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Houdini Museum

The famous illusionist, Harry Houdini, originally Erik Weisz or Ehrich Weiss, is perhaps best known for his escapes. In 1894, he and his wife, Bess, thrilled audiences at Huber’s Opera House with a trick called the “The Metamorphosis Miracle.” It worked like this: Houdini, hands bound behind his back and tied in a sack, was locked in a wooden trunk while Bess stood on top of the trunk, hidden by a screen. On the count of three, the screen was removed and there was Houdini standing on the trunk, with Bess inside, hands bound behind her back and tied in a sack. Applause.

Today, you can see the Metamorphosis Substitution Trunk on display, at The Houdini Museum of New York, located within the headquarters of Fantasma Magic, on the third floor, at 421 7th Avenue. The museum has more than 1500 pieces, including several hundred rare items that he used or owned, many never previously displayed. Among them is an artifact with a history of disappearance to rival Houdini’s own: his bust.

Or at least one of his busts: the original bust of Houdini was made of bronze by John Cassidy of Manchester England. Houdini left specific instructions in his will that it should be displayed at his gravesite. When he died of appendicitis on Halloween in 1926, his wishes were carried out, up to a point. His wife brought it to the Machpelah Cemetery, in Queens, but it remained there only temporarily. A marble copy was made and installed so the original could be donated to the Museum of the City of New York. Unfortunately, the marble replacement was destroyed, either on purpose or accidentally by fans of Houdini in 1975. A second replica, a polyethylene resin model made by the Society of American Magicians to replace the smashed marble bust, was made in 1976. But it was stolen on August 15, 1983 – and disappeared for the next 19 years.

But there’s a surprise ending: In the first week of March, 2002, while responding to an unrelated complaint, police found the head of Houdini in a basement in New Hyde Park, 12.5 miles from the cemetery. The long missing bust went on display at the Houdini Museum, courtesy of the Society of American Magicians.


— Carol Cofone


1874 Erik Weitz is born in Budapest, Hungary.
1904 Houdini takes up residence at 278 West 113th Street,
1926 Houdini dies in Detroit,