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Dr. Morris N. Young


A number coincidence enshrouds the century old home of the Master Mystifier.

Recently my curiosity had been revived as to why the newly constructed house which Houdini was to own had been untenanted for the eight years until he came along to purchase 278 West 113th Street. There have been increasing inquiries as to my knowledge of the lapse of time between the final construction and the date of acquisition by Houdini.

Understandably, the house is being pointed out to tourists as one of Harlem's landmark attractions. Documentaries are giving glimpses of "278" in Houdini biographicals. An image of "278" is to be one of the features in an exhibit scheduled to be toured this year, sponsored by the California Science Center, titled "Magic: the Science of Illusion."

Oddly, what was to be the permanent home for Houdini had been unoccupied since the date that construction was completed, April 30, 1896. According to public records, ownership was conveyed to Erich Weiss (Houdini) on August 11, 1904- "278" was located in what was a German populated area of Harlem, New York City. Houdini became its first tenant.

In his own manner, Houdini had already sent off a letter to the editor of "SPHINX" a magazine read widely by magicians, to tell of the eventful purchase, dated August 4, 1904. He wrote in no uncertain tones that it was the finest home any magician had the good fortune to own. In a more modest vein, he let it be known that he would be leaving for Europe, where he was booked for two seasons. The new "278" address was given for reference.

During the rest of his life, "278" would be his "home quarters". Members of his family would be included. He would have a reception room, private office, library, workshop-laboratory and storage areas. Other than the obvious, there were no reasons given in the letter to the "SPHINX" for Houdini's enthusiastic and precipitous acquisition of "278".

Probing issues of this nature became important by students of the Houdini psyche, especially after his untimely death on October 31, 1926. Mrs. Houdini sold "278" to neighbors John and Filipine Bonano on March 23, 1927. During passing years, Mrs. Bonano claimed that Houdini's spirit had made itself known to her many times in friendly ways. These appearances were credited by listeners as only anecdotal.

Hopefully patient that Houdini might return from a spirit world, Mrs. Houdini agreed to participate in a séance held in Hollywood on Halloween, ten years after her husband's death. Failing to reach him, she announced grimly to the world that she would make no further attempts at what she considered to be impossible. However, there were many others who would not concede to her conclusion.

After Mrs. Houdini's death, "278" became attractive as the place where another séance should be held to attract Houdini's "spirit". Long John Nebel, a well known radio network personality, agreed to devote an entire program to be broadcast, of a séance. Permission to use "278" for a remote pick-up was given by one of the Bonano family. All elements of a classic style séance were, conducted by a veteran medium. The psychic was apologetically unsuccessful in contacting the former owner of "278". Stirring the imagination during the proceedings, a small mouse scampered across the floor of the reception room in a westerly direction and disappeared in the woodwork base of the wall.

What Houdini would have thought about having a séance enacted at "278" can be a matter for lively conjecture. Back in his teens, he had attended his first séance out of curiosity. Already well versed in magic, mentalism and escapes from rope ties, he saw through the fraudulent methods used to deceive the audience. Purely business was his reaction.

Later on, in 1898, Houdini and his wife were desperately needing funds in the Midwest.  Séances were offered by Houdini as an added attraction for a traveling medicine show. Next, on their own they worked as a psychic and a clairvoyant for a brief period. Mrs. Houdini recalled that her husband was disturbed by the gullibility of the mourning type of clientele which they had to deal with and a feeling of duplicity. Two coincidences that occurred helped influence his decision to denounce a career of that vintage.

Working as a psychic team, Mrs. Houdini had provided accurately the location of the long lost relative of a member of the audience who had been questioned by Houdini. By chance, Mrs. Houdini had recalled the location of a person similarly named and his address in New York City. At another time, Houdini had been able to foretell to a mother that when she reached home, she would find that her son would have been seriously injured. Coincidentally, Houdini, while acting as a psychic had looked out of a window from the room in which he was working, seeing a boy playing dangerously. An impromptu worded prediction was inspired.

