Although I can’t recommend it, the quirky, magic realist film “Little Boy” put me in the mood for the Houdini Museum in Mew York. In the film, magic gives an unfortunate boy hope and the ability to believe the impossible, much like Houdini did.
The magic store Fantasma Magic, on the third floor of a nondescript building kitty corner from Madison Square Garden, houses the museum, and John was quite the guide.
He told me about the Substitution Trunk, a trick still in use today. First, the audience came up to examine the trunk, making sure it was sound. Then Houdini’s brother was handcuffed, put in a bag, and locked the trunk. Houdini stood on the trunk and raised a curtain.
When the curtain came back down, Houdini was locked in the trunk and his brother was on top the trunk.
Later Houdini’s wife took the place of his brother. Regardless, I have no idea how they did this, and John wasn’t telling.
Houdini would respond to two challenges–a punch in the gut and willingness to escape from anything. In Boston, in 1907, it was this coffin, secured with six-inch nails. In 66 minutes, the magician escaped.
How did he do it? Houdini was a locksmith by trade, so he knew little tricks and hid little lock picks. He knew the handcuffs would pop open when banged against a shin-shaped metal plate that he conveniently kept up his trouser leg.
Soon he was stripped for his tricks. The naked magician. Houdini would swallow his picks, yes, really, and regurgitate them once the trick started. I want to know how he avoided punching holes in his stomach. Ouch!
After his mother died, Houdini went to seances to contact her. Finding the mediums to be hoaxes, Houdini revealed their secrets and methods. He decided to conjure the spirits himself, as part of his magic act. Different from the debunked seances, his audience knew his work was illusory. No deception of the heart. Or so Houdini stated.
John didn’t know how the teakettle related to Houdini’s act, but he told me how Steve Cohen uses it now at the Waldorf. This ‘Magician to the Millionaires’ asks six people what they like to drink and then pours their preferred drink from the teakettle. Margherita, Diet Coke, a brandy, whatever. One after another. Even professional magicians like John can’t figure out how he does it. In case you want to catch his act, he’s at the Waldorf on weekends in a suite.
Probably anyone could figure out how John did the two tricks for me. I just laughed and laughed.
As I did with this Mickey Mouse magician from the 1950s at Disney World in Florida. Apparently the only one in existence, John remembers seeing this automaton as a child with his mother. And now he works where it’s exhibited. I couldn’t even figure out how it works, although you might be able to in this video..
So I turned to Isabella, feeding her a dollar for my fortune. Listen to what she has to say here. (You might also make out the Rena ghost in her window.)