Famous Masons Harry Houdini
On March 25, 1874, Ehrich Weiss was born in Budapest. The man who became famous as Harry Houdini joined St. Cecile Lodge #568 in New York in 1923, shortly before his death in 1296.
A couple of items I found interesting was while in Cologne, Germany he sued a police officer, Werner Graff, who claimed he made his escapes via bribery. Houdini won the case when he opened the judge’s safe (he would later say the judge had forgotten to lock it). He also copyrighted some of his acts such as “Houdini’s Upside Down” for which he would sue imitators if they used his trick.
One of Houdini’s most notable non-escape stage illusions was performed at New York’s Hippodrome Theater when he vanished a full-grown elephant (with its trainer) from a stage, beneath which was a swimming pool.
Now for some Masonic information. Harry Houdini was initiated in St. Cecile Lodge No. 568, N.Y., July 17, 1923, Passed July 31, and Raised August 21. In 1924 he entered the Consistory. Houdini gave back to the Masonic fraternity of which he was so proud, including giving a benefit performance for the Valley of New York which filled the 4,000 seat Scottish Rite Cathedral and raised thousands of dollars. In October 1926, just weeks prior to his untimely death on that Halloween, he became a Shriner in Mecca Temple. In truth, there were two Houdinis, Harry Houdini, the performer as the world saw him, and Bro. Ehrich (Eric) Weiss, the man and Freemason, a personality obscured from view by the public persona. His success allowed him to be amazingly generous and thoughtful of retired or destitute magicians or their families, often paying their rent or otherwise extending aid. He also gave benefit performances at charity hospitals and orphanages. His generosity, while often kept in the shadows, was legion. Possibly he felt he, too, would someday be in need, possibly he was simply implementing the Masonic tenets of Brotherly Love and Charity, or perhaps it was a bit of both.
On October 22, 1926, during an engagement at the Princess Theater in Montreal, a first-year college student asked permission to test the entertainer’s abdominal muscle control and strike the magician. This was often a part of his act, so Houdini, accepted the challenge and mumbled his assent, but the student struck before Houdini could tense the necessary muscles, obviously a critical requirement. Houdini ignored later stomach pains in the tradition of “the show must go on.”
Arriving in Detroit the next day, he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis but again insisted on performing. Finally, with a temperature of 104, he was taken to Grace Hospital where a ruptured gangrenous appendix was removed, but peritonitis had unfortunately set in. Despite medical predictions of imminent death, his strong will to live was such that he held on almost a week. On the afternoon of October 31, 1926, Halloween Day, at the age of 52, he finally succumbed. Halloween was perhaps a symbolically magical date for his final curtain.
Last rites for Bro. Houdini were held November 4, 1926 at the Elks Clubhouse in New York with some 2000 people in attendance. Services were conducted by Rabbi Tintner who joined in the Elks “Hour of Remembrance,” a tribute was delivered by Rabbi Bernard Drachman and eulogies by Loney Haskell of the Jewish Theatrical Guild and Henry Chesterfield of the National Vaudeville Artists, a Broken Wand Ceremony by the Society of American Magicians, and concluded with rites by the Mt. Zion Congregation and the Elks, and Masonic Rites by St. Cecile Lodge No. 568. Burial was then in Machpelah Cemetery, Brooklyn, a site Houdini had personally selected.
By researching this man, I found that even before he was a brother, he practiced the Masonic life which is emphasized by this quote I found which reads: A Mason is not necessarily a member of a lodge. In a broad sense, he is any person who daily tries to live the Masonic life, and to serve intelligently the needs of the Great Architect.