Unavoidably, the sordid avenues of psychic research became a major realm for Houdini's indignation. Immediately following the Long John Nebel séance which Mrs. Young and I attended, we found ourselves reluctant to leave "278". We listened to Walter Gibson, a good friend of Houdini, who was also there. Walter kept us spellbound with his descriptions of what had transpired in the house and about the visitors with occult based leanings.

More recently a neighbor of ours who was in his 90's, provided a related anecdote about Houdini in 1924. Twenty years had then passed since Houdini's letter to the editor of "SPHINX" concerning "278". Now, as an international celebrity, Houdini could still not depend entirely on anyone else, even when it came to exploitation of his new book. A friend of ours, Latrobe Carroll, who was an editor of "LIBERTY" magazine, recalled answering the phone one day to hear a voice saying in distinct measured tone, "This is Houdini", Houdini told Latrobe about his new book, "A Magician Among the Spirits". Invited to come to Houdini's home to discuss it, Latrobe accepted.

Meeting at "278" offered an environment for relaxed conversation. Latrobe's style of questioning was that of a naive journalist. This was parried with skillful guidance by the host. Latrobe heard about Houdini's experiences as an escapologist who challenged the world. Interspersed were sketches of early involvement with affairs of mediums, séances, mentalists and magicians. These were all subject to influences of illusion to justify conclusions. Concurrent coincidences were also to be reckoned with as supporting evidence of truly psychic insight.

Opportunely for me, Hollywood became the place where the First National Mnemonics Convention was held in 1968 within the area of Mrs. Houdini's final séance. I was the keynote speaker. In those days, mnemonics, the devices of artificial memory, were sheltered by magic as a subspecialty of mentalism. They could be used to perform psychic stunts. Students of magic could read Harry Kellar's "Aids to Arithmetic Calculations" (1903) to learn about phono-numeric applications as magic techniques. Kellar was admired by the world of Houdini as America's leading magic illusionist.

A letter written by Houdini to a magic magazine in 1898 explains a coded method for conveying messages between performer and assistant without the knowledge of the audience. Houdini soon left mentalism for escapology to reach fame in his own right. His name became almost synonymous with handcuffs, However, he would have been welcomed at the 1968 convention to tell about the book he was planning in 1905 to deal with the subject of code and cypher. Never completed, parts only exist as published in a magic magazine of his own creation.

So motivated by Houdini's often expressed interest in mentalism, codes, cypher and coincidence, I became impelled to submit "278" to its phonetic numeral mnemonic implications. Suddenly, "278" resounded in my ears as "han(d)cuff" or alternatively, uncuff. In the system, numerals are given the sound of consonants. 2 equals N; 7 equals hard C or K; 8 equals F or PH, Trying out the system on "113" (the street number), I equals T or D or TH; 3 equals M. In making up words, vowels have no mnemonic value and may be used liberally. W, H and Y are "neuters". Accordingly, "278 W. 113" becomes "Uncuff We Tie Them", the address of the house. Certainly, Houdini had a profound regard for all aspects of manipulation of memory. An unresolved question remains as to whether he was aware of the mnemonic significance of "278" when he purchased the home. As a perennial skeptic, Houdini has bequeathed us with this coincidence: A standard artificial memory system absolutely spells out "Uncuff We Tie Them" as the meaning of a "278", home of "The Handcuff King", Also to be contended with is the notion held by some that the house possessed a power of its own to wait for Houdini!

About the Author:
Member: Occult Investigation Committee, Society of American Magicians, Parent Assembly #1; annual Official Houdini séance presided over by Sidney Radner, protégé of Hardeen (Houdini's brother); Memory Research Center, Hollywood, founded 1968; International Brotherhood of Magicians, Order of Merlin; Inner Circle of the Magic Circle, London; Honorary Board, Houdini Historical Center; Ph. D. in History and History Science. Co-author with Walter Gibson of "Houdini On Magic", "Houdini's Fabulous Magic" and "How to Develop an Exceptional Memory." Author of "Bibliography of Memory". The esteemed Dr. Young and Sidney H. Radner were on the board of the Houdini Museum in Las Vegas, and  on the executive board of the Houdini Picture Corporation along with, Thomas Boldt and Geno Munari.








