Last week, I visited Fantasma Magic Shop near Penn Station in New York City to see their new-ish Houdini “Museum”. They’ve gotten a bit of press here in the city lately, following appearances on Fox & Friends and a write-up in the New York Daily News. While Fantasma always had Houdini memorabilia on display, it was scattered throughout the store and not nearly as well-presented as in its current form. Now it occupies two walls when you first enter of the store, along with a set of display cases in the middle. The artifacts come from the collection of Houdini collector and Fantasma founder Roger Dreyer.
My personal favorites were:
- A tiny photo tucked away in the back of the store of Charlie Chaplin & Houdini. (I’m also a big Chaplin fan.) The photo is also reprinted on p. 360 of The Secret Life of Houdini where it is attributed to Dreyer’s collection.
- Next to Chaplin, photos of Bess in her younger years, looking quite attractive. I’m accustomed to the photos of her later in life – and mostly after Houdini’s death. I thought these early photographs barely looked like he later her at all – which is to say she looked quite attractive, in my mind. Not the usual too-much-lipstick toothy grin. Of the 4 photo’s the prettiest of the lot can be found on p. 120 of Silverman’s Notes to Houdini!!!.
- As a stage magician, I also appreciated the presence of Houdini’s “Birds of a Guilded Cage” and “Doves of Peace” props from his short-lived stage magic tour. There is also one of his side tables on display. It’s the second time, following last year’s Jewish museum exhibit curators have chosen to display tables with black art wells fully exposed – to see if anyone notices, I suppose.
- There is also an animatronic display of Houdini coming from the ceiling over a substitution trunk which is “magically” levitating despite being chained down. I mistook this display as a cheesy left-over from their kid birthday-party business…until I re-read Culliton and discovered that Dreyer also owned one of the last Metamorphosis trunks that Houdini used. It must be the same one (!!).
- New York shots. After all, this museum is in NYC, so the items which featured it were much appreciated:
- An upside-down straight jacket escape shot atop a subway excavation platform in Time Square (reproduced on P. 355 of the latest Culliton book, and attributed to Dreyer on p. 197 of The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare)
- The 1976 S.A.M. replacement bust from his grave in Queens
- A broadside of a challenge being presented at the NYC Hippodrome. The straightjacket displayed in photograph underneath is also on display, which is a neat pairing.
It was definitely worth the trip.
- Culliton, Patrick. Houdini–the Key. Keitan Press:np. 2010. 460 pp. Limited edition of 278. Cover | Full Title
- Kalush, William and Sloman, Larry. The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. Atria Books:New York. 2006. 592 pp. Cover | Full Title
- Kalush, William and Sloman, Larry. With Cuiffo, Steve. The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare: Sources, Notes and Additional Material. Mike Caveney’s Magic Words:Pasadena and The Conjuring Arts Research Center:New York. 2007. 333 pp. Limited edition of 1,000. Cover | Full Title
- Silverman, Kenneth. Notes to Houdini!!! Kaufman and Greenberg:Washington DC. 1996. 181 pp. Cover | Full Title