Mesmeric Revelation: Poe

WHATEVER doubt may still envelop the “rationale” of mesmerism, its startling “facts” are now almost universally admitted. Of these latter, those who doubt, are your mere doubters by profession—an unprofitable and disreputable tribe. There can be no more absolute waste of time than the attempt to “prove”, at the present day, that man, by mere exercise of will, can so impress his fellow, as to cast him into an abnormal condition, of which the phenomena resemble very closely those of “death”, or at least resemble them more nearly than they do the phenomena of any other normal condition within our cognizance; that, while in this state, the person so impressed employs only with effort, and then feebly, the external organs of sense, yet perceives, with keenly refined perception, and through channels supposed unknown, matters beyond the scope of the physical organs; that, moreover, his intellectual faculties are wonderfully exalted and invigorated; that his sympathies with the person so impressing him are profound; and, finally, that his susceptibility to the impression increases with its frequency, while, in the same proportion, the peculiar phenomena elicited are more extended and more “pronounced”.

I say that these–which are the laws of mesmerism in its general features–it would be supererogation to demonstrate; nor shall I inflict upon my readers so needless a demonstration; to-day. My purpose at present is a very different one indeed. I am impelled, even in the teeth of a world of prejudice, to detail without comment the very remarkable substance of a colloquy, occurring between a sleep-walker and myself.
I had been long in the habit of mesmerizing the person in question, (Mr. Vankirk,) and the usual acute susceptibility and exaltation of the mesmeric perception had supervened. For many months he had been laboring under confirmed phthisis, the more distressing effects of which had been relieved by my manipulations; and on the night of Wednesday, the fifteenth instant, I was summoned to his bedside.

The invalid was suffering with acute pain in the region of the heart, and breathed with great difficulty, having all the ordinary symptoms of asthma. In spasms such as these he had usually found relief from the application of mustard to the nervous centres, but to-night this had been attempted in vain.

As I entered his room he greeted me with a cheerful smile, and although evidently in much bodily pain, appeared to be, mentally, quite at ease. “I sent for you to-night,” he said, “not so much to administer to my bodily ailment, as to satisfy me concerning certain psychic impressions which, of late, have occasioned me much anxiety and surprise. I need not tell you how skeptical I have hitherto been on the topic of the soul’s immortality. I cannot deny that there has always existed, as if in that very soul which I have been denying, a vague half-sentiment of its own existence. But this half-sentiment at no time amounted to conviction. With it my reason had nothing to do.

All attempts at logical inquiry resulted, indeed, in leaving me more skeptical than before. I had been advised to study Cousin. I studied him in his own works as well as in those of his European and American echoes. The ‘Charles Elwood’ of Mr. Brownson, for example, was placed in my hands. I read it with profound attention. Throughout I found it logical, but the portions which were not “merely” logical were unhappily the initial arguments of the disbelieving hero of the book. In his summing up it seemed evident to me that the reasoner had not even succeeded in convincing himself. His end had plainly forgotten his beginning, like the government of Trinculo. In short, I was not long in perceiving that if man is to be intellectually convinced of his own immortality, he will never be so convinced by the mere abstractions which have been so long the fashion of the moralists of England, of France, and of Germany. Abstractions may amuse and exercise, but take no hold on the mind. Here upon earth, at least, philosophy, I am persuaded, will always in vain call upon us to look upon qualities as things. The will may assent–the soul–the intellect, never.

“I repeat, then, that I only half felt, and never intellectually believed. But latterly there has been a certain deepening of the feeling, until it has come so nearly to resemble the acquiescence of reason that I find it difficult to distinguish between the two. I am enabled, too, plainly to trace this effect to the mesmeric influence. I cannot better explain my meaning than by the hypothesis that the mesmeric exaltation enables me to perceive a train of ratiocination which, in my abnormal existence, convinces, but which, in full accordance with the mesmeric phenomena, does not extend, except through its “effect”, into my normal condition. In sleep-waking, the reasoning and its conclusion–the cause and its effect–are present together. In my natural state, the cause vanishing, the effect only, and perhaps only partially, remains.

“These considerations have led me to think that some good results might ensue from a series of well-directed questions propounded to me while mesmerized. You have often observed the profound self-cognizance evinced by the sleep-walker–the extensive knowledge he displays upon all points relating to the mesmeric condition itself; and from this self-cognizance may be deduced hints for the proper conduct of a catechism.”
I consented of course to make this experiment. A few passes threw Mr. Vankirk into the mesmeric sleep. His breathing became immediately more easy, and he seemed to suffer no physical uneasiness. The following conversation then ensued:–V. in the dialogue representing the patient, and P. myself.

“ P.” Are you asleep?
“ V.” Yes–no I would rather sleep more soundly.
“P.” [“After a few more passes.”] Do you sleep now?
“V.” Yes.
“P.” How do you think your present illness will result?
“V.” [“After a long hesitation and speaking as if with effort”.] I must die.
“P.” Does the idea of death afflict you?
“V.” [“Very quickly”.] No–no!
“P.” Are you pleased with the prospect?
“V.” If I were awake I should like to die, but now it is no matter. The mesmeric condition is so near death as to content me.
“P.” I wish you would explain yourself, Mr. Vankirk.
“V.” I am willing to do so, but it requires more effort than I feel able to make. You do not question me properly.
“P.” What then shall I ask?
“V.” You must begin at the beginning.
“P.” The beginning! but where is the beginning?
“V.” You know that the beginning is GOD. [“This was said in a low, fluctuating tone, and with every sign of the most profound veneration”.]
“P.” What then is God?
“V.” [“Hesitating for many minutes.”] I cannot tell.
“P.” Is not God spirit?
“V.” While I was awake I knew what you meant by “spirit,” but now it seems only a word–such for instance as truth, beauty–a quality, I mean.
“P.” Is not God immaterial?
“V.” There is no immateriality–it is a mere word. That which is not matter, is not at all–unless qualities are things.
“P.” Is God, then, material?
“V.” No. [“This reply startled me very much.”]
“P.” What then is he?
“V.” [“After a long pause, and mutteringly.”] I see–but it is a thing difficult to tell. [“Another long pause.”] He is not spirit, for he exists. Nor is he matter, as “you understand it”. But there are “gradations” of matter of which man knows nothing; the grosser impelling the finer, the finer pervading the grosser. The atmosphere, for example, impels the electric principle, while the electric principle permeates the atmosphere. These gradations of matter increase in rarity or fineness, until we arrive at a matter “unparticled”—without particles–indivisible–”one” and here the law of impulsion and permeation is modified. The ultimate, or unparticled matter, not only permeates all things but impels all things–and thus “is” all things within itself. This matter is God. What men attempt to embody in the word “thought,” is this matter in motion.
“P.” The metaphysicians maintain that all action is reducible to motion and thinking, and that the latter is the origin of the former.
“V.” Yes; and I now see the confusion of idea. Motion is the action of “mind”–not of “thinking”. The unparticled matter, or God, in quiescence, is (as nearly as we can conceive it) what men call mind. And the power of self-movement (equivalent in effect to human volition) is, in the unparticled matter, the result of its unity and Omni prevalence; “how” I know not, and now clearly see that I shall never know. But the unparticled matter, set in motion by a law, or quality, existing within itself, is thinking.
“P.” Can you give me no more precise idea of what you term the unparticled matter?
“V.” The matters of which man is cognizant, escape the senses in gradation. We have, for example, a metal, a piece of wood, a drop of water, the atmosphere, a gas, caloric, electricity, the luminiferous ether. Now we call all these things matter, and embrace all matter in one general definition; but in spite of this, there can be no two ideas more essentially distinct than that which we attach to a metal, and that which we attach to the luminiferous ether. When we reach the latter, we feel an almost irresistible inclination to class it with spirit, or with nihility. The only consideration which restrains us is our conception of its atomic constitution; and here, even, we have to seek aid from our notion of an atom, as something possessing in infinite minuteness, solidity, palpability, weight. Destroy the idea of the atomic constitution and we should no longer be able to regard the ether as an entity, or at least as matter. For want of a better word we might term it spirit. Take, now, a step beyond the luminiferous ether–conceive a matter as much more rare than the ether, as this ether is more rare than the metal, and we arrive at once (in spite of all the school dogmas) at a unique mass–an unparticled matter. For although we may admit infinite littleness in the atoms themselves, the infinitude of littleness in the spaces between them is an absurdity. There will be a point–there will be a degree of rarity, at which, if the atoms are sufficiently numerous, the interspaces must vanish, and the mass absolutely coalesce. But the consideration of the atomic constitution being now taken away, the nature of the mass inevitably glides into what we conceive of spirit. It is clear, however, that it is as fully matter as before. The truth is, it is impossible to conceive spirit, since it is impossible to imagine what is not. When we flatter ourselves that we have formed its conception, we have merely deceived our understanding by the consideration of infinitely rarified matter.
“P.” There seems to me an insurmountable objection to the idea of absolute coalescence;–and that is the very slight resistance experienced by the heavenly bodies in their revolutions through space—a resistance now ascertained, it is true, to exist in “some” degree, but which is, nevertheless, so slight as to have been quite overlooked by the sagacity even of Newton. We know that the resistance of bodies is, chiefly, in proportion to their density. Absolute coalescence is absolute density. Where there are no interspaces, there can be no yielding. An ether, absolutely dense, would put an infinitely more effectual stop to the progress of a star than would an ether of adamant or of iron.
“V.” Your objection is answered with an ease which is nearly in the ratio of its apparent un-answerability.–As regards the progress of the star, it can make no difference whether the star passes through the ether “or the ether through it”. There is no astronomical error more unaccountable than that which reconciles the known retardation of the comets with the idea of their passage through an ether: for, however rare this ether be supposed, it would put a stop to all sidereal revolution in a very far briefer period than has been admitted by those astronomers who have endeavored to slur over a point which they found it impossible to comprehend. The retardation actually experienced is, on the other hand, about that which might be expected from the “friction” of the ether in the instantaneous passage through the orb. In the one case, the retarding force is momentary and complete within itself—in the other it is endlessly accumulative.
“P.” But in all this–in this identification of mere matter with God—is there nothing of irreverence? [“I was forced to repeat this question before the sleep-walker fully comprehended my meaning”.]
“V.” Can you say “why” matter should be less reverenced than mind? But you forget that the matter of which I speak is, in all respects, the very “mind” or “spirit” of the schools, so far as regards its high capacities, and is, moreover, the “matter” of these schools at the same time. God, with all the powers attributed to spirit, is but the perfection of matter.
“P.” You assert, then, that the unparticled matter, in motion, is thought?
“V.” In general, this motion is the universal thought of the universal mind. This thought creates. All created things are but the thoughts of God.
“P.” You say, “in general.”
“V.” Yes. The universal mind is God. For new individualities, “matter” is necessary.
“P.” But you now speak of “mind” and “matter” as do the metaphysicians.
“V.” Yes–to avoid confusion. When I say “mind,” I mean the unparticled or ultimate matter; by “matter,” I intend all else.
“P.” You were saying that “for new individualities matter is necessary.”
“V.” Yes; for mind, existing un-incorporate, is merely God. To create individual, thinking beings, it was necessary to incarnate portions of the divine mind. Thus man is individualized. Divested of corporate investiture, he were God. Now, the particular motion of the incarnated portions of the unparticled matter is the thought of man; as the motion of the whole is that of God.
“P.” You say that divested of the body man will be God?
“V.” [“After much hesitation.”] I could not have said this; it is an absurdity.
“P.” [“Referring to my notes.”] You “did” say that “divested of corporate investiture man were God.”
“V.” And this is true. Man thus divested “would be” God–would be un-individualized. But he can never be thus divested–at least never “will be”–else we must imagine an action of God returning upon itself–a purposeless and futile action. Man is a creature. Creatures are thoughts of God. It is the nature of thought to be irrevocable.
“P.” I do not comprehend. You say that man will never put off the body?
“V.” I say that he will never be bodiless.
“P.” Explain.
“V.” There are two bodies–the rudimental and the complete; corresponding with the two conditions of the worm and the butterfly. What we call “death,” is but the painful metamorphosis. Our present incarnation is progressive, preparatory, temporary. Our future is perfected, ultimate, immortal. The ultimate life is the full design.
“P.” But of the worm’s metamorphosis we are palpably cognizant.
“V.” “We”, certainly–but not the worm. The matter of which our rudimental body is composed, is within the ken of the organs of that body; or, more distinctly, our rudimental organs are adapted to the matter of which is formed the rudimental body; but not to that of which the ultimate is composed. The ultimate body thus escapes our rudimental senses, and we perceive only the shell which falls, in decaying, from the inner form; not that inner form itself; but this inner form, as well as the shell, is appreciable by those who have already acquired the ultimate life.
“P.” You have often said that the mesmeric state very nearly resembles death. How is this?
“V.” When I say that it resembles death, I mean that it resembles the ultimate life; for when I am entranced the senses of my rudimental life are in abeyance, and I perceive external things directly, without organs, through a medium which I shall employ in the ultimate, unorganized life.
“P.” Unorganized?
“V.” Yes; organs are contrivances by which the individual is brought into sensible relation with particular classes and forms of matter, to the exclusion of other classes and forms. The organs of man are adapted to his rudimental condition, and to that only; his ultimate condition, being unorganized, is of unlimited comprehension in all points but one–the nature of the volition of God–that is to say, the motion of the unparticled matter. You will have a distinct idea of the ultimate body by conceiving it to be entire brain. This it is “not”; but a conception of this nature will bring you near a comprehension of what it “is”. A luminous body imparts vibration to the luminiferous ether. The vibrations generate similar ones within the retina; these again communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain; the brain, also, similar ones to the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the mind of the rudimental life communicates with the external world; and this external world is, to the rudimental life, limited, through the idiosyncrasy of its organs. But in the ultimate, unorganized life, the external world reaches the whole body, (which is of a substance having affinity to brain, as I have said,) with no other intervention than that of an infinitely rarer ether than even the luminiferous; and to this ether–in unison with it–the whole body vibrates, setting in motion the unparticled matter which permeates it. It is to the absence of idiosyncratic organs, therefore, that we must attribute the nearly unlimited perception of the ultimate life. To rudimental beings, organs are the cages necessary to confine them until fledged.
“P.” You speak of rudimental “beings.” Are there other rudimental thinking beings than man?
“V.” The multitudinous conglomeration of rare matter into nebulae, planets, suns, and other bodies which are neither nebulae, suns, nor planets, is for the sole purpose of supplying “pabulum” for the idiosyncrasy of the organs of an infinity of rudimental beings. But for the necessity of the rudimental, prior to the ultimate life, there would have been no bodies such as these. Each of these is tenanted by a distinct variety of organic, rudimental, thinking creatures. In all, the organs vary with the features of the place tenanted. At death, or metamorphosis, these creatures, enjoying the ultimate life–immortality–and cognizant of all secrets but “the one”, act all things and pass everywhere by mere volition:–indwelling, not the stars, which to us seem the sole palpability’s, and for the accommodation of which we blindly deem space created–but that SPACE itself—that infinity of which the truly substantive vastness swallows up the star-shadows–blotting them out as non-entities from the perception of the angels.
“P.” You say that “but for the “necessity” of the rudimental life” there would have been no stars. But why this necessity?
“V.” In the inorganic life, as well as in the inorganic matter generally, there is nothing to impede the action of one simple “unique” law–the Divine Volition. With the view of producing impediment, the organic life and matter, (complex, substantial, and law-encumbered,) were contrived.
“P.” But again–why need this impediment have been produced?
“V.” The result of law inviolate is perfection–right—negative happiness. The result of law violate is imperfection, wrong, positive pain. Through the impediments afforded by the number, complexity, and substantiality of the laws of organic life and matter, the violation of law is rendered, to a certain extent, practicable. Thus pain, which in the inorganic life is impossible, is possible in the organic.
“P.” But to what good end is pain thus rendered possible?
“V.” All things are either good or bad by comparison. A sufficient analysis will show that pleasure, in all cases, is but the contrast of pain. “Positive” pleasure is a mere idea. To be happy at any one point we must have suffered at the same. Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed. But it has been shown that, in the inorganic life, pain cannot be thus the necessity for the organic. The pain of the primitive life of Earth, is the sole basis of the bliss of the ultimate life in Heaven.