From a Dai Vernon advertising piece
Note: At the time, he billed himself as Dale Vernon.


It was Houdini's boast that a man had only to do a trick for him three times and he knew the trick. Some years ago, in Chicago, a keen swift-fingered card manipulator baffled him again and again. Mutual friends seated at the table said: "Don't quibble, Harry, you're fooled this time". Houdini finally made the admission and added, "Vernon is certainly the best man I have ever seen with cards."

Popular stage magic that deals in boxes and barrels, disappearing bird cages and the sawing of women in half holds no interest for Mr. Vernon. Such performers Mr. Vernon recognizes as important in the field of magic. Their popularity, however, he believes, is declining. Modern science with its radios, airplanes, cosmic rays and countless other wonders is outdoing even the most fantastic dreams of the old school of magic.

There are no pistol shots, no cabalistic Words, no orchestral crescendos when Mr. Vernon does a trick. What he does is compounded of simple, familiar ingredients. The hands and the voice are the only means utilized-and with these simple instruments he puts on a never ending show. There is nothing prepared beforehand, nothing that cannot be thoroughly examined by a spectator. Despite a certain uncanny quickness about him, his manner is easy and disarming. It induces confidence and promotes illusion. In a perfectly natural way he convinces any audience they are seeing miracles.

Mr. Vernon's work is the product of two factors: skill in manipulation and the psychology of misdirection. Everything is done close at hand and in full view, whereas in "apparatus" magic none of the preliminary preparations are seen-only the final effect. During Mr. Vernon's performance the mind is involved at every stage, being led on step by step to ingeniously defeat its own logic.

Mr. Vernon has two distinct and different programs for discriminating audiences, depending upon their requirements. He is unexcelled as an intimate entertainer for the small gathering in home or club and for a large audience presents his stage act, "A Magical Masquerade" which has been featured at Radio City Music Hall and the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.





a.k.a. Donald Ferguson


Here is some very important news to all that follow Houdini. In the court case in the United States Federal Court, against Hardeen Houdini, whose real name isDonald Ferguson.

Here is an excerpt of the Nov. 10th ruling:

IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#56) is granted as follows:

1. Judgment is entered in favor of Plaintiffs on their claims for (a) federal unfair competition under 15 U.S.C.§ 1125 (a); (b) common law trademark infringement; (c) deceptive trade practices under N.R.S. § 598.0903 et seq; and (d) false advertising under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c).

2. Plaintiffs' claims are dismissed for (a) violation of right of privacy under N.R.S.§ 597.780 et seq.; and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.

3. Judgment is entered in favor of plaintiffs on all defendants' counterclaims.

4. Defendants are permanently enjoined from:
(a) Using any trademark containing the word "HOUDINI" in any form, whether alone or in combination with other words or a logo (including, but not limited to the following: "HOUDINI'S", "HOUDINI'S MAGIC", "HOUDINI'S MAGIC SHOP", OR "HOUDINI'S TRUNK OF MAGIC" in connection with the sale or offering for sale (including, but not limited to, in advertisements, brochures, signage, web sites, or domain names) of goods or services related to the field of magic (including, but not limited to, in connection with the sale of magic tricks);
(b) Representing, claiming, or implying that there is any relationship (whether by blood, marriage or otherwise), affiliation or association between Defendants and the famous magician Harry Houdini in connection with the sale or offering for sale (including, but not limited to, in connection with the sale of magic tricks);
(c) Claiming that Defendants' business is the "authentic" Houdini's Magic Shop; or
(d) Otherwise directly or indirectly trading Plaintiff' goodwill and reputation in connection with the sale of magic tricks.

5. Plaintiffs have superior, prior and exclusive rights to the names and trademarks containing the word "HOUDINI" in connection with the sale of magic tricks, and Defendants have no rights to use the names or marks containing the word "HOUDINI" in connection with the field of magic.

