people even said Dr. Crandon committed
illegal operations on little children and murdered them.”
On April 29, 1911,
debuted his famed Chinese Water Torture Cell escape in
Around that same time, Houdini was, for reasons unknown, busily buying mothballed electric chairs at auctions across the country.
In 1913, Houdini’s beloved mother passed away,
apparently resulted in Harry learning some deep family secret.
death, Houdini sent the following cryptic note to one of his brothers:
heals all wounds, but a long time will have to pass before it will heal
terrible blow which Mother tried to save me from knowing.” The meaning
rather provocative note remains a mystery. Houdini, by the way, was in
In December 1914,
just a few
months after the staged provocation that allegedly triggered World War
was summoned to the nation’s capitol for a private audience with
A year-and-a-half later, on that most notorious
April 20, an estimated 100,000 people gathered in
For the duration of
began just as the
film, The Grim Game, opened to rave reviews. Ensconced in
Just after completing Terror Island, in December 1919, Houdini was involved in yet another curious incident. Having injured his ankle performing the water torture escape, he paid a visit to a doctor who examined the performer and pronounced him in imminent “danger of death.” Houdini nevertheless lived on for several more years; the doctor, meanwhile, turned up dead within two weeks.
By the end of 1921, the Houdini Picture Corporation had two feature-length films in the can – The Man From Beyond and Haldane of the Secret Service. The first, co-written by Houdini himself and released on April 2, 1922, involved a bizarre plot revolving around a man found frozen in arctic ice and brought back to life, a case of mistaken identity, confinement in a mental institution, escape from that same institution, and an abduction. Haldane, released the following year, was Houdini’s first attempt at directing himself. It featured the magician as his real-life alter ego, but its performance at the box office signaled the end of Houdini’s film career.
For the rest of his years, Houdini devoted a considerable amount of time to investigating and debunking the spiritualist movement, which flourished in the post-World War I years as legions of fake ‘mediums’ preyed upon the grief of those who had lost loved one in the war, promising to reconnect them with those in the ‘spirit’ world. By design or otherwise, Houdini’s crusade served primarily to publicize the movement. Houdini’s interest in the movement was said to have been spawned by the death of his beloved mother.
Houdini had a number of friends in the spiritualist movement, most notably and prominently Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and possible perpetrator of the infamous Piltdown Hoax of 1912. Both Doyle and Houdini were also had connections to Le Roi and Margery Crandon, and that is where this story takes a decidedly dark turn.
Margery, born Mina
Crandon was a direct
of one of the original twenty-three Mayflower passengers and a member
Boston Yacht Club. He had graduated from
Shortly after meeting
Mina divorced her first husband and, in 1918, became the much older Le
Crandon’s third wife. The two seemed hopelessly mismatched, she being
vivacious and, by all accounts, very attractive, while he was said to
arrogant, unpleasant and antisocial. Nevertheless, the pair quickly
One regular member of
couple’s inner circle was a fellow by the name of Joseph DeWyckoff, a
steel tycoon who had been born in
That would be,
needless to say,
the very same John Wilkie who had kick-started Harry Houdini’s career
same year. As a reward for his service, DeWyckoff, who “had a history
violence,” “was given the contract to salvage the Battleship Maine in
Although fragmentary, there is clear evidence that Le Roi and Mina Crandon, in conjunction with various others (including DeWyckoff), began to ‘adopt,’ sometime soon after getting married, an untold number of children who subsequently went missing. A number of letters that Dr. Crandon penned on the subject and dispatched to his buddy Doyle appear to have gone missing as well. As Kalush and Sloman note, “Strangely, many of the letters regarding the investigation into the boys have been expunged from Crandon’s files.” As faithful readers know, there is nothing strange about that at all; it is pretty much par for the course.
In one surviving
letter, sent on
August 4, 1925, Crandon notes that “about December first I had Mr.
bring over a boy from a London home for possible adoption … In April
Secret Service Department at Washington received a letter saying that I
first and last sixteen boys in my house for ostensible adoption, and
had all disappeared.” Four years earlier, a
Perhaps he was the ‘homeless’ boy whose dead body was reportedly found on the outskirts of Joseph DeWyckoff’s large estate in Ramsey, New Jersey during that time period.
By 1924, Dr. Crandon
asking his many friends in the British spiritualist movement to “be on
lookout for suitable boys to adopt.” Around that same time, as another
associate noted in a letter, Crandon was “being sued for $40,000 for
on a woman for cancer, when she was simply pregnant, and destroying the
… A highly incredible story which persists is that a boy who was in his
some weeks mysteriously disappeared. He claims that the boy is now in
In response to
about the disappearance of one particular boy, Margery/Mina complained
“people wrote asking his whereabouts, and the prime minister of
On one occasion, Margery opened a closet in her home and showed an associate a collection of photos of well over a hundred children, “most of them really lovely.” Margery told the woman that, “Those are Dr. Crandon’s caesareans—aren’t they sweet? All caesareans.” Given that Crandon wasn’t known for delivering babies at all, the notion that he had delivered over a hundred of them via caesarean was an absurdity. Who then were all these children and what became of them?
Such is the fragmentary evidence trail indicating that an untold number of young boys fell into the nefarious hands of a cabal of wealthy individuals with connections to the intelligence community. Nearly a full century ago. Not to worry though – the disappearances were investigated by John Wilkie’s Secret Service and a British MP by the name of, uhmm, Harry Day. And I’m sure they got to the bottom of the sordid affair, just as Louis Freeh is undoubtedly now getting to the truth of the Sandusky case.