“P.” Still, there is one of your expressions which I find it impossible to comprehend–“the truly “substantive” vastness of infinity.”
“V.” This, probably, is because you have no sufficiently generic conception of the term ““substance”” itself. We must not regard it as a quality, but as a sentiment:–it is the perception, in thinking beings, of the adaptation of matter to their organization. There are many things on the Earth, which would be nihility to the inhabitants of Venus—many things visible and tangible in Venus, which we could not be brought to appreciate as existing at all. But to the inorganic beings–to the angels–the whole of the unparticled matter is substance–that is to say, the whole of what we term “space” is to them the truest substantiality;–the stars, meantime, through what we consider their materiality, escaping the angelic sense, just in proportion as the unparticled matter, through what we consider its immateriality, eludes the organic.
As the sleep-walker pronounced these latter words, in a feeble tone, I observed on his countenance a singular expression, which somewhat alarmed me, and induced me to awake him at once. No sooner had I done this, than, with a bright smile irradiating all his features, he fell back upon his pillow and expired. I noticed that in less than a minute afterward his corpse had all the stern rigidity of stone. His brow was of the coldness of ice. Thus, ordinarily, should it have appeared, only after long pressure from Azrael’s hand. Had the sleep-walker, indeed, during the latter portion of his discourse, been addressing me from out the region of the shadows?

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE®

Author: Edgar Allen Poe
CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

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From All of Us to All of You, Have A Very Happy & Safe Halloween!

Halloween

Type of Holiday: Folkloric
Date of Observation: October 31
Where Celebrated: United States, British Isles
Symbols and Customs: Bat, Black Cat, Bonfires, Colcannon, Costumes, Goblins, Harvest Sheaves or Harvest Dummy, Jack-O-Lantern, Nuts or Apples, Trick-orTreating, Witch
Colors: Black and orange. Orange, the color of the Jack-O-Lantern, is a symbol of strength and endurance. Along with gold and brown, it stands for autumn and the harvest. Black is primarily a symbol of death and darkness. The black of the witch’s cloak and the black cat are a reminder that Halloween was once a festival of the dead.
Related Holidays: All Souls’ Day, Guy Fawkes Day, Samhain

ORIGINS

Halloween can be traced directly back to SAMHAIN, the ancient Celtic harvest festival honoring the Lord of the Dead. Observed on November 1 in the British Isles and parts of what is now France, Samhain also marked the beginning of the Celtic New Year, while Samhain Eve marked the end of the old year. The night was a time of transition between the old and the new, a time when the separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead was very thin. On Samhain Eve the boundary between this world and the netherworld of fairies, gods, spirits, and magic was at its thinnest. As a result, passage between the two dimensions was easier than at any other time. Visitations from the spirits of one’s own departed ancestor, divine beings, or demons were believed to be possible- though not desirable.

The Celts believed that the souls of those who had died during the previous year gathered to travel together to the land of the dead. They lit BONFIRES and sacrificed fruits and vegetables, hoping to win the favor of the spirits of the deceased and to avoid their punishments. Sometimes the living disguised themselves in masks and COSTUMES so that the spirits of the dead wouldn’t recognize them. Charms, spells, and predictions about the future seemed to carry special weight on the eve of Samhain (see NUTS OR APPLES ).

By the fourth century, the Christian church was doing everything it could to stamp out pagan festivals like Samhain, but the Celts wouldn’t give up their ancient rituals and symbols. So the Christian church gave them new names and meanings. November 1 became All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’ Day in England), a celebration of all the Christian saints. The night of October 31 became All Hallows’ Eve (later Halloween). But its association with the supernatural persisted.

Halloween came to America with the Irish immigrants of the 1840s. Their folk customs and beliefs merged with existing agricultural traditions. The early American Halloween, therefore, was not only a time to foretell the future and dabble in the occult but to complete certain seasonal tasks associated with the fall harvest. Over the years the holiday’s agricultural significance faded, and it became primarily a children’s holiday-a time to dress up as the ghosts and GOBLINS their ancestors at one time feared.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Bat

Both positive and negative symbolic meanings have been associated with bats over the centuries. On the one hand, they are eerie creatures, winged mammals who fly around like ghosts at night and sleep hanging upside down during the day. On the other, they are regarded as particularly intelligent. The bat is a symbol of good fortune in China, and in ancient times, placing drops of bat’s blood under a woman’s pillow was believed to guarantee that she would bear many children. Early pictures of WITCHES show them worshipping a horned figure with the wings of a bat-most likely the devil. Before attending a Sabbath or witches’ gathering, they would rub a special ointment containing bats’ blood into their bodies. The wings and entrails of bats went into their brews. The fact that bats could fly around at night made it easy to believe that they possessed mysterious powers. And when they hung upside down to sleep, they draped their wings around their bodies like witches’ cloaks.

Because of their association with witches, the black paper bats that can be seen in Halloween decorations today are symbols of evil and the supernatural.

Black Cat

Long before they were associated with Halloween, cats were believed to have magical powers. The ancient Egyptians worshipped a cat-goddess named Pasht and used cats as a motif in their furniture and jewelry designs. The Celts believed that cats were human beings who had been changed into animals by evil powers. During the ancient celebration of SAMHAIN (see “Origins” above), it was customary to throw cats into the fire.

Back when people feared WITCHES and accused one another of witchcraft, cats were believed to assist witches in carrying out their magic. Since all cats looked black at night, the witch’s cat was always thought of as being black. People were especially wary of cats at Halloween, when witches were known to be out riding the skies on their broomsticks. The fact that cats could see in the dark and move without making any noise added to their reputation as animals that couldn’t be trusted.

With their links to the ancient festival of Samhain and later to witches, cats found a permanent place in the folklore of Halloween. Typically shown with their backs arched and their yellow eyes glaring, the cat is symbolic of the spirit of evil.

Bonfires

Bonfires were an important part of the celebration of Samhain, the ancient festival from which Halloween derived. On a night when evil spirits were believed to be roaming about, a bonfire must have provided a reassuring source of light and comfort. Live animals and even men-usually criminals or prisoners of war-were often burned alive as sacrifices to Saman, the Lord of Death. Bonfires were also kindled on MIDSUMMER DAY and at other seasonal festivals to promote fertility, to protect the fields against thunder and lightning, and to ward off sickness.

Although not part of the American Halloween ritual, bonfires are still common in parts of Ireland on October 31. After the flames have subsided, young people often sit around the glowing embers and eat blackened potatoes that have been roasted on the coals.

Colcannon

Colcannon is a traditional dish made of mashed potatoes, parsnips, and onions that is still served on Halloween in Ireland. Just as tiny figures or beans were hidden in Kings’ Cakes on EPIPHANY and CARNIVAL, small objects are often concealed in the colcannon. If someone finds a coin, it means that he or she will be very wealthy. A ring stands for marriage, a doll for children, and a thimble for spinsterhood.

Costumes

From ancient times, people have worn masks to frighten off demons and thus avoid droughts, epidemics, and other disasters. Even after the pagan festival of the dead known as SAMHAIN became the Christian All Hallows’ Eve, the people of Europe continued to feel uneasy at this time of year. If they left their homes after dark, they often disguised themselves with masks and costumes so they wouldn’t be recognized by the evil spirits who were out roaming the earth. It was only natural for them to dress up as the ghosts, witches, and GOBLINS they were most fearful of meeting.

Trick-or-treaters in the United States are still apt to dress up in costumes that reflect their culture’s most prevalent obsessions. During the Great Depression, for example, children often disguised themselves as hobos, burglars, pirates, and Indians-in other words, as economic and social outcasts, symbolic of the troubles from which their parents were struggling to escape. In contrast, during the 1980s children were dressing up as television and movie heroes and characters from television commercials, such as E.T., Ninja Turtles, or California Raisins. Witches and skeletons have always been popular costumes, representing the fear of death and evil; but nowadays it is not unusual to see children dressed up as Freddie Krueger and other horror movie characters, ax murderers, or nuclear waste materials. Although they may not do so consciously, children who disguise themselves as the agents of death and destruction are actually helping themselves (and their parents) defuse their deepest fears.

Goblins

Goblins are symbolic of the evil spirits that were believed to emerge at SAMHAIN and roam the earth at Halloween. They were ugly, menacing creatures who lived underground or in dark places. The word “goblin” is actually the French name for these fairy folk, who resembled leprechauns and pixies. Some scholars say that during the Stone Age a small, dark-skinned people lived in Northern Europe and the British Isles. They wore green clothing so they could conceal themselves in the forests and fields, and they lived in low huts with turf as their roofs. They waylaid travelers, kidnapped children, and sometimes committed murder. Over the centuries, these real dwarf people were absorbed into the Celtic population around them. But they survived on a mythical level as the elves, goblins, and other fairy folk who also lived in low, mound-like houses and wore green clothing. They were symbols of the danger and evil that were believed to threaten people at this time of year.

Harvest Sheaves or Harvest Dummy

Even in urban and suburban areas today, people tend to romanticize the tradition of the harvest and rural lifestyles by decorating their homes with sheaves of Indian corn, gourds, and pumpkins. Usually dried and attached to fence posts, outdoor lighting fixtures, or porch railings, these harvest decorations represent the approaching death of the natural world in the form of winter.

Dummies resembling scarecrows are often placed outside the house, sometimes in the midst of an arrangement that includes cornstalks and pumpkins, symbolizing the harvest that is being brought in from the garden or the fields. Unlike the scarecrow designed to protect the summer crops from hungry birds and animals, however, the Halloween dummy is usually placed near the house, perhaps to protect its inhabitants from the ravages of the approaching winter.

Jack-O-Lantern

In England and Ireland, people often saw a pale, eerie light moving over bogs and marshes that resembled a lantern held in someone’s hand. They referred to the phenomenon as “Lantern Men,” “Hob-O’-Lantern,” “Jack-O’-Lantern,” or “Will-O’-theWisp.” Similarly, the ghostly lights that seemed to hover over graves dug in marshy places were called “Corpse Candles.” It’s possible that these strange lights were the result of the spontaneous combustion of methane or marsh gas given off by rotting plant and animal life. But some people thought Jack-O-Lanterns were the souls of sinners condemned to walk the earth, or the souls of men who had been lost at sea.

Jack-O-Lantern became a legendary folk figure in Great Britain. He was the spirit of a blacksmith named Jack who was too evil to get into heaven but who was not allowed into hell because he had outwitted the devil. Doomed to wander the earth forever, he scooped up a glowing ember with the vegetable he happened to be eating at the time and used it as a lantern to light his way.

Jack-O-Lanterns, as they are known today-hollowed-out pumpkins with carved faces and lit candles burning inside-were originally made from turnips in Scotland, potatoes in Ireland, and “punkies” or large beets known as mangel-wurzels in England. When the Scottish and Irish immigrants who settled in the United States discovered pumpkins, they immediately recognized them as the ideal shape and size for Jack-O-Lanterns. Uncarved, they serve as a symbol of the harvest and are often displayed on front porches right up until THANKSGIVING. Carved and illuminated by a candle, they are symbolic of death and the spirit world.

Nuts or Apples

The nuts and apples traditionally used to predict the future on Halloween in the British Isles were once symbols of the harvest. Nuts, symbolic of life and fertility, were so much a part of Halloween that in some parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland the night of October 31 was called “Nutcrack Night.” Scottish young people put pairs of nuts named after certain couples into the fire. If the pair burned to ashes together, it meant that the couple could expect a happy life together. If they crackled or sprang apart, it meant that quarrels and separation were inevitable. In Wales, a brightly blazing nut meant prosperity, while one that smoldered or popped meant bad luck. Nuts may have taken the place of the live animal sacrifices performed during the ancient Celtic New Year celebration known as SAMHAIN .

Apples were also considered fertility symbols and were used to make predictions about love. At the first Halloween parties, people roasted apples and bobbed for them in tubs of water. If a boy came up with an apple in his teeth, it meant that the girl he loved wanted him as her boyfriend. In a traditional game known as Snap Apple, the boys took turns trying to bite an apple that was twirled on the end of a stick. The first to succeed would be the first to marry. For this reason, Halloween was sometimes referred to as Snap Apple Night.

Girls pared apples on Halloween, trying to keep the peel in a single unbroken strip. Then they would swing it three times around their head and throw it over their left shoulder. The fallen peel was supposed to form the initial of their future husband’s name. Apple seeds were also used to foretell the identity of a girl’s future mate. Seeds named for two different boys were stuck on the girl’s eyelids. The seed that stayed on the longest was her true sweetheart-although skillful winking or twitching often gave one seed the advantage.

Trick-or-Treating

The Halloween custom known as trick-or-treating-going from house to house begging for candy and threatening to cause mischief for those who don’t cooperate-seems to have originated in the British Isles. It was customary for the poor to go begging on ALL SOULS’ DAY in England, and children eventually took over the custom. In Ireland, legend has it that farmers used to go from house to house asking for food for their Halloween festivities in the name of the ancient god, Muck Olla. Good luck and wealth were promised to those who contributed; those who were stingy were threatened with bad luck.

Many believe that trick-or-treating is a relic of the Celtic New Year celebration known as SAMHAIN. Since this was the time of year that the spirits of the dead returned to visit the living, people would unbolt their doors, keep their hearth fires burning, and set out gifts of food to appease these troublesome spirits. Later, they dressed up as spirits themselves (see COSTUMES ) and demanded contributions from neighbors for communal feasts.

What “Trick or treat” really means is “Give me a treat or I’ll play a trick on you.” The phrase is American in origin, and it dates back to about the 1930s. It combines the food- and money-begging traditions of England and Ireland with the ancient belief in supernatural activity on this night. In fact, the “tricks” that are played on Halloween (or Mischief Night, October 30) often look as though supernatural forces were behind them. A favorite Halloween prank in rural areas, for example, involves disassembling a piece of farm equipment and reassembling it on a rooftop. Pranks characterized by a reversal of the usual order symbolize both the unpredictable weather at this time of year and the delicate balance between man and nature that can so easily be upset. In the nineteenth century, favorite Halloween pranks included “threshold tricks”-removing gates and fences, soaping or rattling windows, fixing bells so they rang constantly, and tying doors shut. The message behind these and other attacks on domestic security is the importance of exercising caution at a time of year when everyone is vulnerable to the forces of death and destruction. Just as SAMHAIN was the time for the pagans to secure their farms and animals against the winter weather, Halloween pranks serve as a reminder that nature will not be kind to those who fail to take the necessary precautions.

In the 1930s, people who offered candy to Halloween visitors were genuinely concerned with protecting their homes against pranksters. But the custom of playing tricks on Halloween declined in popularity over the years, and by the 1950s, most children had no idea what kind of “tricks” they were expected to perform; all they wanted was the candy. Trick-or-treating rituals underwent a major shift in the 1970s and 1980s, when stories of razor blades or pins concealed in candy and apples began to surface. Suddenly symbolic fears were transformed into real ones, and children’s freedom to roam the streets after dark was curtailed in many areas. Rather than being invited indoors for homemade treats, children now typically wait on the porch or doorstep while the host or hostess hands them their goodies. Young children are usually accompanied by their parents, who check the candy carefully for signs of tampering before allowing their children to eat it. In some areas, trick-or-treating is discouraged altogether. Instead, children attend organized Halloween parties.

Witch

The witch is probably the most recognizable symbol of Halloween. The name comes from the Saxon word wica, meaning “wise one.” Most witches were pagans, which explains why they fell out of favor as Christianity grew in popularity. Several times a year, witches from all over a certain region would gather in a sacred spot, such as the Hartz Mountains of Germany. Halloween was one of several dates on which these Witches’ Sabbaths took place. They would perform marriages, initiate new witches, and participate in fertility dances. Sometimes the witches would gallop about on branches or broomsticks.

