A Visit to the NYC Houdini Museum

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.

    Houdini & Chaplin

    Houdini & Chaplin

  • 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.
    “Birds of a Guilded Cage" prop

    “Birds of a Guilded Cage” prop

    "Birds of Peace" prop

    “Birds of Peace” prop

  • 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 (!!).

    Richard Dreyer in the Metamorphosis Trunk on display, from p. 355 of Culliton's Houdini–the Key.

    Richard Dreyer in the Metamorphosis Trunk on display, from p. 355 of Culliton’s Houdini–the Key.

  •  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

      Houdini Grave bust

      Houdini Grave bust

    • 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.
      Straightjacket used in the challenge photograph

      Straightjacket used in the challenge photograph

      Houdini challenge at the Hippodrome

      Houdini challenge at the Hippodrome

More great photos of the exhibit are at the museum website.  The Penn Jilette video, in particular, gives you a good sense of the size and scale of the display.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s