Not long before his death, Houdini, who had an extensive library of literature on the occult, began working with horror writer and racist occultist H.P. Lovecraft on various magazine articles. In 1926, he hired Lovecraft (who could, by the way, trace his lineage to the Massachusetts Bay Colony) and Clifford Eddy, Jr. (another occultist and horror writer and one of Houdini’s covert operatives), to co-write a book debunking superstition (despite the fact that wife Bess was known to harbor numerous superstitions, some of them apparently quite bizarre).
According to Kalush and Sloman, “Shortly after meeting with Eddy and Lovecraft, Bess was stricken with a nonspecific form of poisoning.” Indeed, there is evidence suggesting that both Harry and Bess Houdini suffered from some form of poisoning prior to Harry’s death. In addition, Houdini is said to have suffered from severe mood swings and to have had some “aggressive confrontations” in the weeks leading up to his death, both of which were out of character for the illusionist (though Bess is widely reported to have suffered from extreme mood swings throughout her life).
As the story goes, Houdini, who prided himself on being able to take a punch from pretty much anyone, was sucker-punched in his dressing room by a McGill University student, which caused his appendix to burst and ultimately led to his death on October 31, 1926. Houdini’s physicians dutifully swore out affidavits certifying the cause of death to be “traumatic appendicitis,” though the medical community now acknowledges that such a medical condition has never existed. No autopsy was performed.
As previously noted,
the house in
The mid-1920s were not a good time for the Houdini/Weiss brothers. Brother Gottfried Weiss, born two years before Harry, died in 1925. Harry followed suit the next year. Brother Nathan Weiss, born four years before Harry, died soon after, in 1927. Shit happens, I guess.
On June 22, 1927, Houdini’s European booking agent, Harry Day, reported that his apartment had been ransacked. That day would have also been the Houdini’s wedding anniversary – assuming, that is, that Harry was actually legally married to Bess, which may not have been the case. Two months after the break-in at Day’s apartment, Theodore ‘Hardeen,’ who had inherited all of brother Harry’s props, effects and papers, reported that his home had also been broken into while he had been on the road.
guy credited with gut-punching Houdini, was a rather curious gent.
college student at the time of the incident, he was already in his
His father was a British diplomat serving in the Orient. After
Whitehead is said to have become a recluse living something of a
existence. He did have at least one close associate though – Lady
Isabel Marler, a wealthy heiress and the wife of Sir Herbert Meredith
prominent Canadian politician and diplomat who once served as
After Houdini’s death, it was widely rumored that Bess – who in addition to suffering from wild mood swings was also an alcoholic and a drug addict who was occasionally suicidal – ran an illegal speakeasy/brothel in conjunction with a woman named Daisy White, who was said to have been Harry’s mistress. Nothing weird about that. White was not, by the way, the only woman who claimed or was rumored to have had an affair with the performer.
In mid-1945, Theodore “Hardeen,” one of Houdini’s two surviving brothers and the one who had inherited all of his effects, checked into Doctor’s Hospital for a scheduled operation. On June 12, 1945, Hardeen left the hospital in a box. It was reported at the time that Hardeen had been planning to pen a book on his brother and had begun work on the project before checking into the hospital.
Nearly two decades later, on October 6, 1962, Leopold Weiss – Harry’s last living sibling and the one who had been brutally attacked in his brother’s home – is said to have jumped off a ledge and fallen six stories to his death. The last of Houdini’s secrets went to the grave with him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It has often been noted that Houdini took far longer to perform many of his stage escapes than was actually necessary, and that he was frequently out of view of the audience during such times. This has generally been assumed to have been for dramatic effect. Authors Kalush and Sloman though offer a far more compelling possibility: “One explanation is that such challenges gave Houdini both the opportunity and an alibi to conduct a mission while he was performing.”
It was, in other words, the perfect cover, for how could a man be responsible for something that occurred elsewhere when he was performing on stage for a captive audience at the time? There are, it should be noted, clear parallels here to the story told by Chuck Barris, who has claimed that he was similarly slipping off to conduct covert missions while performing his duties as a chaperone for the Dating Game.
Of course, no one took Barris seriously because we all know that such things don’t really happen in the real world – or at least not in the world that the media present to us as the real world.
It should also be noted here that Houdini possessed, as do most magicians, seemingly superhuman abilities, such as the ability to dislocate his shoulders at will to slip out of straightjackets. He could also regulate his heart rate, respiration rate and other metabolic functions such that he could survive for extended periods of time with little available oxygen, thus facilitating his escapes.
Such abilities are rather commonplace in the world of magic. One magician was found to be able to identify what card a person was holding by virtue of the fact that he had such extraordinary visual acuity that he could see the reflection of the card in the subject’s pupils. Many magicians are able to pick up a stack of cards and know by feel exactly how many cards they are holding, and are able to distinguish individual cards by subtle thickness variations indistinguishable to people with normal abilities.
How do people gain such incredible physical abilities? Probably the best way of understanding such phenomena is as a function of trauma-based, early childhood training.
It appears then that, at the end of the day, the actors populating the Harry Houdini story are the usual cast of characters: intel operatives, Masons, pedophiles, mind-rapists, occultists, and, of course, entertainers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I, for one, am pleasantly surprised to see that the hack filmmaker who subjected the world to "Kony 2012" is now appearing in some of the most entertaining videos ever to hit the web.