One more thing that is interesting: Donald Ferguson has been using a social security number of a deceased person, (died in 1988.) There is a tax lien filed in Branson, Mo., against Hardeen H. Houdini. The SS# is 125-01-6255. Also, in applying for a fictitious business name in Missouri, Ferguson used the same number. The number belongs to the real Harry Hardeen, the real son of Theo Hardeen, who died in 1988. BTW, you can look up deceased persons on the internet. I hope we have a reader on internet who works for the Social Security Administration or the Department of Justice. I don't think it is legal to use a false social security number, do you? One more thing, Houdini's Trunk of Magic was expelled from the Magic Dealers Association.

An interesting article about Donald Ferguson a.k.a Hardeen Houdini that appeared in:
The Miami Herald

Published: Sunday, October 30, 1994 

LIZ DOUP Herald Staff Writer

Psssssst, Harry ... Harry Houdini. We need your help. You -- Master of the Great Escape -- wiggled your way out of handcuffs, jails, trunks, straitjackets ... you name it. Please, help us get out of this.
We're tied up in a story told by one Hardeen Harry Houdini, who's dropping your name and shedding handcuffs at magic gigs all over South Florida.

Claims he's your grandnephew. Claims he's the grandson of your younger bro, Hardeen. Claims he's got your Metamorphosis trunk. You know, the same one in that'53 Tony Curtis flick, Houdini, that plays endlessly on late-night TV. Only one problem, Harry. There is no proof he is who he says.

One of the clan says he's for real. Another says, uh-uh, he's a fake. (Editor's Note: As of this writing Marie Blood does not believe a word of his claim. But that's just like a magic show, isn't it? We've little choice but to suspend belief, kick back and enjoy the spectacle.

We suspect you'll find all this amusing -- ironically fitting, in fact. After all, Houdini wasn't your real name, and by the time you died -- on Halloween in 1926 -- you'd confounded the public by spinning so many tales that even today your birth, life and death are still being rehashed and revised. As you know, Harry, timing is everything. Lucky for us, Monday is Halloween. That means a group of long-time Houdini historians, plus a requisite psychic, will hold their annual séance -- the 68th since your death -- in New York City.

Their question: Can you escape from the dead? Here is ours: Hardeen Harry Houdini -- trick or treat? Now you see them. Now you don't.

During the last three years, Hardeen and magician wife Cyrene, both 36, have moved from one entertainment hot spot to another. Las Vegas. Orlando. Even Branson, Mo., where last Halloween they escaped from a single straitjacket, hanging 85 feet above the ground. This summer, the duo settled in Broward because Las Vegas had too many magicians; other spots had too little interest. Still, the spiel is the same. They speak of starting a local Houdini museum just as they did in an Orlando-area paper last June. Ditto, Branson four months later.

Meanwhile, they wiggle out of handcuffs on the Jungle Queen and escape from chained chests on SeaEscape. In January, they'll make magic at Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Discovery and Science.

And every month, two dozen prepubescent kids who paid $5 to enroll in Houdini's Trunk of Magic Club meet at a near-vacant Coral Springs mall, where Hardeen teaches tricks and Cyrene sells magic merchandise at roughly $ 1 0 a pop. Things like Harry the Haunted Hank, a paisley handkerchief that appears to rise on its own.

At every gig, Hardeen mentions family ties -- though he knew neither Houdini nor Hardeen himself. Harry Houdini -- born Ehrich Weiss -- died in 1926 at age 52. His brother, Theo, a magician, too, who changed his name to Theo Hardeen, died in 1945 at age 69.

Comes now the claimant Hardeen Harry Houdini, who asserts he is the offspring of a brief marriage in the late'50s between his mother, Gladys, and Harry Houdini Hardeen, son of Theo Hardeen. (He says he was named after his father. For show biz pizzazz, he made his last name his first.) Comes now supreme skeptic James Randi, "The Amazing Randi," world-known psychic debunker and master magician who duplicated Houdini's act, from jail breaks to milk can escapes.

