It’s quiet today at the Machpelah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. Harry Houdini, the son of a poor Hungarian rabbi, is buried in this American Jewish cemetery in a bronze casket. A statue placed here in his honor is missing the head, stolen long ago. Only pieces of the neck are left. Each year people come to the gravesite for a simple Jewish kaddish, or mourner’s prayer, for his soul. Harry died on October 31, 1926 but the magic never ends.
“My mind is the key that sets me free.” Harry Houdini
Jenny wears a bright blue ribbon around her neck and an alarm clock “wristwatch” on her leg. She stands in the middle of a brightly lit stage in New York City. In the hushed theater, a pistol shot rings out. The matinee crowd gasps. Jenny, a 10,000 pound elephant, vanishes into thin air!
It’s 1918 and everyone is wild about Harry Houdini. He does unexplainable things ~ pulls rabbits from hats, does a thousand card tricks, can undo locked handcuffs behind his back, walk through brick walls, twist and squirm his way out of ropes and chains. He can even wriggle out of a straitjacket while hanging upside down one-hundred feet above the street!
How does Harry Houdini do it? By the magic of Hard Work.
His famous underwater escapes stun audiences around the world. For years Harry trained to condition his body. He practiced holding his breath until he was able to stay underwater for five or six minutes. He even filled the tubs of water with blocks of ice to make it harder.
No straitjacket or jail could hold Harry, not even the “inescapable” steel cell in Russia. But Harry did most of his escape routines in vaudeville shows. Audiences flocked to see the man in a black frock coat, stiff collar and dark tie escape from a manacle, knotted bag and locked trunk in three seconds. Harry called this illusion “Metamorphosis”. It was a quick substitution trick using a box, a sack and a cabinet. After he escaped, Harry would unlock the trunk and untie the bag. Then ~ out stepped his wife.
But in 1925, Harry had a leggy teenage stage assistant who emerged from a large mock-up of a radio and did the Charleston. Dorothy Young was with the Houdini tour for little more than a year before she went on to a career in dance, onstage and in movies. Liz Taylor has monopolized the headlines this week (and rightly so) but I saw Young’s obituary in the Times and it spilled a new secret about Harry. Houdini swore Young to secrecy, to never to divulge any of behind-the-scenes preparations. And so there is much about the world’s greatest magician that will never be known. Dorothy Young, a shy seventeen-year old spotted by Houdini at a casting call, died last week at a retirement home in New Jersey. She was 103 years old. I hope she’s dancing right now with her partner, Gilbert Kiamie, in Rumbalero Heaven…where, I do believe, the magic never ends.
More about Dorothy and Harry and Magic ~
And a few very simple tricks ………Today’s Per Diem Good Thing(s)
Good-by Penny Illusion
Say, “Here is a penny. Watch carefully, I will make it disappear.”
Show the penny “in” a glass. When you show the penny, it only seems to be in the glass. It is really under the bottom of the glass. Then cover the glass with a cloth and give it to a friend. When your friend looks, the penny is gone!
Bag of Surprises
Show a paper bag and say, “The bag is empty.” Then reach into the bag and pull out ribbons, pictures and a handkerchief. There are really two bags, one inside the other. The inside bag is empty. The objects are under it in the other bag.
Show a marble in your hand, and then cover it with a handkerchief. Say, “Feel under this handkerchief. Is the marble still there?”
Let all your friends feel the marble. Then flick away the handkerchief and the marble is gone!
**Before you begin this trick, choose a secret helper. The last person to feel the marble is your helper and takes the marble away and hides it.