A Party and a Lover’s Quarrel
Sitting high atop the rugged hillside in the Hollywood Hills is the Gothic mansion where once the famous magician Harry Houdini lived. Unusual happenings occurred here on a full moon night in 1918. This mansion had been built by the wealthy owner of one of Hollywood’s largest furniture stores. He sold expensive furniture to actors and directors during the golden days of the movie industry. On this particular night at the mansion in Laurel Canyon guests in costumes had arrived for a Halloween party and to celebrate the 40th birthday of the host’s son. Everyone was making merry and unnoticed the son snuck off to the back of the house. There on one of the balconies that overlooked Laurel Canyon he was planning to meet his lover.
Something that he had to do in secret because his lover was also a he and the two gay men couldn’t risk being exposed. It was particularly important to the heir of the furniture empire. Unfortunately, a lover’s quarrel started between the two men and when the orchestra paused for intermission a blood-curdling scream could be heard. In a fit of rage the birthday boy had pushed his young lover off of the balcony and now his bloodied body lay over 30 feet below in the canyon. The distressed father hired the very best attorney and even attempted to pay off policemen, prosecutors and the judge himself. The family name and the son were saved when it was discovered that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. After all of the expenses the mansion, the business and the property had to be sold and once the family vacated the premises it was rumored that they had become penniless.
A Mansion with a Curse
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A Desire to Be a Magician
Born in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874, Harry Houdini grew up as Ehrich Weiss in the small town of Appleton, Wisconsin. His father was a rabbi who chose to move his Jewish congregation over to Milwaukee. At this time Houdini became interested in performing on stage and in magic. He was determined to become a professional magician and performed in the beer halls and theaters of New York under the name Houdini. He had chosen this name because it was associated with a famous French magician called Robert Houdini. Through the coming years, he participated in traveling shows and theaters. He was performing at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York when he met his wife Bess.
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Houdini had learned a variety of new and strange stunts and had begun to create amazing and unusual escape acts. Soon he became known as the “Handcuff King” since he could easily and quickly escape from handcuffs. Once his escapes became even more daring he preferred to let police officers and various officials come up with their own challenges for him to attempt in the cities where he performed. Houdini never let them down. Soon he had become a sensation not only in the U.S. but the world over and performed to sold-out crowds. It is unfortunate that future magicians weren’t able to learn Houdini’s tricks. The magician left behind many journals and notes but these came into the possession of his brother and were destroyed after the brother died. Houdini was known to remark when asked about his escapes, that he didn’t know the secrets himself because he always was in dread about what would happen if he should fail at any time.
Obsessed by Mother’s Death
During her lifetime Houdini had become unnaturally close to his mother and became obsessed with her death. After she had passed on Houdini was observed lying face down upon her grave having a conversation with his mother. It was at this time that he turned to Spiritualism. This movement based on the ability to communicate with dead spirits began in New York in 1848 and had a great revival after WW I. The means of communication were séances and would be held in darkened rooms where ghostly phenomenon manifested itself. Through séances, Houdini hoped to contact his mother.
Unfortunately, he discovered that there were more fake mediums than there were real ones. So Houdini began a crusade against these fakes to find the real ones he so desperately wanted to get. He was taking a tour of England in 1920 when he met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and a spokesperson for Spiritualism. Even though these two famous people had opposing views on the supernatural they became good friends. At this time Doyle had given up writing to travel the world and lecture about Spiritualism. Meanwhile, Houdini continued to host séances in his new home in Laurel Canyon.
Involvement with the Film Industry
Houdini had the impression that he could earn a fortune by becoming involved in the film industry and invested more than $100,000 in the business. The venture was launched by his friend Arnold de Biere and Houdini starred in many of the company’s own productions. Houdini’s role in the films was that of an escape artist with a flair for the supernatural. There were such films as “The Man from Beyond”, “Terror Island”, “The Master Mystery” and some short serials. These films can be seen on YouTube. However, the films never became popular so there was no real profit and the one film that was a real disaster was “Haldane of the Secret Service”. Houdini lost most of his investment, had a bitter argument with de Biere and the two never spoke to each other again.
Continued in Part Two Houdini and Ghostly Spirits