Over the years, I've heard about dozens of magicians using Houdini's name, it says Randi, 66, who lives in Sunrise. "Brother of Houdini, Son of Houdini, Stepbrother of Houdini, Cousin of Houdini.... But I've never heard of anyone claiming to be a real relative."

Spotlight back on Hardeen, who insists his connection is real, not an illusion.

Alas, his encounters with Dad over the years were rare -- and brief. Magic was not discussed. A sickly child with a kidney condition, Hardeen says he learned his craft from a hospital bed.

I wasn't encouraged in magic," he says. "I was told it was OK as a hobby, but don't try to make a living at it."

For years, he managed rock bands. Then he landed in Las Vegas in the late '80s, working for "Melinda -- First Lady of Magic." Only after honing his skills did he publicize the Houdini connection. You can't say you're a Houdini and just do card tricks," he says. In '91, he met and married Cyrene, a self-schooled magician working in Las Vegas. Abracadabra! -- The act was born.

The Sea Escape is drifting down the Intracoastal. Dressed in magician's black, he, lean and lanky, and she, with a mane of dark hair, pulls a rabbit out of nowhere. It is well into their act, which got off to an ill-timed start. Hardeen looks nervous, but Cyrene appears composed. (Earlier, their opening music blared, but the stage remained black. No Hardeen and Cyrene. "Ohhhhhhh, good trick," says a man drinking Cuba Libre. "He really disappears.")

Now, having wiggled loose of a straitjacket in less than 30 seconds, it's time for the Pièce de résistance. Houdini's Metamorphosis. Handcuffs on, Cyrene disappears into a canvas bag that Hardeen locks in a trunk. Music swells. He steps up onto the locked trunk, shrouds himself in a gold lame curtain. He counts: "One. Two. Three." The curtain comes down and -- ta-daa! -- an uncuffed Cyrene replaces Hardeen. She flips open the trunk and -- ta-daa! -- inside the bag, a handcuffed Hardeen. In the lounge, 50 people applaud ... listlessly. Houdini," Hardeen says later, "is a hard act to follow." Just who is this man trying to follow Houdini's act?

Nobody I know," says George Hardeen, who ticks off details -- from work history to military ID number -- from the life of Harry Houdini Hardeen (Theo's son) as proof of his namesake. George Hardeen, 42, a freelance writer in Tuba City, Ariz., claims no magic finesse, no room full of authentic trunks. He never knew his grandfather, Theo, who died before he was bom. Growing up, his father occasionally mentioned the family tie. But Houdini-mania never engulfed George or his two sisters.

If I'm in a library and I see a book about Houdini, I look at the index to see if my grandfather's mentioned," he says. "That's about it." 

As for Hardeen of South Florida's claim: "Totally bogus," he says. "I think I'd know if my parents got divorced."

By George's account, his parents married in the late '3 Os. And they stayed married. By Hardeen's account: His father divorced, married his mother, then remarried his first wife. Quips George Hardeen: "I'm starting to understand how Bill Clinton feels."

Magicians and writers who've met the latest Hardeen during his Vegas years say he's a personable, pleasant man, who -- ahem -- hasn't proved his claim to the famous name. What he does know is the fodder of dozens of previous books. His memorabilia of locks, papers and autographs is the stuff of collectors. (As for the Houdini trunk: Hardeen says he bought it from a collector he won't name for a price he won't disclose.) 
I can't say if he is or isn't related, if says Sidney Radner, 74, of Holyoke, Mass., one of the country's biggest Houdini collectors, "because I don't know."

Radner, who nourished a lifetime interest in magic, met the original Hardeen in the '3 Os and became his protege. Hardeen passed to him some of the family equipment, and over time Radner collected more. Today Radner's collection of milk cans, handcuffs and locks fills the Houdini Historical Center in Appleton, Wis., where Houdini spent his early years, and the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. In spite of collective arched eyebrows, Hardeen insists his story is true. Alas, he can't produce a birth certificate because it's in a safety deposit box in a Connecticut bank, and only he has a key, he says. For privacy reasons, he declines to arrange an interview with his mother, who lives in Connecticut.