The early Americans’ belief in witchcraft came from the European continent, particularly from Scottish and Irish immigrants. The GOBLINS and other evil spirits they feared at Halloween became identified with witches. Farmers in the Pennsylvania Dutch country painted hex signs on their barns to scare off witches. Iron and salt-two things that witches wouldn’t touch-were often placed by the beds of newborn babies.

By the nineteenth century, few educated people took witchcraft very seriously. But those who were less educated, particularly those living in rural areas, went right on believing. Today, witches are usually depicted as old women with matted hair, black robes, and bony fingers, with BLACK CATS as their only companions. They are symbols of the evil spirits traditionally believed to be roaming the earth at Halloween.

FURTHER READING

Barth, Edna. Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of Halloween Symbols. New York: Seabury Press, 1972. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. New York: Meridian Books, 1994. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Purdy, Susan. Festivals for You to Celebrate. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Santino, Jack. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994. Thompson, Sue Ellen. Halloween Program Sourcebook. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2000. Tuleja, Tad. Curious Customs: The Stories Behind 296 Popular American Rituals. New York: Harmony, 1987.

This Day in History: Harry Houdini Makes His Final Escape (1926)

Harry Houdini

 

Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz, later Ehrich Weiss or Harry Weiss; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-born American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice in vaudeville in the US and then as “Harry Handcuff Houdini” on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it.

In 1904, thousands watched as he tried to escape from special handcuffs commissioned by London’s Daily Mirror, keeping them in suspense for an hour. Another stunt saw him buried alive and only just able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near-breakdown. While many suspected that these escapes were faked, Houdini presented himself as the scourge of fake spiritualists. As President of the Society of American Magicians, he was keen to uphold professional standards and expose fraudulent artists. He was also quick to sue anyone who imitated his escape stunts.

Houdini made several movies, but quit acting when it failed to bring in money. He was also a keen aviator, and aimed to become the first man to fly a plane in Australia.

Early life

Erik Weisz was born in Budapest to a Jewish family.[3] His parents were Rabbi Mayer Sámuel Weisz (1829–1892) and Cecília Steiner (1841–1913). Houdini was one of seven children: Herman M. (1863–1885) who was Houdini’s half-brother, by Rabbi Weisz’s first marriage; Nathan J. (1870–1927); Gottfried William (1872–1925); Theodore (1876–1945);[4] Leopold D. (1879–1962); and Carrie Gladys (1882–1959),[5] who was left almost blind after a childhood accident.[6]

Weisz arrived in the United States on July 3, 1878, on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers.[7] The family changed their name to the German spelling Weiss, and Erik became Ehrich. The family lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as Rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation.

According to the 1880 census, the family lived on Appleton Street.[8] On June 6, 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen. Losing his job at Zion in 1882, Rabbi Weiss and family moved to Milwaukee and fell into dire poverty.[9] In 1887, Rabbi Weiss moved with Ehrich to New York City, where they lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. He was joined by the rest of the family once Rabbi Weiss found permanent housing. As a child, Ehrich Weiss took several jobs, making his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself “Ehrich, the Prince of the Air”. He was also a champion cross country runner in his youth. When Weiss became a professional magician he began calling himself “Harry Houdini”, after the French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, after reading Robert-Houdin’s autobiography in 1890. Weiss incorrectly believed that an i at the end of a name meant “like” in French. In later life, Houdini claimed that the first part of his new name, Harry, was an homage to Harry Kellar, whom he also admired, though it was more likely adapted from “Ehri,” a nickname for “Ehrich,” which is how he was known to his family.[10] When he was a teenager, Houdini was coached by the magician Joseph Rinn at the Pastime Athletic Club.[11]

Houdini became an active Freemason and was a member of St. Cecile Lodge #568 in New York City.[12] In 1918, he registered for selective service as Harry Handcuff Houdini.[13]

Magic Career

Houdini began his magic career in 1891, but had little success.[14] He appeared in a tent act with strongman Emil Jarrow.[15] He performed in dime museums and sideshows, and even doubled as “The Wild Man” at a circus. Houdini focused initially on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the “King of Cards”.[16] Some – but not all – professional magicians would come to regard Houdini as a competent but not particularly skilled sleight-of-hand artist, lacking the grace and finesse required to achieve excellence in that craft.[17][18] He soon began experimenting with escape acts.

In 1893, while performing with his brother “Dash” (Theodore) at Coney Island as “The Brothers Houdini”, Houdini met a fellow performer, Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Rahner. Bess was initially courted by Dash, but she and Houdini married in 1894, with Bess replacing Dash in the act, which became known as “The Houdinis”. For the rest of Houdini’s performing career, Bess worked as his stage assistant.

Houdini’s big break came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in St. Paul, Minnesota. Impressed by Houdini’s handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900, Beck arranged for Houdini to tour Europe. After some days of unsuccessful interviews in London, Houdini’s British agent Harry Day helped him to get an interview with C. Dundas Slater, then manager of the Alhambra Theatre. He was introduced to William Melville and gave a demonstration of escape from handcuffs at Scotland Yard.[19] He succeeded in baffling the police so effectively that he was booked at the Alhambra for six months. His show was an immediate hit and his salary rose to $300 a week.[20]

Houdini became widely known as “The Handcuff King.” He toured England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia. In each city, Houdini challenged local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes, he was first stripped nude and searched. In Moscow, he escaped from a Siberian prison transport van, claiming that, had he been unable to free himself, he would have had to travel to Siberia, where the only key was kept. In Cologne, he sued a police officer, Werner Graff, who alleged that he made his escapes via bribery.[21] Houdini won the case when he opened the judge’s safe (he later said the judge had forgotten to lock it). With his new-found wealth, Houdini purchased a dress said to have been made for Queen Victoria. He then arranged a grand reception where he presented his mother in the dress to all their relatives. Houdini said it was the happiest day of his life. In 1904, Houdini returned to the U.S. and purchased a house for $25,000 (equivalent to $680,926 in 2017), a brownstone at 278 W. 113th Street in Harlem, New York City.[22]

Whilst on tour in Europe in 1902, Houdini visited Blois with the aim of meeting the widow of Emile Houdin, the son of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, for an interview and permission to visit his grave. He did not receive permission but still visited the grave.[23] Houdini believed that he had been treated unfairly and later wrote a negative account of the incident in his magazine, claiming he was “treated most discourteously by Madame W. Emile Robert-Houdin.”[23] In 1906, he sent a letter to the French magazine L’Illusionniste stating: “You will certainly enjoy the article on Robert Houdin I am about to publish in my magazine. Yes, my dear friend, I think I can finally demolish your idol, who has so long been placed on a pedestal that he did not deserve.”[24]

In 1906, Houdini created his own publication, the Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine.[25] It was a competitor to The Sphinx, but was short-lived and only two volumes were released until August 1908. Magic historian Jim Steinmeyer has noted that: “Houdini couldn’t resist using the journal for his own crusades, attacking his rivals, praising his own appearances, and subtly rewriting history to favor his view of magic.”[26]

From 1907 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He freed himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in sight of street audiences. Because of imitators, Houdini put his “handcuff act” behind him on January 25, 1908, and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Houdini also expanded his repertoire with his escape challenge act, in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him. These included nailed packing crates (sometimes lowered into water), riveted boilers, wet sheets, mail bags,[27] and even the belly of a whale that had washed ashore in Boston. Brewers in Scranton, Pennsylvania and other cities challenged Houdini to escape from a barrel after they filled it with beer.[28]

Many of these challenges were arranged with local merchants in one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing. Rather than promote the idea that he was assisted by spirits, as did the Davenport Brothers and others, Houdini’s advertisements showed him making his escapes via dematerializing, although Houdini himself never claimed to have supernatural powers.[29]

After much research, Houdini wrote a collection of articles on the history of magic, which were expanded into The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin published in 1908. In this book he attacked his former idol Robert-Houdin as liar and a fraud for having claimed the invention of automata and effects such as aerial suspension, which had been in existence for many years.[30][31] Many of the allegations in the book were dismissed by magicians and researchers who defended Robert-Houdin. Magician Jean Hugard would later write a full rebuttal to Houdini’s book.[32][33][34]

In 1913, Houdini introduced the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water, holding his breath for more than three minutes. He would go on performing this escape for the rest of his life.

During his career, Houdini explained some of his tricks in books written for the magic brotherhood. In Handcuff Secrets (1909), he revealed how many locks and handcuffs could be opened with properly applied force, others with shoestrings. Other times, he carried concealed lockpicks or keys. When tied down in ropes or straitjackets, he gained wiggle room by enlarging his shoulders and chest, moving his arms slightly away from his body.[29]

His straitjacket escape was originally performed behind curtains, with him popping out free at the end. Houdini’s brother, (who was also an escape artist, billing himself as Theodore Hardeen), discovered that audiences were more impressed when the curtains were eliminated so they could watch him struggle to get out. On more than one occasion, they both performed straitjacket escapes while dangling upside-down from the roof of a building in the same city.[29]

For most of his career, Houdini was a headline act in vaudeville. For many years, he was the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville. One of Houdini’s most notable non-escape stage illusions was performed at the New York Hippodrome, when he vanished a full-grown elephant from the stage.[35]He had purchased this trick from the magician Charles Morritt.[36][37][38] In 1923, Houdini became president of Martinka & Co., America’s oldest magic company. The business is still in operation today.

He also served as President of the Society of American Magicians (a.k.a. S.A.M.) from 1917 until his death in 1926. Founded on May 10, 1902, in the back room of Martinka’s magic shop in New York, the Society expanded under the leadership of Harry Houdini during his term as National President from 1917 to 1926. Houdini was magic’s greatest visionary. He sought to create a large, unified national network of professional and amateur magicians. Wherever he traveled, he gave a lengthy formal address to the local magic club, made speeches, and usually threw a banquet for the members at his own expense. He said “The Magicians Clubs as a rule are small: they are weak … but if we were amalgamated into one big body the society would be stronger, and it would mean making the small clubs powerful and worthwhile. Members would find a welcome wherever they happened to be and, conversely, the safeguard of a city-to-city hotline to track exposers and other undesirables.”

For most of 1916, while on his vaudeville tour, Houdini had been recruiting—at his own expense—local magic clubs to join the S.A.M. in an effort to revitalize what he felt was a weak organization. Houdini persuaded groups in Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City to join. As had happened in London, he persuaded magicians to join. The Buffalo club joined as the first branch, (later assembly) of the Society. Chicago Assembly No. 3 was, as the name implies, the third regional club to be established by the S.A.M., whose assemblies now number in the hundreds. In 1917, he signed Assembly Number Three’s charter into existence, and that charter and this club continue to provide Chicago magicians with a connection to each other and to their past. Houdini dined with, addressed, and got pledges from similar clubs in Detroit, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cincinnati and elsewhere. This was the biggest movement ever in the history of magic. In places where no clubs existed, he rounded up individual magicians, introduced them to each other, and urged them into the fold.

By the end of 1916, magicians’ clubs in San Francisco and other cities that Houdini had not visited were offering to become assemblies. He had created the richest and longest-surviving organization of magicians in the world. It now embraces almost 6,000 dues-paying members and almost 300 assemblies worldwide. In July 1926, Houdini was elected for the ninth successive time President of the Society of American Magicians. Every other president has only served for one year. He also was President of the Magicians’ Club of London.[39]

In the final years of his life (1925/26), Houdini launched his own full-evening show, which he billed as “Three Shows in One: Magic, Escapes, and Fraud Mediums Exposed”.[40]

Notable escapes

Mirror challenge

In 1904, the London Daily Mirror newspaper challenged Houdini to escape from special handcuffs that it claimed had taken Nathaniel Hart, a locksmith from Birmingham, five years to make. Houdini accepted the challenge for March 17 during a matinée performance at London’s Hippodrome theater. It was reported that 4000 people and more than 100 journalists turned out for the much-hyped event. The escape attempt dragged on for over an hour, during which Houdini emerged from his “ghost house” (a small screen used to conceal the method of his escape) several times. On one occasion he asked if the cuffs could be removed so he could take off his coat. The Mirror representative, Frank Parker, refused, saying Houdini could gain an advantage if he saw how the cuffs were unlocked. Houdini promptly took out a pen-knife and, holding the knife in his teeth, used it to cut his coat from his body. Some 56 minutes later, Houdini’s wife appeared on stage and gave him a kiss. Many thought that in her mouth was the key to unlock the special handcuffs. However, it has since been suggested that Bess did not in fact enter the stage at all, and that this theory is unlikely due to the size of the 6-inch key[41] Houdini then went back behind the curtain. After an hour and ten minutes, Houdini emerged free. As he was paraded on the shoulders of the cheering crowd, he broke down and wept. Houdini later said it was the most difficult escape of his career.[42]

After Houdini’s death, his friend Martin Beck was quoted in Will Goldston’s book, Sensational Tales of Mystery Men, as admitting that Houdini was bested that day and had appealed to his wife, Bess, for help. Goldston goes on to claim that Bess begged the key from the Mirrorrepresentative, then slipped it to Houdini in a glass of water. It was stated in the book The Secret Life of Houdini that the key required to open the specially designed Mirror handcuffs was 6 inches long, and could not have been smuggled to Houdini in a glass of water. Goldston offered no proof of his account, and many modern biographers have found evidence (notably in the custom design of the handcuffs) that the Mirrorchallenge may have been arranged by Houdini and that his long struggle to escape was pure showmanship.[43]

This escape was discussed in depth on the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum in an interview with Houdini expert, magician and escape artist Dorothy Dietrich of Scranton’s Houdini Museum.[44]

A full-sized design of the same Mirror Handcuffs, as well as a replica of the Bramah style key for it, is on display to the public at The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania.[45][46] This set of cuffs is believed to be one of only six in the world, some of which are not on display.[47]

Milk Can Escape

In 1908, Houdini introduced his own original act, the Milk Can Escape.[48] In this act, Houdini was handcuffed and sealed inside an oversized milk can filled with water and made his escape behind a curtain. As part of the effect, Houdini invited members of the audience to hold their breath along with him while he was inside the can. Advertised with dramatic posters that proclaimed “Failure Means A Drowning Death”, the escape proved to be a sensation.[49] Houdini soon modified the escape to include the milk can being locked inside a wooden chest, being chained or padlocked. Houdini performed the milk can escape as a regular part of his act for only four years, but it has remained one of the acts most associated with him. Houdini’s brother, Theodore Hardeen, continued to perform the milk can escape and its wooden chest variant[50] into the 1940s.

