About Ehrich Weiss (Weisz)
Harry Houdini, considered one of the greatest illusionists in history, was a Hungarian-born American magician and escapologist, stunt performer, actor, and film producer noted for his sensational escape acts. He was also a skeptic who set out to expose frauds purporting to be supernatural phenomena.
Harry Houdini was born into a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. According to his birth certificate he was born on March 24, 1874 as Erich Weisz. Houdini himself spelled his name Ehrich Weiss, as can be seen from this letter to his mother. As to his birth date, from 1900 onwards, Houdini claimed in interviews to have been born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on April 6, 1874.
Houdini's father, Mayer (Mayo) Samuel Weiss (1829-1892), also known as Samuel Mayer Weisz, was a rabbi; his mother was Cecilia Steiner (1841-1913). Ehrich had six siblings: Herman M. Weiss (half-brother) (1863-1885); Nathan J. Weiss (1870-1927); Gottfried William Weiss (1872-1925); Theodore Weiss (Dash) (1876-1945); Leopold D. Weiss (1879-1962); and Gladys Carrie Weiss (1882-?).
Houdini immigrated with his family to the United States on July 3, 1878, at the age of four on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers. Houdini's name was listed as Ehrich Weiss. Friends called him "Ehrie" or "Harry". At first, they lived in Appleton, where his father served as rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. In 1880, the family was living on Appleton Street. On June 6, 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen. After losing his tenure, he moved to New York City with Ehrich in 1887. They lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. Rabbi Weiss later was joined by the rest of the family once he found more permanent housing. As a child, Ehrich took several jobs, then became a champion cross country runner. He made his public debut as a 10-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself, "Ehrich, the prince of the air."
Rabbi Drachman knew Harry Houdini (Ehrich Weiss) when Houdini was a pupil in the Talmud Torah of his synagogue, Congregation Zichron Ephraim. “Despite the nature of his vocation, he (Houdini) had a profound reverence for the Jewish faith and deep-seated filial affection for his parents and reverence for their memory.”
Dr. Drachman relates that in 1890 the Weiss family was in dire financial straits, and Rabbi Weiss came to him for aid. Rabbi Drachman volunteered either to give or lend money to Rabbi Weiss. Instead, Rabbi Weiss suggested that Dr. Drachman buy some of his seforim. Dr. Drachman recalled that “He had a large and excellent Hebrew library, and I selected a fine set of the Codes of Maimonides, for which I paid the price he asked.”
Years later, after Houdini’s father had passed away and Houdini was a world-renowned and wealthy man, Rabbi Drachman approached him to ask for a donation to help pay off his synagogue’s mortgage. Houdini agreed to donate the then substantial sum of $500 on one condition. He wanted the set of Maimonides back to keep in memory of his father!
Dr. Drachman agreed and within 24 hours of the return of the seforim he received Houdini’s check for the $500. Interestingly enough, Rabbi Drachman officiated at the funeral of Houdini when he died in 1926.
Books by Houdini
Houdini published numerous books during his career (some of which were written by his good friend Walter Brown Gibson, the creator of The Shadow):
- The Right Way to Do Wrong (1906)
- Handcuff Secrets (1907)
- The Unmasking of Robert Houdin (1908)
- Magical Rope Ties and Escapes (1920)
- Miracle Mongers and their Methods (1920)
- Houdini's Paper Magic (1921)
- A Magician Among the Spirits (1924)
- Under the Pyramids (1924) with H.P. Lovecraft.
- Houdini: His Life-Story by Harold Kellock, from the recollections and documents of Beatrice Houdini, Harcourt, Brace Co., June, 1928
- The Great Houdini: Magician Extraordinary by Beryl Williams & Samuel Epstein, Julian Messner, Inc., NY, 1950
- Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls by William Lindsay Gresham, Henry Holt & Co, NY, 1959
- Houdini: Master of Escape by Lance Kendall, Macrae Smith & Co., NY, 1960 * Houdini: The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher, Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1969 * Houdini: A Mind in Chains by Bernard C. Meyer, M.D., E.P. Dutton & Co. NY, 1976
- Houdini: His Life and Art by James Randi & Bert Randolph Sugar, Grosset & Dunlap, NY, 1977
- Houdini: His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning with Charles Reynolds, Times Books, NY, 1978
- The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini by Ruth Brandon, Seeker & Warburg, Ltd. GB, 1993
- Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss by Kenneth Silverman, 1996 ISBN 006092862X
- The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, 2006 ISBN 0743272072
- Wikipedia: Magic Career
- Rabbi Drachman Bio
- Wikipedia: Bio
- Houdini Tribute photos
- Find A Grave Memorial #509
- NPR: "Houdini Relative Unlocks Some Family Secrets"
- Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter B. Gibson, Prepared from Houdini’s private notebooks Blue Ribbon Books, Inc., 1930. Reveals some of Houdini's magic and escape methods (also released in two separate volumes: Houdini's Magic and Houdini's Escapes).
- The Secrets of Houdini by J.C. Cannell, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1931. Reveals some of Houdini's escape methods.
- Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship by Bernard M. L. Ernst, Albert & Charles Boni, Inc., NY, 1932.
- Sixty Years of Psychical Research by Joseph F. Rinn, Truth Seeker Co., 1950, Rinn was a long time close friend of Houdini. Contains detailed information about the last Houdini message (there are 3) and its disclosure.
- Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young Chilton, NY, 1960. Excellent reference for Houdini’s escapes and some methods (includes the Water Torture Cell).
- The Houdini Birth Research Committee’s Report, Magico Magazine (reprint of report by The Society of American Magicians), 1972. Concludes Houdini was born March 24, 1874 in Budapest.
- Mediums, Mystics and the Occult by Milbourne Christopher, Thomas T. Crowell Co., 1975, pp 122-145, Arthur Ford-Messages from the Dead, contains detailed information about the Houdini messages and their disclosure.
- Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead by Allen Spraggett with William V. Rauscher, 1973, pp 152-165, Chapter 7, The Houdini Affair contains detailed information about the Houdini messages and their disclosure.
- Houdini: Escape into Legend, The Early Years: 1862-1900 by Manny Weltman, Finders/Seekers Enterprises, Los Angeles, 1993. Examination of Houdini’s childhood and early career.
- Houdini Comes To America by Ronald J. Hilgert, The Houdini Historical Center, 1996. Documents the Weiss family’s immigration to the United States on July 3, 1878 (when Ehrich was 4).
- Houdini Unlocked by Patrick Culliton, Two volume box set: The Tao of Houdini and The Secret Confessions of Houdini, Kieran Press, 1997.
- The Houdini Code Mystery: A Spirit Secret Solved by William V. Rauscher, Magic Words, 2000.
- The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell, Vehicule Press, 2004. Investigates J. Gordon Whitehead and the events surrounding Houdini's death.