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New York City home unwelcome tourist destination for Houdini fans

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

This Halloween, if you just have aggressive trick-or-treaters to contend with, just be glad you're not 71-year-old Fred Thomas in New York City. His four-story house on West 113th Street is the former "permanent address" of legendary magician Harry Houdini. With the world famous escape artist's passing on Halloween of 1926, the house has become a pilgrimage for fans the world over. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Thomas, who now lives at Houdini's former house, Uptown at 278 west 113 St, says that there's no ghost haunting the place - just a frustrated old man.

His Harlem home becomes the city's premiere tourist attraction every Halloween, in observance of his death.

Houdini originally bought the four-story home for the then-kingly price of $25,000 in 1904.

"The lady who sold it to me never told me Houdini lived here. The neighbor told me after I moved in," Thomas says. "People are always outside talking pictures of the house. I've developed a callousness."

Houdini, the stage name of Budapest-born escape artist Ehrich Weisz lived at the home with his wife Bess. He resided there until his death.

When Thomas bought the place in 1991, the tools of Houdini's trade, such as shackles, handcuffs and the like were long gone.

Thomas did keep some original features of the 19th-century house between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards.

"I wanted to keep things original," Thomas says. He quickly dispels the main reason mystics flock to the building every Halloween: "There are no ghosts. There are no spirits," he said.

"Houdiniphiles" in search of "Houdiniana" can still observe the illusionist's memorabilia at the ad-hoc Houdini Museum of New York inside Roger Dreyer's midtown magic shop near Herald Square.

The 52-year-old Dreyer started his 3,000-item collection as a teen buying the goods from various magicians who were close to the elite family.

Among the most prized possessions in Dreyer's collection is the "Siberian Chain Escape," a 12-inch steel rope which would wrap around the magician's wrist and the "Metamorphosis Trunk," a four-foot-wide piece of luggage that Houdini used to trap himself inside.

Dreyer framed Houdini's business card, which lists W. 113th Street as his "permanent address."

"Harlem birthed some of the city's top entertainers," Dreyer said. "And during the early 20th century, no one was bigger than Houdini."

A birth foretold: click here to learn more!

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