Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31, 1926 - Harry Houdini Dies In Detroit After Operations

The following are the New York Times articles regarding Harry Houdini's death. They include the news article from Detroit, and two obituaries.

Magician, Conscious to Last,
Loses Battle for Life In Detroit Hospital

Due To Poisoning

Playful Blow Given by Montreal
Student as Test Caused
Appendix to Break

Special to The New York Times

Detroit, October 31, 1926

Harry Houdini, world famous as a magician, a defier of locks and sealed chests and an exposer of spiritualistic frauds, died here this afternoon after a week's struggle for life, in which he underwent two operations.

Death was due to peritonitis, which followed the first operation, that for appendicitis. The second operation was performed last Friday. Like a newly discovered serum, used for the first time in Houdini's case, it was of no avail.

The chapter of accidents which ended fatally for the man who so often had seemed to thousands to be cheating the very jaws of death began early in October at Albany, N.Y. On the opening night of his engagement at a theatre there a piece of apparatus used in his "water torture cell" trick was overturned and struck him on the foot. Houdini called a physician from the audience, had his foot examined and them completed his performance. Afterward he went to a hospital and had the injured foot X-rayed.

Appendicitis Follow Blow

A bone was found to be partly fractured and Houdini was advised to discontinue his tour a few days and give prompt attention and plenty of rest to the injured foot. He declined to cancel his engagements, however, and did not miss a show.

From Albany he and his company went to Schenectady. Houdini was suffering continuous pain and returned to Albany for several treatments. By the time he left Schenectady for Montreal his whole system was in a weakened condition.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, while in Montreal he addressed a class of students on spiritualistic tricks. During the reception following the address he commented on the strength of his stomach muscles and their ability to withstand hard blows without injury.

One of the students without warning or giving time for Houdini to prepare struck him twice immediately over his appendix. He suffered no distress at the time but after he had boarded a train for Detroit he complained of pain. At first he attributed it to something he had eaten but as it increased he called in the company's nurse who in turn arranged by wire to have a physician meet the magician in Detroit.

Dr. Leo Kretzka, a prominent physician, made a hurried examination and told the patient there were symptoms of appendicitis. He left Houdini to decide whether it would be advisable for him to appear that evening at the Garrick Theatre for the opening night of the show. Houdini would not disappoint his admirers.

Looking back on that last performance, the large audience now realizes that the famous magician did his tricks under a great strain. He felt the grip of bonds he had never tested, the snap of a lock not forged by human hands. He was worried for one of the few times in his career and was plainly not up to his best form on some of his tricks.

Conscious Until Death

At his hotel after the performance the pain increased. The house physician and the best Detroit could furnish were called. Houdini was taken to Gray Hospital and the following afternoon underwent an operation for appendicitis. His removal from the hotel to the hospital was made at the suggestion of his family physician, William Stone of New York City, who had been notified by telephone of his friend's condition.

Until his death Houdini was conscious and his mind was keen and alert. The physicians who attended him say he was the best patient they ever had, and he helped them wonderfully. His mental attitude, combined with his unusual stamina, did much to prolong his life.

According to statements made by the physicians, the playful punches he received in Montreal were the direct cause of Houdini's death, for one of the blows caused the appendix to burst, saturating his system with poison.

Streptococcus peritonitis, which developed soon after the operation last Monday, seriously complicated the case. This is a particularly virulent form of poisoning, and few cases are know to the medical profession where persons suffering from it have recovered.

The body will leave Detroit for New York in a special car Monday evening, arrive in New York Tuesday morning about 9 o'clock. [1]


The Society of American Magicians

Officers and members are hereby informed that our illustrious President, Harry Houdini, has bowed to the mandate of the Mighty Magician. You are requested to attend the funeral services at the Elks Club, 108 West 43rd St., Thursday, Nov. 4, 10:30 A. M. [2]



HOUDINI - On October 31, after a brief illness, at Detroit, Mich., Harry, beloved husband of Beatrice Rahner, brother of Nat J. Weiss, Theo Hardeem, Dr. Leopold D. Weiss and C. Gladys Weiss. Funeral Services at B.P.O. Elks Lodge No. 1, 108 West 43d St., Thursday, Nov. 4, at 10:30 A.M. Remains lying in state at the West End Funeral Chapel, 200 West 91st St., until Thursday morning. [3]


"Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, and soon demonstrated a natural acrobatic ability and an extraordinary skill at picking locks. When he was nine, he joined a traveling circus and toured the country as a contortionist and trapeze performer. He soon was specializing in escape acts and gained fame for his reported ability to escape from any manacle. He went on his first international tour in 1900 and performed all over Europe to great acclaim. In executing his escapes, he relied on strength, dexterity, and concentration--not trickery--and was a great showman.

In 1908, Houdini began performing more dangerous and dramatic escapes. In a favorite act, he was bound and then locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a water tank or thrown off a boat. In another, he was heavily bound and then suspended upside down in a glass-walled water tank. Other acts featured Houdini being hung from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried--without a coffin--under six feet of dirt.

In his later years, Houdini campaigned against mediums, mind readers, fakirs, and others who claimed supernatural talents but depended on tricks. At the same time, he was deeply interested in spiritualism and made a pact with his wife and friends that the first to die was to try and communicate with the world of reality from the spirit world. Several of these friends died, but Houdini never received a sign from them. Then, on Halloween 1926, Houdini himself passed on at the age of 52. His wife waited for a communiquÉ from the spirit world but it never came; she declared the experiment a failure shortly before her death in 1943." [4]


[1] Special to The New York Times, "Harry Houdini Dies After Operations." The New York Times (1857-Current file), 1 November 1926, online historical archives (
=1 : accessed 30 October 2007), citing original pg. 1
[2] Died, "Houdini, Harry The Society of American Muscians." The New York Times (1857-Current file), 3 November 1926, online historical archives (
3BHNP%3BPROD%3Bx-citation%3B98403302 : accessed 30 October 2007), citing original pg. 23.
[3] Died, "Houdini, Harry Oct. 31 After A Brief Illness." The New York Times (1857-Current file), 3 November 1926, online historical archives (
3BHNP%3BPROD%3Bx-citation%3B98403302 : accessed 30 October 2007), citing original pg. 23.
[4] "Houdini Is Dead," The History Channel website, This Day In History ( : accessed 31 October 2007). Copyright The History Channel 2007.


Blogger Lee said...

Houdini was a fascinating man. It's hard to believe he's been dead so long. I grew up hearing about him as if he were still alive.

November 1, 2007 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Nikki - Notes of Life said...

Very interesting. Thank you for sharing :)

November 1, 2007 at 2:37 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home