Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Atlas Obscura, Houdini, and Carnegie

For the second year in a row, the folks at Atlas Obscura in DC asked me to be part of their HOUDINI In DC event. This year was a little different from last year. In my performance last year (2016) I performed outside in McPhearson Park, and then gave the walking tour to the Old Keith's Vaudeville Theater on 15th and G St.

This year, we were indoors. Like last year, they also brought in my friend Ken Trombly to share some of his incredible collection of Houdini posters and photos. He then gave a 35 minute talk on the life of Houdini which was great! Then there was a short break and it was my turn.

I was going to do a recreation of more Houdini magic. But what happened was I did sort of a mix of lecture/talk and performance.What happened was this, when Ken gave his talk, there were all these spots where I just wanted to jump in and fill in some areas he missed. But truth was, Ken didn't miss anything, he was just having to fit a lot of information in a short period of time. I tried to fill in all gaps that Ken left in his talk. Make no mistake, Ken's talk was GREAT. My talk acted as an enhancement of the information he gave. For example, Ken had brought his King of Cards poster and my talk actually began with a Card Trick that I discovered from Houdini's own notes. At the time I hadn't fully researched Houdini's Card Act and I wish I had. Because, later in the year I did and I wrote about it on my Magic History blog. The article can be found here:

After my first card trick I went right into some of his classic escapes and brought out several pair of cuffs to display. Then I chose one and had an audience member examine it and then put it on me. I then proceeded to escape right in front of the crowd. They really got a kick out of the escape. I forget, that people don't see that sort of thing everyday. Me, I'm used to it.

Houdini and Harry Cooke
I wanted to give people a feeling for Houdini beyond just the regular stories, so I threw in the story of Harry Cooke, and how they were associated. I always thought their connection was because they were both escape artists. But I now believe that their connection was, #1 because of Cooke's Anti-spiritualist crusade years before Houdini was born, and #2, Cooke's connection to Abe Lincoln, who was Houdini's boyhood idol.

I shared the story about Cooke being summoned to Washington to demonstrate his ability to free himself from ropes. And here, I took the opportunity to present a rope escape.  I chose to use a technique found in Houdini's book, Magical Rope Ties & Escapes. The technique allows for an almost instantaneous escape from the bonds. In truth, Cooke had been tied up with 100 ft of rope and still escapes in seconds. I had 100 ft of rope on hand, but was saving it for later but ran out of time.

The closing routine was a Spirit Slate routine with a story. A true story? Sort of. Aspects of the story are true, but I do take liberties, it is a show after-all. The story is an emotional one, and I use it to help people understand the deep connection that people have when they see mediums....and also WHY Houdini was so angered by the whole thing because he knew the mediums were fake and playing off the emotions of the grieving.

After this, I answered a host of questions from the very attentive audience. I really love speaking on magic history, so it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me. Plus, I love to do routines that Houdini had done. It's all history and it's great fun.


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