Every November 4th since 1926, people have gathered around a gravesite in Machpelah Cemetery in New York to perform a ritual in which a wand is broken. The people are all members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the magic wand is broken to signify that with a magician’s death, the wand has lost its magic. The rite is called the “Broken Wand” ceremony, and the grave around which they have assembled belongs to Harry Houdini.
Though he died nearly 100 years ago, the name Houdini still conjures up (ha, a pun) amazing magic tricks, inexplicable feats of escape, and a cynical interest in the occult. Hungarian-born, Houdini was one of six children born to a Rabbi, and changed his name from Ehrich Weiss to Harry Houdini by adding an ìiî to the last name of his idol, French magician Robert Houdin (Harry is the Americanized version of his nickname, Ehrie).
Houdini died in 1926 as a result of a ruptured appendix. He’d received several blows to the abdomen by a university student who asked the magician, if, as he had previously claimed, he could withstand any blow to the abdomen. Houdini responded that he could if given enough time to brace himself, at which point the student punched Houdini four times in the abdomen thinking that he had, indeed, braced himself for the blows. He hadn’t. For the next two days, Houdini was in tremendous pain but didn’t seek medical help. By the time he finally saw a doctor, the appendix had burst, and Houdini succumbed to periotonitis at the age of 52.
Houdini never had children, and some speculate that perhaps this is why he and his wife, Bess, doted on their dog, “Charlie” and “Bobby.” Charlie came first, a white Pomeranian given to Houdini by the Grand Duke of Russia in 1903. The dog traveled with the couple on their first European tour, even performing with Bess. This sometimes included the necessity of being smuggled across certain borders. In Ken Silverman’s book, Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, the author writes that Houdini managed to hide the dog “using one of Ching Ling Foo’s conjuring methods.”
Sadly, Charlie died after eight years of adoration by the Houdinis and was succeeded by “Bobby,” a Fox Terrier that Bess had found in a meat shop. When the butcher wouldn’t allow her to feed the dog a bone, Bess bought him in order to feed him. Bobby went on to learn a few tricks from Houdini, including how to escape from a pair of miniature handcuffs (earning him the title, “Bobby The Handcuff King”) and perfecting somersaults. Bobby even performed his escapology at an Annual Society of American Magicians dinner in 1918.
Bobby was the last dog the Houdinis owned, a turtle and birds receiving the pair’s affections in the years before Harry’s death.
Images both found on Pinterest and happily credited upon receipt of information