Hardeen also says he has a degree in business administration from the weekend college at Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y., though the school could not make any record magically appear. "I didn't go to the graduation ceremony," Hardeen explains.)

Those who book the duo -- from SeaEscape to Jungle Queen to the Museum of Discovery and Science -- say his press kit and historic familiarity with Houdini appear convincing.

And at the magic club meetings, where kids introduce themselves as Abra K. Dabra and Michael the Magnificent before making scarves dance and quarters vanish, the magic appears more important than the name. 
Asked about Harry Houdini, dead long before his parents were bom, 10-year-old Frankie Imparato of Coral Springs, pauses. "All I know is, he's the greatest magician who ever lived, I guess. But I like David Copperfield." 
Loretta Imparato, Frankie's mother, says she's more concerned with child-rearing than magical pedigrees. "This is good for the kids, " she says. "They're doing something fun. They're not on the streets." Short of using a magic wand, proving kinship to the Houdini-Hardeen clan is tricky business.

Houdini was an enormous publicist," says Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer Kenneth Silverman, now working on a Houdini biography. "He gave about 12 different versions on everything that happened to him." 
Depending on who's writing what -- and enough has been published on Houdini to fill several Metamorphosis trunks -- Houdini was bom in Budapest, Hungary. Or Appleton, Wis. He trained as a locksmith. Or he hung around a prison. 
His death, from peritonitis brought on by a ruptured appendix, has more exotic versions. How about: He died while suspended upside down in a water-filled tank. Or. he died performing on a river bottom, locked in a casket. "I've done research all my life and have never worked harder, " adds Silverman, whose The Life and Times of Cotton Mather won a Pulitzer for biography in 1985. "The information is scattered, and the few nieces and nephews who remain won't talk with anyone."

One exception is Marie Hinson Blood, a 76-year-old retiree in Pinehurst, N.C. Her connection is Houdini's wife, Bess. Her mother was Bess' sister. 
To keep the name alive" she speaks to clubs and organizations about her childhood memories and family stories of Uncle Harry. A precocious kid, she danced the shimmy on the vaudeville stage while her uncle took a break. Then, shortly before her seventh birthday, Houdini died. 
Over the years people scattered and Bess' side of the family lost contact with the Houdini-Hardeen branch. Then Blood connected with Hardeen through a Houdini séance in Las Vegas about three years ago. And she believes him.


"I'm taking what he says at face value," Blood says. "I can't prove it." 
So, Harry, that brings us back to you. You're our best hope in clearing up a story with more loose ends than Harry the Haunted Hank.

Just give us the word at this New York séance, and we'll get out of your afterlife.

In life, Harry Houdini wowed his audience. Ever since he died, fans have demanded an encore. Halloween marks the 68th "Official Houdini séance, " which will bring together magic experts and Houdini historians in New York City. Their hope: that Houdini will make one final escape by returning from the dead, as he vowed to do.

The séance takes place on Halloween because it's the anniversary of Houdini's death. "Houdini never turned down anyone else's escape challenge, and he certainly wouldn't give up on a challenge he set for himself," says Sidney Radner, séance director and noted collector of Houdini memorabilia.

Psychic Paula Roberts, who has appeared on Unsolved Mysteries and A Current Affair, will conduct the séance.

FAMILY BOND?: Hardeen Harry Houdini and wife Cyrene sit atop what they say is the Metamorphosis trunk that belonged to the escape artist, left.

CAN'T ESCAPE MYTHS: Harry Houdini's life, like his legendary tricks, was filled with mystery. 
BOB EIGHMIE / Herald Staff

IT'S MAGIC: Hardeen Harry Houdini, who claims relationship to the great master, and wife Cyrene want to start a local Houdini museum.

BOB EIGHMIE / Herald Staff 
FAMILY BOND?: Hardeen Harry Houdini and wife Cyrene sit atop what they say is the Metamorphosis trunk that belonged to the escape artist, left.





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