The American Museum of Magic has the milk can and overboard box used by Houdini.[51]

Chinese water torture cell

Around 1912, the vast number of imitators prompted Houdini to replace his milk can act with the Chinese water torture cell. In this escape, Houdini’s feet were locked in stocks, and he was lowered upside down into a tank filled with water. The mahogany and metal cell featured a glass front, through which audiences could clearly see Houdini. The stocks were locked to the top of the cell, and a curtain concealed his escape. In the earliest version of the torture cell, a metal cage was lowered into the cell, and Houdini was enclosed inside that. While making the escape more difficult – the cage prevented Houdini from turning – the cage bars also offered protection should the front glass break. The original cell was built in England, where Houdini first performed the escape for an audience of one person as part of a one-act play he called “Houdini Upside Down”. This was so he could copyright the effect and have grounds to sue imitators, which he did. While the escape was advertised as “The Chinese Water Torture Cell” or “The Water Torture Cell”, Houdini always referred to it as “the Upside Down” or “USD”. The first public performance of the USD was at the Circus Busch in Berlin, on September 21, 1912. Houdini continued to perform the escape until his death in 1926.[29]

Suspended straitjacket escape

One of Houdini’s most popular publicity stunts was to have himself strapped into a regulation straitjacket and suspended by his ankles from a tall building or crane. Houdini would then make his escape in full view of the assembled crowd. In many cases, Houdini drew tens of thousands of onlookers who brought city traffic to a halt. Houdini would sometimes ensure press coverage by performing the escape from the office building of a local newspaper. In New York City, Houdini performed the suspended straitjacket escape from a crane being used to build the New York subway. After flinging his body in the air, he escaped from the straitjacket. Starting from when he was hoisted up in the air by the crane, to when the straitjacket was completely off, it took him two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. There is film footage in the Library of Congress of Houdini performing the escape.[52] Films of his escapes are also shown at The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. After being battered against a building in high winds during one escape, Houdini performed the escape with a visible safety wire on his ankle so that he could be pulled away from the building if necessary. The idea for the upside-down escape was given to Houdini by a young boy named Randolph Osborne Douglas (March 31, 1895 – December 5, 1956), when the two met at a performance at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre.[29]

Overboard box escape

Another of Houdini’s most famous publicity stunts was to escape from a nailed and roped packing crate after it had been lowered into water. He first performed the escape in New York’s East River on July 7, 1912. Police forbade him from using one of the piers, so he hired a tugboat and invited press on board. Houdini was locked in handcuffs and leg-irons, then nailed into the crate which was roped and weighed down with two hundred pounds of lead. The crate was then lowered into the water. He escaped in 57 seconds. The crate was pulled to the surface and found still to be intact, with the manacles inside.

Houdini performed this escape many times, and even performed a version on stage, first at Hamerstein’s Roof Garden where a 5,500-US-gallon (21,000 l) tank was specially built, and later at the New York Hippodrome.[53]

Buried alive stunt

Houdini performed at least three variations on a buried alive stunt during his career. The first was near Santa Ana, California in 1915, and it almost cost Houdini his life. Houdini was buried, without a casket, in a pit of earth six feet deep. He became exhausted and panicked while trying to dig his way to the surface and called for help. When his hand finally broke the surface, he fell unconscious and had to be pulled from the grave by his assistants. Houdini wrote in his diary that the escape was “very dangerous” and that “the weight of the earth is killing.”[54][55]

Houdini’s second variation on buried alive was an endurance test designed to expose mystical Egyptian performer Rahman Bey, who had claimed to use supernatural powers to remain in a sealed casket for an hour. Houdini bettered Bey on August 5, 1926, by remaining in a sealed casket, or coffin, submerged in the swimming pool of New York’s Hotel Shelton for one and a half hours. Houdini claimed he did not use any trickery or supernatural powers to accomplish this feat, just controlled breathing.[56] He repeated the feat at the YMCA in Worcester, Massachusetts on September 28, 1926, this time remaining sealed for one hour and eleven minutes.[57]

Houdini’s final buried alive was an elaborate stage escape that featured in his full evening show. Houdini would escape after being strapped in a straitjacket, sealed in a casket, and then buried in a large tank filled with sand. While posters advertising the escape exist (playing off the Bey challenge by boasting “Egyptian Fakirs Outdone!”), it is unclear whether Houdini ever performed buried alive on stage. The stunt was to be the feature escape of his 1927 season, but Houdini died on October 31, 1926. The bronze casket Houdini created for buried alive was used to transport Houdini’s body from Detroit to New York following his death on Halloween.[58]

Movie career

In 1906, Houdini started showing films of his outside escapes as part of his vaudeville act. In Boston, he presented a short film called Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt. Georg Hackenschmidt was a famous wrestler of the day, but the nature of their contest is unknown as the film is lost.[59] In 1909, Houdini made a film in Paris for Cinema Lux titled Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris (Marvellous Exploits of the Famous Houdini in Paris).[60] It featured a loose narrative designed to showcase several of Houdini’s famous escapes, including his straitjacket and underwater handcuff escapes. That same year Houdini got an offer to star as Captain Nemo in a silent version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but the project never made it into production.[61] It is often erroneously reported that Houdini served as special-effects consultant on the Wharton/International cliffhanger serial, The Mysteries of Myra, shot in Ithaca, New York, because Harry Grossman, director of The Master Mystery also filmed a serial in Ithaca at about the same time. The consultants on the serial were pioneering Hereward Carrington and Aleister Crowley.[62]

In 1918, Houdini signed a contract with film producer B. A. Rolfe to star in a 15-part serial, The Master Mystery (released in November 1918). As was common at the time, the film serial was released simultaneously with a novel. Financial difficulties resulted in B. A. Rolfe Productions going out of business, but The Master Mystery led to Houdini being signed by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation/Paramount Pictures, for whom he made two pictures, The Grim Game (1919) and Terror Island (1920).[63]

The Grim Game was Houdini’s first full-length movie and is reputed to be his best. Because of the flammable nature of nitrate film and the inherent chemical instability of the acetate “safety” film that supplanted it, only 10 percent of old silent movies exist. Film historians considered the film lost. One copy did exist hidden in the collection of a private collector only known to a tiny group of magicians that saw it. Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania had seen it twice on the invitation of the collector. After many years of trying, they finally got him to agree to sell the film to Turner Classic Movies[64] who restored the complete 71-minute film. The film, not seen by the general public for 96 years was shown by TCM on March 29, 2015, as a highlight of their yearly 4-day festival in Hollywood.[65]

While filming an aerial stunt for The Grim Game, two biplanes collided in mid-air with a stuntman doubling Houdini dangling by a rope from one of the planes. Publicity was geared heavily toward promoting this dramatic “caught on film” moment, claiming it was Houdini himself dangling from the plane. While filming these movies in Los Angeles, Houdini rented a home in Laurel Canyon. Following his two-picture stint in Hollywood, Houdini returned to New York and started his own film production company called the “Houdini Picture Corporation”. He produced and starred in two films, The Man from Beyond (1921) and Haldane of the Secret Service (1923). He also founded his own film laboratory business called The Film Development Corporation (FDC), gambling on a new process for developing motion picture film. Houdini’s brother, Theodore Hardeen, left his own career as a magician and escape artist to run the company. Magician Harry Kellar was a major investor.[66]

Neither Houdini’s acting career nor FDC found success, and he gave up on the movie business in 1923, complaining that “the profits are too meager”.

In April 2008, Kino International released a DVD box set of Houdini’s surviving silent films, including The Master MysteryTerror IslandThe Man From BeyondHaldane of the Secret Service, and five minutes from The Grim Game. The set also includes newsreel footage of Houdini’s escapes from 1907 to 1923, and a section from Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini à Paris, although it is not identified as such.[67]

Aviator

In 1909, Houdini became fascinated with aviation. He purchased a French Voisin biplane for $5,000 and hired a full-time mechanic, Antonio Brassac. After crashing once, he made his first successful flight on November 26 in Hamburg, Germany. The following year, Houdini toured Australia. He brought along his Voisin biplane with the intention to be the first person in Australia to fly.

Falsely reported as pioneer

On March 18, 1910, he made three flights at Diggers Rest, Victoria, near Melbourne. It was reported at the time that this was the first aerial flight in Australia,[68][69][70] and a century later, some major news outlets still credit him with this feat.[71][72]

Wing Commander Harry Cobby wrote in Aircraft in March 1938 that “the first aeroplane flight in the Southern Hemisphere was made on December 9, 1909 by Mr Colin Defries, a Londoner, at Victoria Park Racecourse, Sydney, in a Wilbur Wright aeroplane”.[73] Colin Defries was a trained pilot, having learnt to fly in Cannes, France. By modern standards his flight time was minimal, but in 1909 he had accumulated enough to become an instructor. On his first flight he took off, maintained straight and level flight, albeit briefly, and landed safely. His crash landing on his second flight, when he tried to retrieve his hat which was blown off, demonstrated what a momentary lack of attention could cause while flying a Wright Model A.

It is accepted by Australian historians[74] and the Aviation Historical Society of Australia that the definition of flight established by the Gorell Committee on behalf of the Aero Club of Great Britain dictates the acceptance of a flight or its rejection, giving Colin Defries credit as the first to make an aeroplane flight in Australia, and the Southern Hemisphere.

Additionally, aviation pioneer Richard Pearse is believed by many New Zealand historians to have undertaken his first flight as early as 1902, which would give him not only the Southern Hemisphere but the World record, although this is disputed.[75]

In 1965, aviation journalist Stanley Brogden formed the view that the first powered flight in Australia took place at Bolivar in South Australia; the aircraft was a Bleriot monoplane with Fred Custance as the pilot. The flight took place on March 17, 1910. The next day when Houdini took to the air, the Herald newspaper reported Custance’s flight, stating it had lasted 5 minutes 25 seconds at a height of between 12 and 15 feet.[69]

In 2010, Australia Post issued stamps commemorating Colin Defries, Houdini and John Robertson Duigan, crediting only Defries and Duigan with historical firsts.[76] Duigan was an Australian pioneer aviator who built and flew the first Australian-made aircraft. Australia Post did acknowledge the part Houdini played (Harry Houdini can’t escape being part of Australia’s history) but did not attribute any record to him.

After Australia

After completing his Australia tour, Houdini put the Voisin into storage in England. He announced he would use it to fly from city to city during his next Music Hall tour, and even promised to leap from it handcuffed, but he never flew again.[77]

Debunking spiritualists

In the 1920s, Houdini turned his energies toward debunking psychics and mediums, a pursuit that inspired and was followed by latter-day stage magicians.[79]

Houdini’s training in magic allowed him to expose frauds who had successfully fooled many scientists and academics. He was a member of a Scientific American committee that offered a cash prize to any medium who could successfully demonstrate supernaturalabilities. None was able to do so, and the prize was never collected. The first to be tested was medium George Valiantine of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. As his fame as a “ghostbuster” grew, Houdini took to attending séances in disguise, accompanied by a reporter and police officer. Possibly the most famous medium whom he debunked was Mina Crandon, also known as “Margery”.[80]

Joaquín Argamasilla known as the “Spaniard with X-ray Eyes” claimed to be able to read handwriting or numbers on dice through closed metal boxes. In 1924, he was exposed by Houdini as a fraud. Argamasilla peeked through his simple blindfold and lifted up the edge of the box so he could look inside it without others noticing.[81] Houdini also investigated the Italian medium Nino Pecoraro, whom he considered to be fraudulent.[82]

Houdini’s exposing of phony mediums has inspired other magicians to follow suit, including The Amazing Randi, Dorothy Dietrich, Penn & Teller, and Dick Brookz.[83]

Houdini chronicled his debunking exploits in his book, A Magician Among the Spirits, co-authored with C. M. Eddy, Jr., who was not credited. These activities cost Houdini the friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle, a firm believer in spiritualism during his later years, refused to believe any of Houdini’s exposés. Doyle came to believe that Houdini was a powerful spiritualist medium, and had performed many of his stunts by means of paranormal abilities and was using these abilities to block those of other mediums that he was “debunking”.[84] This disagreement led to the two men becoming public antagonists, and Sir Arthur came to view Houdini as a dangerous enemy.[29]

Before Houdini died, he and his wife agreed that if Houdini found it possible to communicate after death, he would communicate the message “Rosabelle believe”, a secret code which they agreed to use. Rosabelle was their favorite song. Bess held yearly séances on Halloween for ten years after Houdini’s death. She did claim to have contact through Arthur Ford in 1929 when Ford conveyed the secret code, but Bess later said the incident had been faked. The code seems to have been such that it could be broken by Ford or his associates using existing clues.[29] Evidence to this effect was discovered by Ford’s biographer after he died in 1971.[85] In 1936, after a last unsuccessful séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, she put out the candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini since his death. In 1943, Bess said that “ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”

The tradition of holding a séance for Houdini continues, held by magicians throughout the world. The Official Houdini Séance was organized in the 1940s[86] by Sidney Hollis Radner, a Houdini aficionado from Holyoke, Massachusetts.[87] Yearly Houdini séances are also conducted in Chicago at the Excalibur nightclub by “necromancer” Neil Tobinon behalf of the Chicago Assembly of the Society of American Magicians;[88] and at the Houdini Museum in Scranton by magician Dorothy Dietrich, who previously held them at New York’s Magic Towne House with such magical notables as Houdini biographers Walter B. Gibson and Milbourne Christopher. Gibson was asked by Bess Houdini to carry on the original seance tradition. After doing them for many years at New York’s Magic Towne House, before he died, Walter passed on the tradition of conducting of the Original Seances to Dorothy Dietrich.[83]

In 1926, Harry Houdini hired H. P. Lovecraft and his friend C. M. Eddy, Jr., to write an entire book about debunking religious miracles, which was to be called The Cancer of Superstition. Houdini had earlier asked Lovecraft to write an article about astrology, for which he paid $75. The article does not survive. Lovecraft’s detailed synopsis for Cancerdoes survive, as do three chapters of the treatise written by Eddy. Houdini’s death derailed the plans, as his widow did not wish to pursue the project.[89]

Appearance and voice recordings

Unlike the image of the classic magician, Houdini was short and stocky and typically appeared on stage in a long frock coat and tie. Most biographers give his height as 5 ft 5 in, but descriptions vary. Houdini was also said to be slightly bow-legged, which aided in his ability to gain slack during his rope escapes. In the 1997 biography Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss, author Kenneth Silvermansummarizes how reporters described Houdini’s appearance during his early career:

They stressed his smallness—”somewhat undersized”—and angular, vivid features: “He is smooth-shaven with a keen, sharp-chinned, sharp-cheekboned face, bright blue eyes and thick, curly, black hair.” Some sensed how much his complexly expressive smile was the outlet of his charismatic stage presence. It communicated to audiences at once warm amiability, pleasure in performing, and, more subtly, imperious self-assurance. Several reporters tried to capture the charming effect, describing him as “happy-looking”, “pleasant-faced”, “good natured at all times”, “the young Hungarian magician with the pleasant smile and easy confidence”.[90]

Death

Harry Houdini died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix, at 1:26 p.m. on October 31, 1926, in Room 401 at Detroit’s Grace Hospital, aged 52. In his final days, he believed that he would recover, but his last words before dying were reportedly, “I’m tired of fighting.”[29]

Witnesses to an incident at Houdini’s dressing room in the Princess Theatre in Montreal speculated that Houdini’s death was caused by a McGill University student, Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead (b. 1895 – d. 1954), who repeatedly struck Houdini’s abdomen.[92]

The accounts of the witnesses, students named Jacques Price and Sam Smilovitz (sometimes called Jack Price and Sam Smiley), generally corroborated one another. Price said that Whitehead asked Houdini “if he believed in the miracles of the Bible” and “whether it was true that punches in the stomach did not hurt him”. He then delivered “some very hammer-like blows below the belt”. Houdini was reclining on a couch at the time, having broken his ankle while performing several days earlier. Price said that Houdini winced at each blow and stopped Whitehead suddenly in the midst of a punch, gesturing that he had had enough, and adding that he had had no opportunity to prepare himself against the blows, as he did not expect Whitehead to strike him so suddenly and forcefully. Had his ankle not been broken, he would have risen from the couch into a better position to brace himself.[92][93]

Throughout the evening, Houdini performed in great pain. He was unable to sleep and remained in constant pain for the next two days, but did not seek medical help. When he finally saw a doctor, he was found to have a fever of 102 °F (39 °C) and acute appendicitis, and was advised to have immediate surgery. He ignored the advice and decided to go on with the show.[94][95] When Houdini arrived at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, on October 24, 1926, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 104 °F (40 °C). Despite the diagnosis, Houdini took the stage. He was reported to have passed out during the show, but was revived and continued. Afterwards, he was hospitalized at Detroit’s Grace Hospital.[92]

It is unclear whether the dressing room incident caused Houdini’s eventual death, as the relationship between blunt trauma and appendicitis is uncertain.[92] One theory suggests that Houdini was unaware that he was suffering from appendicitis, and might have been aware had he not received blows to the abdomen.[92]

