House of Houdini Opens in Hungary
What does the famed illusionist Harry Houdini have in common with actors Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, pianist and composer Franz Liszt, author Noemi Ban, entrepreneur George Soros, chess player Susan Polgar, Fashion Model Bargara Palvin and horror movie king Bela Lugosi? They are all from Hungary. It’s true, the American illusionist was Hungarian, born in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi and part of a large family with seven children.
Now, ninety years after his death, the secrets of S.A.M. Past National President, Harry Houdini have been unlocked in a recently opened Hungarian museum devoted to the Budapest-born illusionist. The museum is located high in the capital’s lofty Castle district. Named the House of Houdini, this museum lifts the veil on the classified methods and mysterious life of the famous magician, who lived most of his life in the United States. The museum’s opening coincided with the 90th anniversary of Houdini’s death on Halloween in 1926.
Amid gleaming chandeliers and old Chesterfield seats, the red-painted rooms showcase handcuffs and padlocks used by Houdini in performances. Among a plethora of the escapist’s possessions is a recent acquisition, a Bible once owned by a 19-year-old Houdini. It seems that Mary Conaghan – O’Grady, who lives in the United States was given a copy of a bible once owned and signed by the famed magician and his father. Earlier this month Mary’s daughter Tara travelled to Budapest in Hungary to donate the bible to The House of Houdini. Visitors can also see props from the 2014 television miniseries Houdini that starred Adrian Brody including an illusion where a woman appears to get cut in half.
The recently opened museum is quickly becoming a landmark meeting point for magicians and lovers of the art of magic from all over the world. Joe M. Turner visited the museum before it opened and presented them with a special Certificate of Recognition when he was President of The International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, Houdini and his family left for Appleton, Wisconsin, when he was just four years old. He first attracted notice in Vaudeville as a card manipulator and later he billed himself as “Harry Handcuff Houdini” and undertook a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it.
Houdini served as President of the Society of American Magicians from 1917 until his death in 1926. Founded on May 10, 1902, in the back room of Martinka’s magic shop in New York, the Society expanded under the leadership of Harry Houdini during his term as National President. Houdini was magic’s greatest visionary. He sought to create a large, unified national network of professional and amateur magicians. Wherever he traveled, Houdini gave a lengthy formal address to the local magic club, made speeches, and usually threw a banquet for the members at his own expense.
At the House of Houdini there is a stage where young magicians charm visitors with a parlor show. “I had an urge to pay tribute to Houdini,” said museum owner and fellow escapologist David Merlini who has dedicated his life to collecting the items on display. “We are all Houdinis. Everyone has a secret desire sometimes to get out of a certain situation, to be somewhere else, in a different pair of shoes, that is his enduring universal appeal”.
Visitors can enter The House anytime during operating hours, but admission to The Collection is only open to guests that can solve the “Entrance Arcane”. You read that correctly, entrance to the magic area is possible only after successfully decoding the secret message on the ticket. If a visitor fails to decode the message, the secret passage will not appear and The House of Houdini will refund the ticket. Of course, the staff is always happy to provide helpful hints to solve the secret.