the same time as Houdini was achieving the peak of his fame, Spiritualism was extremely fashionable moment. Spiritualism and seances were all the rage in the early 1900. And Houdini did not like it one bit.

Excerpt from the volume “Houdini and Conan Doyle: the Story of a Strange Friendship,” by Bernard L. Ernst and Hereward Carrington. AJHS Library Call Number GV1545.H8 E7.

Houdini got very into debunking the claims of so-called psychics and mediums, sometimes even attending seances in disguise. These activities destroyed his friendship with author and creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed that Houdini was, in fact a powerful spiritualist medium.

When he wasn’t debunking spiritualists and mediums, Houdini wrote articles on the history of magic, served as president of the Society of American Magicians, and dabbled in amateur aviation.

The AJHS Library Collection holds a large number of books about Harry Houdini. Happy reading, and happy Halloween!