After taking statements from Price and Smilovitz, Houdini’s insurance company concluded that the death was due to the dressing-room incident and paid double indemnity.[94]

Houdini grave site

Houdini’s funeral was held on November 4, 1926, in New York City, with more than 2,000 mourners in attendance.[96] He was interred in the Machpelah Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, with the crest of the Society of American Magicians inscribed on his grave site. A statuary bust was added to the exedra in 1927, a rarity, because graven images are forbidden in Jewish cemeteries. In 1975, the bust was destroyed by vandals. Temporary busts were placed at the grave until 2011 when a group who came to be called The Houdini Commandos from the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania placed a permanent bust with the permission of Houdini’s family and of the cemetery.[97] The Society of American Magicians took responsibility for the upkeep of the site, as Houdini had willed a large sum of money to the organization he had grown from one club to 5,000-6,000 dues-paying membership worldwide. The payment of upkeep was abandoned by the society’s dean George Schindler, who said “Houdini paid for perpetual care, but there’s nobody at the cemetery to provide it”, adding that the operator of the cemetery, David Jacobson, “sends us a bill for upkeep every year but we never pay it because he never provides any care.” Members of the Society tidy the grave themselves.[98]

Machpelah Cemetery operator Jacobson said, they “never paid the cemetery for any restoration of the Houdini family plot in my tenure since 1988”, claiming that the money came from the cemetery’s dwindling funds. The granite monuments of Houdini’s sister, Gladys, and brother, Leopold were also destroyed by vandals.[99] For many years, until recently, The Houdini grave site has been only cared for by Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania.[100] The Society of American Magicians, at its National Council Meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, in 2013, under the prompting of The Houdini Museum’s Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz, voted to assume the financial responsibilities for the care and maintenance of the Houdini Gravesite. In MUM Magazine, the Society’s official magazine, President Dal Sanders announced “Harry Houdini is an icon as revered as Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. He is not only a magical icon; his gravesite bears the seal of The Society of American Magicians. That seal is our brand and we should be proud to protect it. This gravesite is clearly our responsibility and I’m proud to report that the National Council unanimously voted to maintain Houdini’s final resting place.”[101]

The Houdini Gravesite Restoration Committee under the Chairmanship of National President David Bowers, is working closely with National President Kenrick “Ice” McDonald to see this project to completion. Bowers said it is a foregone conclusion that the Society will approve the funding request, because “Houdini is responsible for the Society of American Magicians being what it is today. We owe a debt of gratitude to him.” Like Bowers, McDonald said the motivation behind the repairs is to properly honor the grave of the “Babe Ruth of magicians”. “This is hallowed ground,” he said. “When you ask people about magicians, the first thing they say is Harry Houdini.” While the actual plot will remain under the control of Machpelah Cemetery management, the Society of American Magicians, with the help of the Houdini Museum in Pennsylvania, will be in charge of the restoration.[102]

Magicians Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz have been caring for the escape artist’s Queens grave over the years. “This is a monument where people go and visit on a daily basis,” said Dietrich who is spearheading restoration efforts. “The nearly 80-year-old popular plot at the Machpelah Cemetery has fallen into disrepair over the years.” “The Houdini Museum has teamed with The Society of American Magicians, one of the oldest fraternal magic organizations in the world, to give the beloved site a facelift.” The organization has a specific Houdini gravesite committee made up of nine members headed up by President elect David Bowers who brought this project to the Society’s attention. Kenrick “Ice” McDonald, the current president of the Society of American Magicians said “You have to know the history. Houdini served as President from 1917 until his death in 1926. Houdini’s burial site needs an infusion of cash to restore it to its former glory.” Magician Dietrich said the repairs could cost “tens of thousands of dollars”, after consulting with glass experts and grave artisans. “It’s a wonderful project, but it’s taken a lifetime to get people interested,” she said. “It’s long overdue, and it’s great that it’s happening.” Houdini was a living superhero,” Dietrich said. “He wasn’t just a magician and escape artist, he was a great humanitarian.” To this day, the Society holds a broken wand ceremony at the grave every November.

Houdini’s widow, Bess, died of a heart attack on February 11, 1943, aged 67, in Needles, California while on a train en route from Los Angeles to New York City. She had expressed a wish to be buried next to her husband, but instead was interred 35 miles due north at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County, New York, as her Catholic family refused to allow her to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.[103]

Proposed exhumation

On March 22, 2007, Houdini’s grand-nephew (the grandson of his brother Theo), George Hardeen, announced that the courts would be asked to allow exhumation of Houdini’s body, to investigate the possibility of Houdini being murdered by spiritualists, as suggested in the biography The Secret Life of Houdini.[104] In a statement given to the Houdini Museum in Scranton, the family of Bess Houdini opposed the application and suggested it was a publicity ploy for the book.[105] The Washington Post stated that the press conference was not arranged by the family of Houdini. Instead, the Post reported, it was orchestrated by authors Kalush and Sloman, who hired the PR firm Dan Klores Communications to promote their book.[106]

In 2008, it was revealed the parties involved never filed legal papers to perform an exhumation.[107]

Legacy

Houdini’s brother, Theodore Hardeen, who returned to performing after Houdini’s death, inherited his brother’s effects and props. Houdini’s will stipulated that all the effects should be “burned and destroyed” upon Hardeen’s death. Hardeen sold much of the collection to magician and Houdini enthusiast Sidney Hollis Radner during the 1940s, including the water torture cell.[108] Radner allowed choice pieces of the collection to be displayed at The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Ontario. In 1995, a fire destroyed the museum. The water torture cell’s metal frame remained, and it was restored by illusion builder John Gaughan.[109] Many of the props contained in the museum such as the mirror handcuffs, Houdini’s original packing crate, a milk can, and a straitjacket, survived the fire and were auctioned in 1999 and 2008.

Radner loaned the bulk of his collection for archiving to the Outagamie Museum in Appleton, Wisconsin but reclaimed it in 2003 and auctioned it in Las Vegas, on October 30, 2004.[110]

Houdini was a “formidable collector”, and bequeathed many of his holdings and paper archives on magic and spiritualism to the Library of Congress, which became the basis for the Houdini collection in cyberspace.[111]

In 1934, the bulk of Houdini’s collection of American and British theatrical material, along with a significant portion of his business and personal papers, and some of his collections of other magicians were sold to pay off estate debts to theatre magnate Messmore Kendall. In 1958, Kendall donated his collection to the Hoblitzelle Theatre Library at the University of Texas at Austin.[112] In the 1960s, the Hoblitzelle Library became part of the Harry Ransom Center. The extensive Houdini collection includes a 1584 first edition of Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft and David Garrick’s travel diary to Paris from 1751.[113][114] Some of the scrapbooks in the Houdini collection have been digitized.[115] The collection was exclusively paper-based until April 2016, when the Ransom Center acquired one of Houdini’s ball weights with chain and ankle cuff. In October 2016, in conjunction with the 90th anniversary of the death of Houdini, the Ransom Center embarked on a major re-cataloging of the Houdini collection to make it more visible and accessible to researchers.[116] The collection reopened in 2018, with its finding aids posted online.[117]

A large portion of Houdini’s estate holdings and memorabilia was willed to his fellow magician and friend, John Mulholland (1898–1970). In 1991, illusionist and television performer David Copperfield purchased all of Mulholland’s Houdini holdings from Mulholland’s estate. These are now archived and preserved in Copperfield’s warehouse at his headquarters in Las Vegas. It contains the world’s largest collection of Houdini memorabilia, and preserves approximately 80,000 items of memorabilia of Houdini and other magicians, including Houdini’s stage props and material, his rebuilt water torture cabinet and his metamorphosis trunk. It is not open to the public, but tours are available by invitation to magicians, scholars, researchers, journalists and serious collectors.

In a posthumous ceremony on October 31, 1975, Houdini was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7001 Hollywood Blvd.[118]

The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, bills itself as “the only building in the world entirely dedicated to Houdini”. It is open to the public year-round by reservation. It includes Houdini films, a guided tour about Houdini’s life and a stage magic show. Magicians Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz opened the facility in 1991.

The Magic Castle in Los Angeles, California, a nightclub for magicians and magic enthusiasts, as well as the clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, features Houdini séances performed by magician Misty Lee.

The House of Houdini is a museum and performance venue located at 11, Dísz square in the Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary. It claims to house the largest collection of original Houdini artifacts in Europe.[119]

The Houdini Museum of New York is located at Fantasma Magic, a retail magic manufacturer and seller located in Manhattan. The museum contains several hundred pieces of ephemera, most of which belonged to Harry Houdini.

 

