It's Fun Friday -- time for some fun for the weekend. Enjoy today's post and I'll see you back here on Monday with more philatelic news and notes.
United States, 2002
Harry Houdini is likely the greatest and most well-known magician of all time. While his tricks are not mind-shattering by today's standsards like they were during the early days of vaudeville, he was the master showman of his field. He knew how to promote himself and his efforts are still studied by innumerable magicians of today.
His life has been well-documented by various histories and biographies, but a lot of public misconceptions remain. How well do you know Houdini? Chances are that only true magicians or advanced historians will know all of the facts listed below.
- Houdini was a stage name. Harry Houdini was not his real name. His real name was Erik Weisz and he was born in Hungary in March 1874. His name was Americanized to Ehrich Weiss on immigration papers when his family moved to the United States.
- Houdini took his stage name from a magician's wife. From his earliest days, Weiss admired the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Robert-Houdin had been very popular and was considered a forerunner of the modern magician. Weiss took the stage name Houdini, adding the "i" at the end to indicate that he was "like Houdin".
But the French magician's real name was Jean Eugene Robert; Houdin was the last name of his wife, which he had added to his own name. Harry Houdini unwittingly derived his stage name after the French magician's wife, and not the magician himself.
- Houdini falsely claimed he was born in America. Houdini claimed on several occasions to have been born in Appleton, Wisconsin, in the United States, and not Budapest, Hungary as his birth record indicates. It is likely that xenophobia immediately before and after World War I, led him to claim to be a native-born American.
- Houdini produced and starred in movies. To a master showman seeking a wide audience, cinema provided an unequaled opportunity for fame. Houdini starred in several silent films before establishing his own studio. From there, he produced and starred in two silent films, before realizing that his efforts were not very profitable.
Collections of his films have recently been released on DVD.
- Houdini debunked spiritualists. In the early 1900s, many people were caught up in spiritualism as a way of contacting deceased relatives. People who were grieving would often pay enormous sums of money in order to contact the dead. Houdini recognized the spiritualist mediums for what they really were ... charlatans preying upon the delicate emotions of the recently bereaved. Because he was familiar with sleight of hand and other ways of manipulating audiences into believing the impossible, he was able to expose their tricks, which he often did.
- Houdini did not die due to a failed Chinese Water Tank trick. It is a common misconception that Houdini died either in the famed Chinese Water Tank trick, or immediately after being rescued from the device. This is a myth based in part by a popular 1953 Hollywood semi-biographical movie starring actor Tony Curtis. In reality, Houdini was nowhere near a stage when he died; he died at a Detroit, Michigan hospital, one week after his last performance.
- Houdini did not die due to a punch in the stomach. The purported cause of Houdini's death is a punch, or more accurately, several punches, to his abdomen by a Canadian college student trying to test Houdini's self-professed ability to "take a punch". When the student delivered repeated punches to Houdini's unprepared abdomen, the magician was staggered and was in pain. Shortly thereafter, he was admitted to Detroit's Grace Hospital and surgically treated for a ruptured appendix. There seems to be little doubt by medical historians that Houdini already had appendicitis, prior to the punches, and that the appendix was not ruptured by the punches, as they are not known to rupture due to trauma. More likely, the sharp pains Houdini felt were due to the appendix already being inflamed, and the rupture being an inevitable side-effect.
- Houdini died on Halloween day. It seems coincidental that one of the most famous spiritualism skeptic would die on Halloween. Some conspiracy theorists have even advanced the notion that he was poisoned by pro-spiritualists whose livelihoods have been threatened by his debunking of their craft.
- Houdini and his wife are buried in different places. Houdini was Jewish and was buried in Queens, New York, in a large plot with an elaborate tombstone. His wife, who was a stagehand and often part of his act, survived him by almost 17 years and wished to be interred beside him. At her death, she was denied this wish. It is speculated that because she wasn't Jewish (she was Catholic), she was barred from being buried in the Jewish burial plot. Another speculation involves her surviving families' wishes; they felt it would put her at risk of not going to heaven because of her being buried with a Jew. Regardless of the reasoning, these two performers, who worked together for all of their married life, were interred in two different cemeteries, in two different counties in New York state.
- Houdini's U.S. postage stamp contains a hidden image. Magic is the art of deception -- everyone knows that a magician doesn't actually make anyone disappear; they just seem to. To honor Houdini's deceptive prowess, the U.S. Postal Service put a hidden image on their 2002 commemorative stamp shown above. With a special viewing lens that could be obtained from the post office (no longer available), one could see the image of Houdini wrapped in chains.
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- The World's Smelliest Postage Stamps
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