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New Yorker of the Day, Harry Houdini, Born March 24th

Harry Houdini, perhaps the most famous magician, vaudeville entertainer and escape artist in history, was a New Yorker. Harry Houdini was born Erich Weisz on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. His father was a Rabbi and the family landed in Appleton, Wisconsin when his father took a position as the Rabbi for the Zion Reform Congregation. The family moved to NYC in the late 1880’s. As a child, Ehrich Weiss took several jobs, making his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself "Ehrich, the Prince of the Air". He was also a champion cross-country runner in his youth.


When Weiss became a professional magician he began calling himself "Harry Houdini", after the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, after reading Robert-Houdin's autobiography in 1890. Weiss incorrectly believed that an i at the end of a name meant "like" in French. In later life, Houdini claimed that the first part of his new name, Harry, was an homage to Harry Kellar, whom he also admired, though it was more likely adapted from "Ehri", a nickname for "Ehrich", which is how he was known to his family. His wife Bess, whom he met while they were both performing in Coney island in 1893, served as his stage assistant for much of his career.

In 1904, Houdini purchased the townhouse at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem. He paid $25,000 for the five-floor 6,008-square-foot house, which was built in 1895, and lived in it with his wife Bess, and various other relatives until his death in 1926. There is a plaque affixed to the building. The area of Harlem north of Central Park up to 125th Street cobined with East Harlem formed the third largest community in the world in the early 20th century. Only Krakow Poland and the Lower East Side of Manhattan had a larger Jewish population during this period. Read more about Jewish Harlem.


Houdini died in Detroit Michigan on October 31st, Halloween in a Detroit Hospital. The causes of his death remain controversial. Official cause was peritonitis and appendicitis. Read more here. Machpelah Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, with the crest of the Society of American Magicians inscribed on his grave site.

There is actually a Houdini Museum in Manhattan, located at 421 7th Ave, 3rd floor. It is normally open to the public. In the museum’s archives are over 1500 pieces of Houdini Memorabilia including rare publicity posters, handcuffs and large escape restraints, secret escape tools, magic props, a giant robot from his movies, and photographs. The museum also offers magic classes in private as in a group; lectures featuring top historians, authors and magicians.

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