Notes

  1. Jump up^ Schiller, Gerald. (2010). It Happened in Hollywood: Remarkable Events That Shaped History. Globe Pequot Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7627-5449-6
  2. Jump up^ Harry HoudiniEncyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  3. Jump up^ “137 years ago in Budapest …” Wild About Harry. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  4. Jump up^ “Hardeen Dead, 69. Houdini’s Brother. Illusionist, Escape Artist, a Founder of Magician’s Guild. Gave Last Show May 29”. The New York Times. June 13, 1945. Theodore Hardeen, a brother of the late Harry Houdini, illusionist and a prominent magician in his own right, died yesterday in the Doctors Hospital. His age was 69.
  5. Jump up^ Meyer, Bernard C. (1976), Houdini: A Mind in ChainsE.P. Dutton & Co.Chapter 1, p. 5ISBN 0-8415-0448-2.
  6. Jump up^ “The mystery of Carrie Gladys Weiss”. Wild About Harry. Retrieved September 30,2011.
  7. Jump up^ US National Archives Microfilm serial: M237; Microfilm roll: 413; Line: 38; List number: 684.
  8. Jump up^ 1880 US Census with Samuel M. Weiss, Cecelia (wife), Armin M., Nathan J., Ehrich, Theodore, and Leopold.
  9. Jump up^ http://www.houdinifile.com/2014/02/houdinis-forgotten-years.html
  10. Jump up^ “Harry Houdini” (PDF). American Decades. December 16, 1998. Retrieved February 4, 2016. Also at Biography In Context.
  11. Jump up^ Loxton, Daniel (January 30, 2013). “The Remarkable Mr. Rinn”Skeptic Magazine. Retrieved January 16, 2016.
  12. Jump up^ “Famous Masons”. MWGLNY. January 2014. Archived from the original on November 10, 2013.
  13. Jump up^ “Notable Registrants of the World War I Draft: Harry Houdini”National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  14. Jump up^ Rocha, Guy. “MYTH #56 – No Disappearing Act for Harry Houdini at Piper’s Opera House”. Nevada State Library and Archives. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  15. Jump up^ Immerso, Michael. (2002). Coney Island: The People’s Playground. Rutgers University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0813531380
  16. Jump up^ “Harry Houdini: Famous magician, master of escapes, Houdini metamorphosis”. Houdini Magic. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  17. Jump up^ http://www.houdinifile.com/2014/04/houdini-king-of-cards.html
  18. Jump up^ Johnson, Karl (2005). The Magician and the Cardsharp.
  19. Jump up^ Gresham, William Lindsay. (1959). Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls. Holt. pp. 82-83
  20. Jump up^ Price, David. (1985). Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater. Cornwall Books. p. 191. ISBN 0-8453-4738-1
  21. Jump up^ Silverman, p. 81.
  22. Jump up^ Silverman, p. 109.
  23. Jump up to:a b Steinmeyer, Jim. (2004). Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible. Da Capo Press. pp. 152-153. ISBN 0-7867-1401-8
  24. Jump up^ Jones, Graham Matthew. (2007). Trades of the Trick: Conjuring Culture in Modern France. New York University. pp. 96-98
  25. Jump up^ Gresham, William Lindsay. (1959). Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls. Holt. p. 136
  26. Jump up^ Steinmeyer, Jim. (2006). The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, Aka Chung Ling Soo, the Marvelous Chinese Conjurer. Da Capo Press. p. 291. ISBN 0-78671-770-X
  27. Jump up^ Cannell, J. C. (1973). The Secrets of Houdini. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 36–41. ISBN 978-0486229133. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  28. Jump up^ “Houdini’s escapes and magic – Houdini’s unique challenges in Scranton, PA. during the vaudeville era”. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
  29. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Kalush, William; Sloman, Larry (October 2006). The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First SuperheroSimon & SchusterISBN 978-0-7432-7207-0. Retrieved November 9, 2015(Subscription required (help)).
  30. Jump up^ Steinmeyer, Jim. (2004). Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible. Da Capo Press. pp. 154-155. ISBN 0-7867-1401-8 “He decided to portray Robert-Houdin as a liar and thief who was completely incompetent as a magician. Houdini had developed a hatred for his spiritual father. In 1908 his collection of articles was gathered together, expanded and sold to a London publisher. By comparing the original articles with the finished book, it’s clear that Houdini employed a ghost writer to polish the language and clarify his points. Other surviving manuscripts from Houdini demonstrate that most of Houdini’s writing depended on ghostwriters. The theme of his book on Robert-Houdin was sharpened to a razor’s edge, and was now titled The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin.”
  31. Jump up^ Goto-Jones, Chris. (2016). Conjuring Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-1-107-07659-4
  32. Jump up^ Inge, M. Thomas; Hall, Dennis. (2002). The Greenwood Guide to American Popular Culture, Volume 3. Greenwood Press. p. 1037. ISBN 978-0313323690 “Stung by the refusal of the widow of Robert-Houdin’s son Emile to receive him in 1901, Houdini launched a literary vendetta against his former hero in the form of a book, The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, published seven years later. While the book did not achieve its aim, it remains of considerable historical interest as the first sustained attempt to mine Houdini’s large and growing collection for historical information. Its errors and oversights became the subject of two extensive rebuttals. The first was Maurice Sardina’s Les Erreurs de Harry Houdini, translated and edited by Victor Farelli as Where Houdini Was Wrong. The second was Jean Hugard’s Houdini’s “Unmasking”: Fact vs Fiction.
  33. Jump up^ Steinmeyer, Jim. (2004). Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible. Da Capo Press. p. 156. ISBN 0-7867-1401-8 “A number of researchers and authors have dismissed his claims and defended Robert-Houdin’s reputation.”
  34. Jump up^ Jones, Graham M. (2011). Trade of the Tricks: Inside the Magician’s Craft. University of California Press. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-520-27046-6 “The publication ultimately did more to tarnish Houdini’s reputation than to refute Robert-Houdin’s claims to originality and distinction especially in France, where magicians rallied to defend their spiritual progenitor against aspersions cast by an American parvenu.”
  35. Jump up^ “The Vanishing Elephant”. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  36. Jump up^ Christopher, Milbourne. (1990 edition, originally published in 1962). Magic: A Picture History. Dover Publications. p. 160. ISBN 0-486-26373-8 “Morritt invented a “Disappearing Donkey”. When he expanded the idea so that an elephant could be whisked away in a box, Houdini bought the full rights to the spectacular illusion.”
  37. Jump up^ Silverman, p. 224.
  38. Jump up^ “The Yorkshire man who taught Houdini to make an elephant disappear”. Retrieved June 30, 2016.
  39. Jump up^ Silverman, Kenneth (September 1996). Houdini! The Career of Ehrich Weiss: American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker. HarperCollins. p. 544. ISBN 978-0060169787.
  40. Jump up^ John Cox (2017) [2011]. “Houdini: A Biography”Wild About Harry. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  41. Jump up^ The Secret Life of Houdini, Kaulush & Sloman, 2006.
  42. Jump up^ Hanzlik, Mick (2007). “Houdini’s Mirror Handcuff Challenge, Getting Closer to the Truth”reproduction in full of Daily Mirror article “Houdini’s Great Victory” March 18, 1904
  43. Jump up^ Silverman, pp. 59–62.
  44. Jump up^ “Keys To Houdini’s Secrets”Mysteries at the MuseumTravel Channel. November 23, 2010. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  45. Jump up^ “Mirror Cuffs”. Genii Magazine. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
  46. Jump up^ “Travel Channel Dorothy Dietrich Promo Houdini Mirror Cuffs”. Mysteries At The Museum. Travel Channel. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
  47. Jump up^ Hanzlik, Mick (March 16, 2013). “The Replica Mirror Cuffs”. Wild About Harry.
  48. Jump up^ Randi, pp. 175–178.
  49. Jump up^ Randi, Milk Can poster on page 177.
  50. Jump up^ Christopher, Milbourne (October 1976). Houdini: A Pictorial Life. Ty Crowell Co. p. 54. ISBN 978-0690011524.
  51. Jump up^ “American Museum of Magic”. Marshall area Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved April 20, 2008.
  52. Jump up^ Thousands see Harry Houdini escape from a straitjacket while hanging in mid-air, Chicago, Ill.“, International news [1923 or 1924?]
  53. Jump up^ Henning, Doug (December 1, 1977). Houdini His Legend and His MagicTimes Books. p. 1960. (Subscription required (help)).
  54. Jump up^ Christopher, Milbourne (1969). Houdini: The Untold Story. Ty Crowell Co. p. 140. ISBN 978-0891909811.
  55. Jump up^ “Digging into Houdini’s Buried Alive”. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  56. Jump up^ Silverman, pp. 397–403.
  57. Jump up^ “Uncovering Houdini’s second underwater test”. Retrieved January 26, 2010.
  58. Jump up^ Silverman, p. 406.
  59. Jump up^ “Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt and other revelations from Disappearing Tricks”. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  60. Jump up^ Disappearing Tricks by Matthew Solomon, 2010, p. 95.
  61. Jump up^ Silverman, p. 205.
  62. Jump up^ Stedman, Eric (2010). The Mysteries of Myra. p. 8.
  63. Jump up^ “Adroit Harry and ancient hokum”. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  64. Jump up^ “Turner Classic Movies to Host World Premiere Screening of Long Lost Harry Houdini Classic The Grim Game at 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival”. TCM. January 23, 2015. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  65. Jump up^ “Houdini Museum in Scranton PA Reveals the Secrets of Uncovering Houdini’s 1919 Lost Silent Film The Grim Game”. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  66. Jump up^ Silverman, pp. 226–249.
  67. Jump up^ “Houdini The Movie Star DVD collection released”. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  68. Jump up^ “AERIAL FLIGHT IN AUSTRALIA”The Evening Post. LXXIX (66). Wellington. Press Association. March 19, 1910. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  69. Jump up to:a b Prisk, Max (May 10, 2008). “Houdini’s Australian dream: one for the record books”Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  70. Jump up^ “Australian National Aviation Museum – Early Australian Aviation”. Aarg.com.au. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved April 1, 2011.
  71. Jump up^ “The Art and Magic of Harry Houdini”CBS News. November 2, 2010. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  72. Jump up^ Entertainment Houdini’s flight into history. Weekly Times Now (March 18, 2010). Retrieved February 28, 2012. Archived April 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  73. Jump up^ While this was possibly the first flight in Australia, the first flight in the Southern Hemisphere was probably made by Richard Pearse in New Zealand several years earlier, either in 1903 or 1904.
  74. Jump up^ The Powerhouse Museum is the major branch of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney. First Powered Flight in Australia- Episode 4 « Inside the collection – Powerhouse Museum. Powerhousemuseum.com. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  75. Jump up^ “Richard Pearse”New Zealand History. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
  76. Jump up^ Australia Post – Harry Houdini can’t escape being part of Australia’s history. Auspost.com.au. Retrieved February 28, 2012. Archived September 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  77. Jump up^ Silverman, pp. 137–154.
  78. Jump up^ “Notes to Houdini and the ghost of Abraham LincolnLibrary of Congress. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  79. Jump up^ Jay, Ricky (March 3, 2011). “Conjuring”Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  80. Jump up^ Margery” the Medium Exposed”American ExperiencePBS. 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  81. Jump up^ Nickell, Joe (2007). Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 213–215. ISBN 978-0-8131-2467-4
  82. Jump up^ Polidoro, Massimo. (2001). Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle. Prometheus Books. pp. 127-128. ISBN 1-57392-896-8
  83. Jump up to:a b Williams, Michael (October 29, 2014). “Annual Houdini Séance to be held on Halloween”Tennessee Star Journal. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  84. Jump up^ see Conan Doyle’s The Edge of The Unknown, published in 1931.
  85. Jump up^ Spragget, Allen; Rauscher, William V. (1974). Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the DeadNew American Library. p. 246.
  86. Jump up^ Berthiaume, Ed (October 31, 2014). “Boldt CEO spends Halloween in search of Houdini”The Post-CrescentAppleton, Wisconsin. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  87. Jump up^ Houdini Facts [1].
  88. Jump up^ “Houdini’s Halloween”WGN-TV and Red Eye. October 28, 2005. Archived from the original on March 10, 2007. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  89. Jump up^ Joshi, S.T., ed. (May 31, 2005). Collected Essays of H. P. Lovecraft: Science3. New York: Hippocampus Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0974878980.
  90. Jump up^ Silverman, p. 31.
  91. Jump up^ “Houdini speaks in 1970”. Retrieved November 13, 2010.
  92. Jump up to:a b c d e Mikkelson, Barbara and David P. (September 2, 2014). “Punched Out”Snopes.com.
  93. Jump up^ Conan Doyle, Arthur (1930). Edge of the UnknownISBN 978-1409235149(Subscription required (help)).
  94. Jump up to:a b Bell, Don (September 28, 2005). The Man Who Killed HoudiniVéhicule PressISBN 978-1550651874.
  95. Jump up^ Benoit, Tod (May 2003). Where Are They Buried? How Did They Die?Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. p. 469. ISBN 978-0739465585(Subscription required (help)).
  96. Jump up^ Goldenberg, Suzanne (March 24, 2007). “Final Escape for the Master of Illusion? Houdini’s Family Press for Exhumation”The Guardian. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  97. Jump up^ Dunlap, David W. (October 24, 2011). “Houdini Returns”The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2011.
  98. Jump up^ Kilgannon, Corey (October 31, 2008). “Houdini’s Final Trick, a Tidy Grave”The New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2008.
  99. Jump up^ LeDuff, Charlie (November 24, 1996). “Houdinis’ Plot Is Cleared Up, and Then Thickens”The New York Times. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
  100. Jump up^ Sanders, Dal (December 15, 2013). “From the President’s Desk Dal Sanders”(PDF)MUM Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 5, 2014. Retrieved December 15, 2013.
  101. Jump up^ Barca, Christopher (October 9, 2014). “Houdini’s grave to get a facelift”Queens Chronicle. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  102. Jump up^ Rosenberg, Eli (October 27, 2014). “Houdini’s gravesite to get a magic fix in Queens”New York Daily News. Retrieved October 27, 2014.
  103. Jump up^ “Bess Houdini dies in 1943”. Houdini.net. Retrieved April 1, 2011.
  104. Jump up^ “Grandnephew seeks to ‘set record straight’ about Houdini’s death”CBC News. March 23, 2007. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  105. Jump up^ “Family Statement re: exhumation”. Retrieved March 26, 2007.
  106. Jump up^ Segal, David (March 24, 2007). “Why Not Just Hold a Seance?”The Washington Post. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  107. Jump up^ “Time to bury the Houdini exhumation”. Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  108. Jump up^ “In Sadness, Prime Houdini Artifact Collector Puts Items on Auction Block”. The New York Times. October 29, 2004. … Mr. Radner, aka Rendar the Magician, owns one of the world’s biggest and most valuable collections of Harry Houdini artifacts, including the Chinese Water Torture Cell, one of Houdini’s signature props from 1912 until his death in 1926. Most of the items were given to Mr. Radner in the 1940s by Houdini’s brother, Theodore Hardeen. Hardeen considered Radner, then a student at Yale with a reputation for jumping from diving boards in handcuffs, as his protégé. Until early this year, the collection was on display at the Outagamie Museum in Appleton, Wisconsin, where Houdini’s father was the town rabbi in the 1870s. But after a rancorous falling out between Mr. Radner and museum officials, the 1,000-piece collection was packed-up and shipped here, where it will be auctioned on Saturday in the windowless back room at the Liberace Museum and on eBay.
  109. Jump up^ “The Mystery of the Two Torture Cells”Wild About Harry. Retrieved May 14, 2007.
  110. Jump up^ “Houdini’s Magic Shop | Easy Tricks | Illusions | Gags | Novelties”. houdini.com. Archived from the original on May 15, 2006. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  111. Jump up^ Higbee, Joan. “Great Escapes”American Memory Web Site, Hosts Houdini CollectionLibrary of Congress. Retrieved March 24, 2011.
  112. Jump up^ “The Performing Arts Collection”http://www.hrc.utexas.edu. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  113. Jump up^ Scot, Reginald (January 1, 1584). The discouerie of witchcraft,: wherein the lewde dealings of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected, the knauerie of coniurors, the impietie of inchantors, thefollie of soothsaiers, the impudent falshood of cousenors, the infidelitie of atheists, the pestilent practices of Pythonists, the curiositie of figure casters, the vanitie of dreamers, the beggerlie art of alcumystrie, the abhomination of idolatrie, the horrible art of poisoning, the vertue and power of naturall magike, and all the conueiances of legierdemaine and iuggling are deciphered and many other things opened which have long lien hidden, howbeit verie necessarie to be knowne. Heerevnto is added a treatise vpon the nature and substance of spirits and diuels, &c. Imprinted at London: By William Brome.
  114. Jump up^ “Harry Ransom Center on Twitter”Twitter. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  115. Jump up^ “Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection”hrc.contentdm.oclc.org. Retrieved March 15,2017.
  116. Jump up^ “Houdini: Illusionist and collector”Cultural Compass. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  117. Jump up^ “Harry Houdini: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center”norman.hrc.utexas.edu. Evanion, Henry, 1831?-1905., Hardeen, 1876-1945., Houdini, Beatrice, 1876-1943., Houdini, Harry, 1974-1926., Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899., Northcote, James, 1746-1831. Retrieved 2018-09-08.
  118. Jump up^ “Harry Houdini”walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved May 13, 2015Address: 7001 Hollywood Blvd. Ceremony: October 31, 1975.
  119. Jump up^ “House of Houdini Official website”. The House of Houdini. Retrieved January 22,2017.
  120. Jump up^ “The Magician’s Ghostwriters” in The Thing’s Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales (Off-Trail Publications, 2018).
  121. Jump up^ “IT’S ON! History greenlights Houdini miniseries”. Wild About Harry. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  122. Jump up^ “James Randi’s Swift”. randi.org. July 14, 2006.

References

Further reading

  • An Interview with Harry Houdini” by Marcet Haldeman-JuliusHaldeman-Julius Monthly Vol. 2.5 (October 1925), pp. 387–397.
  • Houdini’s Escapes and Magic by Walter B. GibsonPrepared from Houdini’s private notebooks Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., 1930. Reveals some of Houdini’s magic and escape methods (also released in two separate volumes: Houdini’s Magic and Houdini’s Escapes).
  • The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1931. Reveals some of Houdini’s escape methods.
  • Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship by Bernard M. L. Ernst, Albert & Charles Boni, Inc., NY, 1932.
  • Sixty Years of Psychical Research by Joseph Rinn, Truth Seeker Co., 1950, Rinn was a long time close friend of Houdini. Contains detailed information about the last Houdini message (there are 3) and its disclosure.
  • Houdini’s Fabulous Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young Chilton, NY, 1960. Excellent reference for Houdini’s escapes and some methods (includes the Water Torture Cell).
  • The Houdini Birth Research Committee’s Report, Magico Magazine (reprint of report by The Society of American Magicians), 1972. Concludes Houdini was born March 24, 1874, in Budapest.
  • Mediums, Mystics and the Occult by Milbourne Christopher, Thomas T. Crowell Co., 1975, pp. 122–145, Arthur Ford-Messages from the Dead, contains detailed information about the Houdini messages and their disclosure.
  • Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead by Allen Spraggett with William V. Rauscher, 1973, pp. 152–165, Chapter 7, The Houdini Affair contains detailed information about the Houdini messages and their disclosure.
  • Believe by William Shatner and Michael Charles Tobias, Berkeley Books, NY 1992.
  • Houdini: Escape into Legend, The Early Years: 1862–1900 by Manny Weltman, Finders/Seekers Enterprises, Los Angeles, 1993. Examination of Houdini’s childhood and early career.
  • Houdini Comes to America by Ronald J. Hilgert, The Houdini Historical Center, 1996. Documents the Weiss family’s immigration to the United States on July 3, 1878 (when Ehrich was 4).
  • Houdini Unlocked by Patrick Culliton, Two volume box set: The Tao of Houdini and The Secret Confessions of Houdini, Kieran Press, 1997.
  • The Houdini Code Mystery: A Spirit Secret Solved by William V. Rauscher, Magic Words, 2000.
  • Final Séance. The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle by Massimo Polidoro, Prometheus Books, 2001.
  • The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell, Vehicle Press, 2004. Investigates J. Gordon Whitehead and the events surrounding Houdini’s death.
  • Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century by Matthew Solomon, University of Illinois Press, 2010. Contains new information about Houdini’s early movie career.
  • Houdini Art and Magic by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Jewish Museum, 2010. Essays on Houdini’s life and work are accompanied by interviews with novelist E.L. Doctorow, Teller, Kenneth Silverman, and more.
  • Houdini The Key by Patrick Culliton, Kieran Press, 2010. Reveals the authentic working methods of many of Houdini effects, including the Milk Can and Water Torture Cell. Limited to 278 copies.

Halloween Celebrations by Zodiac Sign

Let your Sun sign inspire you this Halloween


Whether you’re a Halloween fanatic planning months in advance or you wait until the last minute, you don’t want to miss out on the fun-filled holiday that now ranks second only to Christmas.

Today, more and more adults are getting in on the costumes and partying. Nostalgic for their childhoods, they welcome the chance to dress up and act crazy. Because it’s not a religious holiday, nor a big family event, Halloween is a great time to get together with friends and let loose.

Here are some suggestions for how you can draw inspiration from your Sun sign to make this a Halloween to remember.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

You’re always up for something new, but Halloween says be different — so why not get nostalgic for a change? Invite your friends to each choose a classic horror movie and dress up as one of its characters. Tell them to cue up their favorite scene and bring it over to share at your horror flick-themed costume party.

 

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Indulge your sensual nature with seasonal scents, both earthly and unearthly. Believe it or not, there’s a Halloween body wash that will make you smell like a graveyard. If you prefer something a little more luscious, try pumpkin scented candles or incense. Simmering apple cider with spices also fills the air with delicious harvest aromas.

 

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Halloween is the perfect time to express your Gemini playfulness — with a little gore of course! Set up a craft party where you and your friends can make your own fake blood (recipes are online) and other props. Put together mutilated zombie personas and crash a party or roam the streets together, scaring any poor souls who cross your path.

 

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

No doubt your home will be decorated to the hilt, both inside and out — so why not share your creativity with your neighbors by organizing a Halloween block party? Visit each other’s houses and present an award for the best decorations. Your kids can stroll along, safely trick-or-treating, on their own street.

 

Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22)

Because Halloween is descended from an ancient Celtic fire festival and Leo’s element is Fire, you’re in your element. Celebrate by creating a fire pit in your back yard, or use a circle of candles. Invite friends to a pumpkin carving party and display your creations around the fire. Be sure to keep a camera handy to photograph each jack-o’-lantern.

 

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22)

Virgo, this is the night to reveal your sexy alter ego. Virginal no more, cast an unforgettable spell with a seductive vampire outfit that gives you permission to attack any neck that appeals to you. Imagine how surprised your friends will be when they see this sexy side of their normally restrained, down-to-earth pal. Watch out!

 

Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22)

Have you tied the knot with your soulmate yet? Here’s a Halloween test to find out if you are about to: Dunk for apples. An ancient Celtic tradition says the first one who gets an apple will be the next one married. In the meantime, have fun dressing up as a famous couple. From Bogie and Bacall to yin and yang, let your creativity flow.

