Magician Makes a Discovery in His Neighborhood
Due to having a background as a magician (a “semi-pro” from ages 8 to 18) I was very excited when I discovered that where I lived in Inwood Manhattan was just around the corner of 67 Payson Avenue. Why is 67 Payson Avenue such an important address? It’s because it is where the widow of Harry Houdini, Bessie Houdini, lived out the last years of her life.
When my daughter was very young we’d go to the park near the “Houdini House” (as my daughter called it), therefore I’d pass the apartment quite frequently. I was always sure to remind my daughter that the wife of Houdini had lived there. And apparently it is also the home from which every Sunday at the hour of Houdini’s death, she’d lock herself in a room with her late husband’s photo and try to communicating with him.
A Long Time Fan of Houdini
As a boy of 8 and reading all the biographies on Houdini that I could get my hands on, I over and over again was transfixed with the part of Houdini’s life where he made a pact with Bess that if he died first he’d attempt to contact her from the spirit world with a code. It was a code that only Harry and Bessie knew about so if a spirit medium was able to uncover it, Bess would know she was in touch with Houdini from beyond the grave.
Harry Houdini’s interest in the occult began in the 1920s after the death of his mother who was a very important part of his life.
The website TheGreatHarryHoudini.com describes it here:
“In the 1920s, after the death of his mother, Houdini began focusing his energy on debunking psychics and mediums. Although he eventually focused on proving these people to be fakes, his initial entry into the world of the supernatural began when he attempted to contact his dead mother. However, he found that the mediums he met were often frauds. He began investigating their methods and claims and later became a self-appointed crusader against them.”
The Film that Bess Houdini Appeared in
Wikipedia talks about this film:
“Bess Houdini appeared as herself in the 1938 film Religious Racketeers (a.k.a. Mystic Circle Murder) directed by Frank O’Conner and produced by Fanchon Royer. In the film, she expressed her belief that communication with those who have died is impossible. The film sparked controversy among spiritualists, but was praised by magicians”
I’ve seen the movie several times and it’s a bit odd but fun. The very interesting thing about it is that in the motion picture Mrs. Houdini in a cameo plays herself and talks about trying to communicate with her late husband.
Bessie Houdini’s Death
Bessie Houdini did not die in Inwood Manhattan. She died while on a train in Needless California in 1943 on her way to her family’s home in New York.
I learned this from my favorite blog about Houdini, “Wild About Harry (Houdini).” Here’s more from that site:
“An irony not pointed out here was that Bess died in the town of Needles, CA which was what Houdini always called his East Indian Needle trick — “Needles.” The original Needles train station and the adjoining El Garces Hotel were restored in 2014.”
Many Years Have Passed Since Houdini’s Wife Has Died
Now that my daughter is older (nearly 10) she doesn’t like going to the park near Bess’s apartment anymore. We call that particular park “The Houdini Park” because it is across the street from Bess Houdini’s place. And because my daughter doesn’t drag me to the Houdini Park anymore, I haven’t passed by Mrs. Houdini’s residence lately.
It should be noted that Bess Houdini never did get a communication from Houdini from beyond the grave through a spirit medium. No one ever cracked the code. Or maybe someone did! That’s a story for another time.