GALENA, Kan. —
Houdini is coming to Galena.
Aron Houdini, that is. He’s a distant nephew of Harry, who according to historical accounts also came to the Southeast Kansas mining town before going on to become a famed illusionist, stunt performer and escape artist.
Tickets go on sale today for the younger Houdini’s performance, which is slated for 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the James C. Christman Performing Arts Center at Galena High School. It was arranged by Brad and Barry Klinge, formerly of the Discovery Channel’s Ghost Lab, who bill themselves a paranormal investigators.
In addition to the ticketed performance, Houdini plans to perform live above Main Street in two free acts at 9 p.m. on Oct. 18 and at 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 19.
According to Barry Klinge, the younger Houdini is going to attempt to impress the crowd much as Harry did.
“He’ll attempt to escape from a burning box that will be hanging from a crane 30 feet above Main Street, and he’ll attempt to escape from a straitjacket while hanging by his feet from a crane above the Galena Bordello,” Barry Klinge said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Escaping a straitjacket also was the signature trick of the elder Houdini, who was born Erik Weiss in 1874 in Budapest. But it took awhile for him to achieve fame. For several years, he had been performing a variety act, but it was going nowhere fast. So he observed mediums at work and quickly caught on to their methods. He and his wife, Bess, began performing séances across the U.S.
0ne account, noted in “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero,” by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, puts Houdini at the Galena opera house on Jan. 9, 1898, playing just such a role.
Prior to the show, a local tipster had told Houdini that a man named Benny Carter had been murdered recently, and two of his associates, who were suspects, were in attendance. (Another similar account in “Harry Houdini: Death-Defying Showman,” by Rita Thievon Mullin, has the murdered man as Efram Alexander).
During the séance, Houdini used the information to his advantage, implying to audiences that it was coming to him through paranormal means. They were none the wiser, according to accounts of the night, and the two suspects, Bill Doakes and Jim Saunders, made a hasty exit.
He would soon abandon the séances in favor of escapist performances that got audiences involved and became known for escapes from handcuffs, from being buried alive and from straitjackets.
As president of the Society of American Magicians, he was quick to expose fraudulent magicians and spiritualists who gave practitioners a bad name — much like the younger Houdini began doing this year with paranormal investigators he has called out as frauds.
The circumstances surrounding Harry’s death, which occurred on Halloween in 1926, were dramatic and mysterious. Historical accounts say he died of peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix, but they note that a student had rained down a series of blows on Harry’s stomach a few days earlier during a verbal challenge.
According to several online records, Harry’s brother, Theodore Weiss (who went by Theodore Hardeen and also was an escape artist), married Elsie Fozzard. Fozzard had a sister, Agnes Fozzard Sanderson, of Wisconsin; Aron Houdini is the great-grandson of that sister.
Aron grew up hearing about the elder Houdini and by age 5 had begun performing simple magic tricks. At 18, he legally added Houdini to his name, making him Aron Sullivan Houdini.
He, like the older Houdini once did, now bills himself as a professional magician and escape artist, and the only one to escape the U.S. Marshals Service. He holds the Guinness World Record for most straitjacket escapes in one hour — 30.
He works with the Klinge brothers in investigations and recently launched a campaign to investigate fraud in the paranormal field.
“My brother, Brad, and I through our paranormal ghost show, ‘Ghost Lab,’ met him years ago at a conference, and we became good friends doing events together,” Barry Klinge said.
The Klinge brothers also recently became involved with the Galena Bordello, which for the past year has been undergoing restorations at the corner of Old Highway 66 and North Main Street. The grand opening is set for the same weekend as Houdini’s performances.
“It’s our understanding that Harry Houdini performed a tightrope stunt across Main Street years ago, so we thought it would be cool to bring another Houdini back to do some escapes, some magic,” Klinge said.
Houdini’s performances over Main Street are free and open to the public. Tickets for his performance at the James C. Christman Performing Arts Center at Galena High School are available for $12 at Cars on the Route in downtown Galena. They also may be purchased at the door the day of the show for $15. A portion of the ticket sales will be given to the Galena Education Foundation.