 

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21)

Halloween is made for you lovers of the dark side. The sultry Queen of Halloween herself, Elvira, must surely be a Scorpio! This is your chance to glop on gobs of black eye make-up, long black nails, fishnets and Gothy high-heeled boots. You say that’s how you look every day? Oops … try a pinafore and pigtails instead.

 

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21)

If you live near a theme park, you may be in luck for some special thrills. Theme park hopping has become a trend for costumed partiers who like to scare themselves silly on specially decorated rides. At least one park offers a ride that goes backwards only on Halloween night. If there aren’t theme parks nearby, drop by your local haunted house.

 

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19)

We rely on your sophisticated and reasoned approach to life … but that doesn’t mean you need to forgo Halloween’s wild side altogether. Draw from its Pagan origins to create your own ritual celebrating the close of harvest and initiation of the winter season. And don’t forget … Pagans liked to get naked and dance around fires!

 

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18)

There are so many high-tech Halloween gadgets on the market now, you’ll have a ball creating a surreal environment. Choose from black lights, strobes, swirling vortex fog machines and haunted doorbell sound systems. Or keep it simple and go low tech with a dry ice witch’s cauldron.

 

Pisces (Feb. 19 – March 20)

Halloween is known as the holiday when the “veils between the worlds” are the thinnest … the perfect time to hold a playful séance. Dress up as your fantasy fortuneteller and invite your friends over to communicate with the dead. Or concentrate on the living with Tarot cards, a Ouija board, tea leaves or whatever strikes your fancy.

 

Tarot.com is Part of the Daily Insight Group ©2018

The Daily Horoscopes for Wednesday, October 31

Aries

Retrograde Venus moves back into your relationship sector today, dear Aries. While Venus will stay in this sector until December 2nd, it will be retrograde only until November 16th. There can be a strong focus on whether or not you’re receiving satisfaction from and harmony with a partner or a close relationship until the 16th. Or, there can be a feeling of emotional distancing or limbo during this period of review, after which you’ll start to put all of the pieces together and feel more confident about making changes. This is a good time to channel some energy into refining a project, especially making something more beautiful! Also today, Mercury moves into your spirit sector and harmony with your sign. This provides a nice boost to your communications. You are putting recent events and ideas into perspective rather than into compartments with this influence. It’s a great time for big ideas that come from thinking in broad terms, but not necessarily strong for their practical implementation.

Taurus

Retrograde Venus moves back into your work and health sector today, dear Taurus, and for the next couple of weeks, you may be seeing areas of imbalance or dissatisfaction in your job or daily environment more acutely. Take heart, as the review you’re doing now is necessary and is likely to lead to improved conditions in the long run. Venus moves in retrograde motion until November 16th but then continues to transit this sector until December 2nd. This suggests you’ll have many opportunities to bring harmony to your everyday life, perhaps through some trial and error. This is a strong time for refining a work in progress. Also today, Mercury moves into your intimacy sector, and in the next several weeks, you’re picking up all sorts of information and cues that you usually miss. You may be reading between the lines more often than not. You’re bringing more logic and objectivity to matters that are sensitive, intimate, or taboo.

Gemini

From today until December 2nd, you can be focused on harmony in your romantic life or on getting in touch with your creative muse, dear Gemini, as Venus transits your creative sector. It may not be until December that you feel that things are indeed moving forward, but this is a good time for looking at your creative and romantic life, as well as your hobbies and pleasures, from a different viewpoint or perspective. Venus will end its retrograde on November 16th, after which things seem to straighten out. Also today, Mercury, your ruler and the planet of communication, begins its transit of your partnership sector, and in the weeks ahead, you’ll especially enjoy bouncing ideas off others as it can jumpstart your own reasoning powers. You seek out others, and they seek you! You stand to learn a lot through one-on-one conversations. Negotiations and compromises can figure strongly now.

Cancer

Today and until December 2nd, you’re likely to focus on bringing harmony, balance, and peace to your home life and family dynamics, dear Cancer, as Venus retrogrades into your home and family sector now. This can have its problems, not the least of which involves the resurfacing of old problems. However, you are looking at these matters in new ways and can apply your newfound insight after Venus turns direct on November 16th in rewarding and progressive ways. Also today, Mercury moves into your work and health sector, where it can do you many favors, with your help, of course! In the weeks ahead, you’re in a great position to reorganize and attend to the details of your daily life. Find practical ways to improve your health and habits, but be sure to balance work with rest, as there is a tendency to overthink, fret, and even pace with this position!

Leo

Today and until December 2nd, dear Leo, you can be quite focused on bringing more harmony to your communications, daily life, and friendships. Retrograde Venus moves back into your solar third house today. You can particularly enjoy making others feel appreciated with your special attention, and you might focus on understanding matters from the past until November 16th, mainly related to your relationships. This can also be a time for returning to old conversations and projects or studies. Once Venus moves in direct (or “normal”) motion after the 16th, you’ll get the chance to come at problems in new and hopefully improved ways. Also today, Mercury begins its complementary transit of your creative sector, and in the weeks ahead, you can be finding new mental interests and passions or renewing past ones!

Virgo

With Venus moving back into your resources sector today, dear Virgo, you’re likely to focus on balancing your checkbook, upkeeping your valuables, beautifying your home (or yourself!), and attending to your personal comfort in the coming weeks (until December 2nd). While Venus is retrograde in this sector of your solar chart until November 16th, you may be reviewing these things and looking at them from a different perspective, at times quite critically. It can be a good time for finding lost objects, money, or areas of weakness in a budget, although, for some of you, there can be a delayed payment to deal with now. If you’ve been dissatisfied with your income or business matters, you’ll feel this more acutely now. Once Venus is direct–from November 16th forward–you can be motivated to make changes based on the reassessments you’ve made. Also today, Mercury heads into your home and family sector, and in the weeks ahead, your family or personal life is likely to be busy. You are more able to discuss personal things in a rational, objective manner, and this makes it an excellent time to get things out in the open with loved ones.

Libra

Retrograde Venus backs up into your sign today, dear Libra, and will continue to transit Libra until December 2nd. Until November 16th, Venus remains retrograde, providing you with an opportunity to look at yourself, your personal goals, and your image in a different light. There can be quite a bit of preoccupation with your personal affairs now, and it’s a good time to review what exactly has been working for you and what may have been working against you. Take notes! It’s a truly powerful time for gaining perspective. It’s important to save major changes until after the 16th, but until then, you’ll have opportunities to make these assessments. Also today, Mercury moves into your communications sector, where it will do you several favors in the weeks ahead. It’s an excellent cycle for coming up with new ideas, making contact with others, and enjoying learning endeavors.

Scorpio
Scorpio

Venus leaves your sign today, but isn’t moving forward, dear Scorpio! In fact, Venus is moving back into the sign behind yours in retrograde motion. While this retrograde period will only last until November 16th, Venus will continue to transit your privacy sector until December 2nd. From now and until then, your affections might be kept especially private as you sort out what and who you honestly, sincerely want. A focus on the past is likely now! People from your past might re-enter your life, either in the flesh or strongly in your mind. You experience a stronger need or desire to sort things out. You can’t always depend on others for closure, so be careful not to attach yourself too strongly to something that you may not entirely understand. Also today, Mercury exits your sign and enters your resources sector (Mercury is moving ahead of your sign and Venus is moving behind it). In the weeks ahead, you can draw upon more practicality and objectivity in your approach to spending, saving, and making money.

Sagittarius
Sagittarius

Mercury moves into your sign today, dear Sagittarius, and in the weeks ahead, you’ll be projecting more strength in your communications. You have been quite private recently, and while this trend will continue for a little while longer, you can be more communicative and “present” with others with this new Mercury move. This is an excellent time to use the power of words to further your interests and attract what you need and want into your life. Career opportunities can arise, too. Venus also changes signs today. Until December 2nd, Venus transits your sector of friends, hopes, and wishes. Because Venus is retrograde in this sector until November 16th, there can be renewed attention to past relationships, and a new perspective can emerge about old issues, connections, and friendships. As well–or alternatively–you may be reassessing a project or pursuit in terms of how much satisfaction you’re getting from it. After the 16th, you may be more actively or outwardly working toward harmony and balance with friends.

Capricorn
Capricorn

Venus retreats into your career sector in retrograde motion today, dear Capricorn. Until December 2nd, you take a stronger interest in harmonizing with bosses, parents, elders, or more experienced people. You’re also considering ways to improve your reputation or your relationship to your career and responsibilities. You may not feel particularly supported until after November 16th, but you can be gaining valuable insight into your working relationships, reputation, and the satisfaction you’re feeling for your current work projects or long-term goals. Also today, Mercury moves into the sector of your chart that rules endings and all that’s hidden, undercover, and deep. In the weeks ahead, there can be a lot of talk or thought revolving around the past. It’s a good cycle in which to learn how to find some peace, to quieten your mind, and to meditate or work in relative solitude.

Aquarius
Aquarius

Retrograde Venus retreats into your adventure sector today, dear Aquarius, after a relatively lengthy visit to your career sector. This can mean a review of (or return to) an unfinished matter or previous condition related to travel, education, special interests, or publishing. You may feel a little stuck in the past or in limbo during the retrograde that lasts until November 16th, after which you have two weeks of Venus moving in direct (“normal”) motion in this sector to resolve matters and take affirmative action based on your discoveries. It’s a beautiful time to connect with people who expand your perspective. Also today, Mercury moves into harmony with your sign and into your sector of hopes and dreams. In the weeks ahead, your mind is more inventive and open, and you can also be entirely focused on happiness goals or your social life. Sharing your thoughts is a keen interest, and your input and conversations are well-received now.

Pisces
Pisces

Retrograde Venus moves back into your solar eighth house today, dear Pisces. While it will remain retrograde only until November 16th, Venus will stay in this sector of your chart until December 2nd. Until the 16th, you may be reviewing your financial arrangements or obligations. You may be looking at your intimate life or your dependencies from a different angle, and reassessing whether you’re satisfied with how you’ve been approaching these matters or with your return on investments! This review can give you valuable clues for making changes, which are ideally made after the retrograde period. Also today, Mercury heads to the top of your solar chart and will spend quite a bit of time here, animating your career and business affairs, particularly on a mental level. Your work may very well require or demand more communicating, mixing, and connecting on your part.

American Revolution: The Beginnings (Part 2)

 The Invasion of Canada and the Fall of Boston:  The major military operations of 1775 and early 1776 were not around Boston but in far-distant Canada, which the Americans tried to add as a fourteenth colony. Canada seemed a tempting and vulnerable target. To take it would eliminate a British base at the head of the familiar invasion route along the lake and river chain connecting the St. Lawrence with the Hudson. Congress, getting no response to an appeal to the Canadians to join in its cause, in late June 1775 instructed Major General Philip Schuyler of New York to take possession of Canada if “practicable” and “not disagreeable to the Canadians.”

 Schuyler managed to get together a force of about 2,000 men from New York and Connecticut, thus forming the nucleus of what was to become known as the Northern Army. In September 1775 Brigadier General Richard Montgomery set out with this small army from Ticonderoga with the objective of taking Montreal. To form a second prong to the invasion, Washington detached a force of 1,100 under Colonel Benedict Arnold, including a contingent of riflemen under Captain Daniel Morgan of Virginia, to proceed up the Kennebec River, across the wilds of Maine, and down the Chaudiere to join with Montgomery before Quebec.

 Montgomery, advancing along the route via Lake George, Lake Champlain, and the Richelieu River, was seriously delayed by the British fort at St. Johns but managed to capture Montreal on November 13. Arnold meanwhile had arrived opposite Quebec on November 8, after one of the most rugged marches in history. One part of his force had turned back and others were lost by starvation, sickness, drowning, and desertion. Only 600 men crossed the St. Lawrence on November 13, and in imitation of Wolfe scaled the cliffs and encamped on the Plains of Abraham. It was a magnificent feat, but the force was too small to prevail even against the scattered Canadian militia and British Regulars who, unlike Montcalm, shut themselves up in the city and refused battle in the open. Arnold’s men were finally forced to withdraw to Point aux Trembles, where they were joined by Montgomery with all the men he  could spare from the defense of Montreal; a total of 300. Nowhere did the Canadians show much inclination to rally to the American cause; the French habitants remained indifferent, and the small British population gave its loyalty to the governor general. With the enlistments of about half their men expiring by the new year, Arnold and Montgomery undertook a desperate assault on the city during the night of December 30 in the middle of a raging blizzard. The Americans were outnumbered by the defenders, and the attack was a failure. Montgomery was killed and Arnold wounded.

 The wounded Arnold, undaunted, continued to keep up the appearance of a siege with the scattered remnants of his force while he waited for reinforcements. The reinforcements came as Continental regiments raised in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; but they came in driblets and there were never enough to build a force capable of again taking the offensive, though a total of 8,000 men were eventually committed to the Canadian campaign. Smallpox and other diseases took their toll and never did the supply line bring in adequate food, clothing, or ammunition. Meanwhile, the British received reinforcements and in June 1776 struck back against a disintegrating American army that retreated before them almost without a fight. By mid-July the Americans were back at Ticonderoga where they had started less than a year earlier, and the initiative on the northern front passed to the British.

 While the effort to conquer Canada was moving toward its dismal end, Washington finally took the initiative at Boston. On March 4, 1776, he moved onto Dorchester Heights and emplaced his newly acquired artillery in position to menace the city; a few days later he fortified Nook’s Hill, standing still closer in. On March 17 the British moved out. It would be presumptuous to say that their exit was solely a consequence of American pressure. Sir William Howe, who succeeded Gage in command, had concluded long since that Boston was a poor strategic base and intended to stay only until the transports arrived to take his army to Halifax in Nova Scotia to regroup and await reinforcements. Nevertheless, Washington’s maneuvers hastened his departure, and the reoccupation of Boston was an important psychological victory for the Americans, balancing the disappointments of the Canadian campaign. The stores of cannon and ammunition the British were forced to leave behind were a welcome addition indeed to the meager American arsenal.

 The New Nation:  The Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, established a new nation and transformed a limited revolt to secure rights within the British Empire into a far-reaching one, aimed at complete independence from British control. Since the king and his ministers had determined to restore British rule, the Americans now faced a long, hard struggle for independence requiring a sustained national effort such as they had not expected in 1775.

 The new nation was still a weak confederation of thirteen independent states. Such national feeling as existed was a new phenomenon growing out of common opposition to British measures. Colonial tradition, divided loyalties, the nature of the economy, and the spirit of a revolt born in opposition to the use of military force to suppress popular liberties, all worked against the creation of any new strong central authority capable of mobilizing resources effectively for the long struggle that lay ahead.

 The thirteen states proclaiming their independence in 1776 possessed a total population of about two and a half million people, but not all the males of military age were part of the military potential. About 20 percent were Negro slaves who except under special circumstances were not eligible for service, though Negroes did serve in the Revolution and not in segregated units. Perhaps one-third of the “politically active” Americans remained loyal to the British Government. As in any society there were also the apathetic and indifferent who swayed with the tide. The genuine patriots still provided a far larger potential of military manpower than the British could possibly transport and supply across the Atlantic, but most of the men of military age were farmers who married young and immediately started large families. Whatever their patriotic sentiments, few were ready to undertake long terms of military service, fearing that if they did their farms and families at home would suffer. Accustomed to the tradition of short-term militia service under local commanders, they infinitely preferred it to long-term service in the Continental Army.

 The economy of the thirteen new states was neither self-sufficient nor truly national. The states were essentially a collection of separate agricultural communities, accustomed to exchanging their agricultural surplus for British manufactured goods and West Indian products. Manufacturing was still in its infancy and America produced few of the essentials of military supply. Despite diligent efforts to promote domestic production during the war years, the Continental Army had to rely primarily on captures and imports from Europe and the West Indies, run through a British blockade, for much of its military hardware and even for clothing. While the country produced foodstuffs in ample quantity, transport from one area to another was difficult. The normal avenues of commerce ran up and down the rivers, not overland; roads running north and south were few and inadequate. There was always a shortage of wagons, boats, and other means of transportation. Under these circumstances, it was far easier to support local militia for a few days or weeks than any sizable and continuously operating national army in the field. 

