The Houdini Museum

Houdini‘ is a name that still conjures up all sorts of sorcerous associations nearly 90 years after his death (31st October 1926). It is pretty safe to safe that Houdini is the second most famous magical Harry, after Potter of course – although Houdini gets bonus points for not being fictional…

Despite being a native of Budapest, it’s in New York City that you can find a museum dedicated to the marvellous magician’s memory, with over 2500 pieces of Houdiniana in its collection if the leaflet can be believed.

The Houdini Museum is a bit of an unusual museum.  Like the Twinings Museum, the museum is part of a shop, in this case Fantasma Magic, rather than a tea emporium. However, most of the stuff on display was Houdiniana rather than merch’ so I think it qualifies to be a museum rather than whatever the Twinings place really is (with the ‘museum’ being a  corner of the cafe in the shop).

I am really enjoying being able to use the word Houdiniana and would like to thank the Houdini Museum for introducing it to me.

And with that in mind, let’s look at some of the Houdiniana (that’s four times now!) on display…

Card King

Houdini Posters
Houdini Posters

The poster in the top left of the picture shows Houdini in his early professional persona as the ‘King of Cards’.

Wait, what?

Yup. Houdini wasn’t always the escapologist extraordinaire that we remember today. He made his name with the everyday magic that is the card-trick. I wonder if the King of Cards ever uttered that well worn phrase of “Pick a card, any card.”

The museum tells us that Houdini used his powers for good; he would write newspaper articles exposing the tricks used by nefarious card-tricksters as a public service. He performed a similar service for all things occult. I found it fascinating that for someone whose career was the mystical, he went out of his way to make it mundane.

Museum Mannequin

Houdini Mannequin and props
Houdini Mannequin and props

Naturally, I hunted down the resident Museum Mannequin, you can see him suspended from the ceiling inside the trap door. Clearly one of the more daring mannequins out there, but I suppose you would have to be to be a mannequin representing a legendary magician cum escapologist cum card sharp cum actor…

Houdini: the grim game
Houdini: the grim game

I never realised that Houdini added actor to his impressive resume/ skill set.

The museum has lots of ephemera with links to the magician, but it also shows us some actual props he used as well.

A pair of Houdini's handcuffs
A pair of Houdini’s handcuffs
a prop used by Harry Houdini
a prop used by Harry Houdini

Another fun fact: did you know that Houdini collected keys?

 A selection of Houdini's key collection
A selection of Houdini’s key collection

Of course, if you’re going to pick locks as part of your trick, it makes sense to get to know how they work…

I’m going to leave you, readers and fellow museum explorers, with a coffin. Now before you start to think that everything has taken a turn for the macabre, this is a trick coffin, which you can read about on the museum’s website. 

Houdini's trick coffin from 1907
Houdini’s trick coffin from 1907


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