Inwood’s Houdini Connection

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Houdini in center with mother on left and Bess on right
Houdini in center with mother on left and Bess on right.

When fifty-two year old Harry Houdini died in a Detroit hospital at 1:26 p.m. on October 31, 1926 he left his widow, Bess, on shaky financial footing.

Bess Houdini stationary. Note the 67 Payson address.  Courtesy John Chiarella.
Bess Houdini stationary. Note the 67 Payson address. Courtesy John Chiarella.

While Bess Houdini was left a sizable life insurance payout the recent widow could clearly no longer afford her and Harry’s former lifestyle.

Bess Houdini buys 67 Payson Avenue, The New York Sun, February 19, 1927
Bess Houdini buys 67 Payson Avenue, The New York Sun, February 19, 1927

Not long after Houdini’s death Bess left her and Harry’s West 113th Street apartment and moved to Inwood where she would be joined by other members of the Houdini clan.

1930 Federal Census shows Bess Houdini (highlighted at bottom) living at 67 Payson Avenue.
1930 Federal Census shows Bess Houdini (highlighted at bottom) living at 67 Payson Avenue. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Every Sunday, at the hour of Harry’s death, Bess would lock herself in a room of her 67 Payson Avenue home with a photograph of her dead husband and wait for a sign.

67 Payson Avenue, former home of Bess Houdini
67 Payson Avenue, former home of Bess Houdini.

While Bess dabbled in the occult, even operating a tearoom in the neighborhood, she never truly seemed to accept Harry’s belief in a spirit world. In fact, shortly before Houdini’s death, he entered a pact with Bess. The two agreed that for the next ten years, on the Halloween anniversary of his death, Bess would conduct a seance in which the ghost of Harry would produce a secret code.

Bess Houdini during 1936 seance.
Bess Houdini during 1936 seance.

If ten years passed without the code being revealed, well, it was “Goodnight Harry.”

What follows is a rebroadcast of that final seance held on the roof of the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel on October 31st, 1936.

1 COMMENT

  1. […] Houdini’s Ghost Every Halloween, the anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death, his widow Bess held a seance. This Halloween, listen to a recording of the final 1936 seance and discover The Houdini Inwood Connection. Would you believe Bess Houdini lived right here on Payson Avenue? The hills of Inwood are crowded with other Houdini ghosts as well. Click the link and read on if you dare. […]

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