The governmental machinery created after the Declaration was characterized by decentralization and executive weakness. The thirteen new “free and independent states” transformed their existing de facto revolutionary governments into legal state governments by adopting institutions. Almost invariably, these constitutions vested most of the powers of government in the state legislatures, successors to the popular assemblies of the colonial period, and severely restricted the executive authority of the governors. At the national level, the same general distrust of strong authority was apparent, and the existing Continental Congress, essentially a gathering of delegates chosen by the state legislatures and without either express powers of its own or an executive to carry out its enactments, was continued as the only central governing body. Articles of Confederation stipulating the terms of union and granting Congress specific but limited powers were drawn up shortly after the Declaration, but jealousies among the states prevented ratification until 1781. In the interim, Congress exercised most of the powers granted it under the Articles, but they did not include either the right to levy taxes or the power to raise military forces directly under its auspices. Congress could only determine the Confederation’s need for troops and money to wage war and set quotas for the states to meet in proportion to their population and wealth. It had no means of insuring that the states met their quotas, and indeed they seldom did.

 The decentralized structure provided no adequate means of financing the war. The state legislatures, possessing the power to tax that Congress lacked, hesitated to use it extensively in the face of popular opposition to taxation, and were normally embarrassed to meet even their own expenses. Congress very early took unto itself the power to issue paper money and to negotiate domestic and foreign loans, but it shared these powers with also printed paper money the states, which also printed paper money in profusion and borrowed both at home and abroad to the extent they could. The paper money was a useful expedient in the early part of the war; indeed the Revolution could not have been carried on without it. But successive issues by Congress and the states led to first gradual and then galloping inflation, leaving the phrase “not worth a Continental” as a permanent legacy to the American language. The process of depreciation and the exhaustion of credit gradually robbed both the states and Congress of the power to pay troops, buy supplies, and otherwise meet the multitudinous expenses of war.

Evolution of the Continental Army:  Under these circumstances it is not surprising that Washington never got the kind of army, molded in the British image that he desired. The experience before Boston in 1775 was repeated many times, as local militia had to be called in continually to give the American Army a numerical superiority in the field. The Continental Army, nevertheless, became the center of American resistance, and its commander, Washington, the symbol of the patriot cause. The extent to which militia could be expected to rally to that cause was very largely determined by the Continental Army’s success or failure in the field.

 Though the militia belonged to the states, the Continental Army was a creation of the Continental Congress. Congress prescribed its size and composition, chose its generals, and governed the system for its administration and supply. Suspicious on principle of a standing army and acutely aware of historic examples of seizure of political power by military leaders, its members kept a watchful eye on the Army’s commanders and insisted they defer to civilian authority. Washington countered these suspicions by constantly deferring to Congressional wishes, and he was rewarded by the assiduity with which Congress usually adopted his recommendations.

 Lacking an executive, Congress had to rely on committees and boards to carry out its policies; unwieldy devices at best and centers of conflicting interest and discord at worst. In June 1776 it set up a Board of War and Ordnance, consisting of five of its members, the lineal ancestor of the War Department. In 1777 Congress changed the composition of the board, directing that it henceforth be made up of persons outside Congress who could devote full time to their military duties. Neither of these devices really worked well, and Congress continually handled administrative matters by action of the entire membership or by appointment of special committees to go to camp. In 1781 the board was replaced by a single Secretary at War.

 Under the Articles of Confederation the states were responsible for raising troops for the Continental Army, for organizing and equipping them, and for appointing officers through the rank of colonel. State authorities called out militia sometimes at the request of Congress and sometimes on their own initiative. When they joined the main army, militia normally shared in its supplies and equipment. The states, however, maintained an interest in supplying and administering the troops of their own “lines” as well as their militia, and the Continental agents had continually to enlist state assistance in their own efforts. Lines of authority crisscrossed at every turn. 

It was an inefficient military system for an organized national effort. Washington could never depend on having enough trained men or supplies. He continually inveighed against sending militia to fight his battles and by early 1776 had concluded that he needed an army enlisted for the duration of the war. Congress did not, as has often been charged, ignore his wishes. In October 1776 it voted a new establishment, superseding the plan developed for the army before Boston in 1775 and haphazard arrangements made in the interim for raising Continental regiments in various states. This establishment was to contain 88 battalions of infantry, or about 60,000 men, enlisted to serve three years or “during the present war,” with each state assigned a quota in proportion to its population under the system set up in the Articles. After the disastrous retreat across New Jersey in December 1776, Congress went further and authorized an additional 22 battalions to be recruited by Washington’s officers directly into the Continental service. These 110 battalions remained the authorized strength of the Continental Army until 1781, when Congress cut it to 59.

 Neither the 88 battalions, nor the 110, nor even the 59 ever existed except on paper. The Continental Army never had as many as 30,000 men at any one time, and very rarely was Washington able to muster as many as 15,000 effectives in the field. The states were simply unable to meet their quotas. By the winter of 1777-78, the effort to enlist men for three years or the duration collapsed, and the following spring, with the sanction of Washington, Congress reverted to a system of one-year enlistments and recommended to the states that they institute a system of drafting men from the militia for one year’s service. This first American wartime draft was applied irregularly in the various states and succeeded no better than had earlier methods in filling the Continental ranks. Bounties, instituted by both the states and the Congress very early in the war and progressively increased one step behind the pace of inflation, also produced only temporary and irregular results.

 The coin did have another side. In reality the shortage of arms and ammunition and of facilities for producing them, limited the number of men who could be kept continuously in the field as effectively as did the failure of enlistment drives. The militia system enabled many able-bodied males to perform part-time military service and still remain most of the time in the labor force that kept the economy going. It is doubtful whether the American economy could have sustained such an army as Washington and Congress proposed in 1776, even had there been a central administration with adequate power. As it was, the small Continental Army that did remain in the field intermittently suffered extreme hardship and near starvation. On the other hand, American ability to raise local armies in any threatened region helped to balance the strategic mobility that the British Fleet gave to the British Army. Although militia generally did not perform well in regular warfare, when highly motivated and ably led, they could fight well on terrain suited to their capabilities. Given the conditions under which the Revolution was fought, the American military system was more effective than its critics have recognized, though it failed to provide adequately for a sustained military effort over a period of years.

 Perhaps Washington’s greatest achievement was simply in maintaining the Continental Army continuously in the field. Despite its many vicissitudes, that army did take shape during the war as the first distinctively American military organization, neither quite a replica of the professional British Army on which it was modeled nor yet the type of national army raised by conscription that was to appear in France after the Revolution of 1789.

 The Continental Army operated in three main territorial divisions or departments; the main army under Washington largely in the Middle States, the Northern Army in northern New York, and the Southern Army in the Carolinas and Georgia. Although Washington was Commander in Chief of the whole, the commanders of the Northern and Southern Armies still operated with a considerable measure of independence. Congress, rather than Washington, named their commanders and communicated directly with them. Of the two “separate armies,” the Northern Army was by far the most important until 1777 and the Southern Army existed largely on paper; by 1780 the situation was reversed as the British transferred their main effort to the southern states.

 The Continental Army was composed mainly of infantry and artillery, with very little cavalry. The basic unit of infantry organization was the regiment or battalion composed of eight companies above this level was highly flexible. A brigade was usually formed of several regiments and was commanded by a brigadier general; a division consisted of a similar grouping of several brigades commanded by a major general. Artillery was organized into a brigade of four regiments under a Chief of Artillery, Brig. Gen. Henry Knox, but the various companies were distributed among the infantry battalions. There was a small corps of engineers and an even smaller contingent of artificers, who handled the servicing and repair of ordnance.

 Washington was provided with a staff generally corresponding to that of the British Army. The most important staff officer was the Quartermaster General, responsible not only for transportation and delivery of supplies but also for arranging the camp, regulating marches, and establishing the order of battle of the army. There were also an Adjutant General, a Judge Advocate General, a Paymaster General, a Commissary General of Musters, a Commissary General of Provisions, a Clothier General, a Chief Surgeon, and a Chief Engineer. Each of the separate armies also usually had staff officers in these positions, designated as deputies to those of the main army.

 All these staff officers had primarily administrative and supply functions. The modern concept of a general staff that acts as a sort of collective brain for the commander had no real counterpart in the eighteenth century. For advice on strategy and operations, Washington relied on a Council of War made up of his principal subordinate commanders, and, conforming to his original instructions from Congress, he usually consulted the council before making major decisions.

 Both organization and staff work suffered from the ills that afflicted the whole military system. Regiments were constantly understrength, were organized differently by the various states, and employed varying systems of drill, discipline, and training. In the promotion of officers in the state lines, Continental commanders shared authority with the states, and the confused system gave rise to all sorts of rivalries, jealousies, and resentment, leading to frequent resignations. Staff officers were generally inexperienced, and few had the patience and perseverance to overcome the obstacles posed by divided authority, inadequate means, and poor transportation and communication facilities. The supply and support services of the Continental Army never really functioned efficiently, and with the depreciation in the currency they came close to collapse. 

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE®

SOURCE: American Military History; Army Historical Series; Office of the Chief of Military History United States Army (United States Army Center of Military History)
CONTRIBUTOR: Eddy Toorall

An Autumn Evenings Repose

After coming in from a long day in the cooling fall air, the orange glow of the evening sun slowly fading as I closed the door and stepped in to the house. The dim lighting of the interior, I stopped to allow my eyes to adjust, watching the dust drift in last thin rays a dying sun streaming from the slight opening between the curtains. Slowly making my way to down the hall disrobing; as I walked pass hangers; depositing garments as I went.  Passing into the first doorway I came too, I reached and picked the remote from the end table, and in my own fashion plopped down upon the divan, stretching out my knees over the arm, feet dangling, clicked the television on. Pulling the pillow under my head, clicking through the channels, thinking, not a damn thing on worth watching, finally settling upon a local news station. The picture was of a frail man with his coat collar pulled up close to his neck, Bright flashes of red and blue, highlighting his frame on both sides. I turn the volume up as I watch his lips move.

“Tonight’s fall evening quite brutally shattered” I heard him say, his voice a quiver as blaring sirens filled the background. “ Never in my life have I ever seen such gore” one police officer reported the commentator continued, “ rivers of blood pooled on the flooring, body parts just, just, tossed willy nilly around the rooms, as if so demonic maniac, lost in a fit of uncontrollable rage.” Here the announcer stop sniffed his nose and turned from the screen to wipe his eyes.

“The police have confirmed that the three previous scene’s they have investigated this evening, with a total of 8 victims, so far, are connected and warn the public that there is a serial killer on the prowl tonight. Advising to keep your doors and windows locked and to be especially wary about opening your doors to strangers.”

By this time the announcer had my full attention, the legs and slid off the divan arm and I was sitting bold up right. At this very moment the doorbell rings. DING DONG! OK! I jumped, startled and my head wiping toward the hallway, I could hardly tear myself from the TV, but then again DING DONG.

“If you see any strangers in your neighborhood you are advised to contact the police immediately”, the words seemed to drill in the side of my head, when, DING DONG. Sucking air deep into my lungs, I tried to straighten my legs and stand. Slowly, stiffly I make my way to the hall door, standing for a moment in the door frame, head turned looking upon the entrance door. BAMMM BAMM BAMM thundered down the hall as someone hammered upon the door. My heart was pounding louder than the knocking in my ears, weakly I retracted my steps back down the hall, a shaking hand reached for the door knob. A deeeep breathe, and then I turn the knob, pulling slowly the door open. Eyes wide facing the unknown, it creaks open.

TRICK OR TREAT! Uncle Eddy. Two small voices shout.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

From the Staff

 

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE®

 

From The Pentlands Looking North And South

Around my feet the clouds are drawn
In the cold mystery of the dawn;
No breezes cheer, no guests intrude
My mossy, mist-clad solitude;
When sudden down the steeps of sky
Flames a long, lightening wind. On high
The steel-blue arch shines clear, and far,
In the low lands where cattle are,
Towns smoke. And swift, a haze, a gleam,–
The Firth lies like a frozen stream,
Reddening with morn. Tall spires of ships,
Like thorns about the harbour’s lips,
Now shake faint canvas, now, asleep,
Their salt, uneasy slumbers keep;
While golden-grey, o’er kirk and wall,
Day wakes in the ancient capital.

Before me lie the lists of strife,
The caravanserai of life,
Whence from the gates the merchants go
On the world’s highways; to and fro
Sail laiden ships; and in the street
The lone foot-traveller shakes his feet,
And in some corner by the fire
Tells the old tale of heart’s desire.
Thither from alien seas and skies
Comes the far-questioned merchandise:–
Wrought silks of Broussa, Mocha’s ware
Brown-tinted, fragrant, and the rare
Thin perfumes that the rose’s breath
Has sought, immortal in her death:
Gold, gems, and spice, and haply still
The red rough largess of the hill
Which takes the sun and bears the vines
Among the haunted Apennines.

And he who treads the cobbled street
To-day in the cold North may meet,
Come month, come year, the dusky East,
And share the Caliph’s secret feast;
Or in the toil of wind and sun
Bear pilgrim-staff, forlorn, fordone,
Till o’er the steppe, athwart the sand
Gleam the far gates of Samarkand.
The ringing quay, the weathered face
Fair skies, dusk hands, the ocean race
The palm-girt isle, the frosty shore,
Gales and hot suns the wide world o’er
Grey North, red South, and burnished West
The goals of the old tireless quest,
Leap in the smoke, immortal, free,
Where shines yon morning fringe of sea
I turn, and lo! the moorlands high
Lie still and frigid to the sky.

The film of morn is silver-grey
On the young heather, and away,
Dim, distant, set in ribs of hill,
Green glens are shining, stream and mill,
Clachan and kirk and garden-ground,
All silent in the hush profound
Which haunts alone the hills’ recess,
The antique home of quietness.
Nor to the folk can piper play
The tune of “Hills and Far Away,”
For they are with them. Morn can fire
No peaks of weary heart’s desire,
Nor the red sunset flame behind
Some ancient ridge of longing mind.

For Arcady is here, around,
In lilt of stream, in the clear sound
Of lark and moorbird, in the bold
Gay glamour of the evening gold,
And so the wheel of seasons moves
To kirk and market, to mild loves
And modest hates, and still the sight
Of brown kind faces, and when night
Draws dark around with age and fear
Theirs is the simple hope to cheer.–
A land of peace where lost romance
And ghostly shine of helm and lance
Still dwell by castled scarp and lea,
And the last homes of chivalry,
And the good fairy folk, my dear,
Who speak for cunning souls to hear,
In crook of glen and bower of hill
Sing of the Happy Ages still.

O Thou to whom man’s heart is known,
Grant me my morning orison.
Grant me the rover’s path–to see
The dawn arise, the daylight flee,
In the far wastes of sand and sun!
Grant me with venturous heart to run
On the old highway, where in pain
And ecstasy man strives amain,
Conquers his fellows, or, too weak,
Finds the great rest that wanderers seek!
Grant me the joy of wind and brine,
The zest of food, the taste of wine,
The fighter’s strength, the echoing strife
The high tumultuous lists of life–
May I ne’er lag, nor hapless fall,
Nor weary at the battle-call!…
But when the even brings surcease,
Grant me the happy moorland peace;
That in my heart’s depth ever lie
That ancient land of heath and sky,
Where the old rhymes and stories fall
In kindly, soothing pastoral.
There in the hills grave silence lies,
And Death himself wears friendly guise
There be my lot, my twilight stage,
Dear city of my pilgrimage.

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE®

SOURCE: The Moon Endureth Tales and Fancies; by John Buchan
CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway