Welcome to Bob King's Houdini Tribute
Marie H. Blood was Houdini's niece...
As you may be aware, Marie H. Blood's Uncle was Harry Houdini. Mrs. Bess Houdini was the sister of Marie's mother. Marie was almost 9 years old when Houdini died. She wrote about her recollections of living with her Uncle Harry and about living with her Aunt Bess after Houdini died.
Thanks to Marie H. Blood and the Houdini Historical Center for permission to reprint these recollections... Bob
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Marie H. Blood on November 2, 2004.
Click this link to see a loving video tribute to Marie Blood...
A Conversation With Houdini's Niece, Marie Hinson Blood
In 1998, the Houdini Historical Center staff had the pleasure of welcoming Mrs. Marie Hinson Blood, Houdini's niece, to the museum. Mrs. Blood was the daughter of Bess Houdini's sister, May Rahner Hinson. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for our Mystifier (HHC's official publication) readers. We hope you enjoy the following portions of that interview.
Mystifier: Could you tell us a little about Bess' family?
MHB: Well, there were eight children, one boy. The father died when Bess was twelve years old, and my mother was 8 months old. The oldest child in the family was engaged to a young man that was a tailor. They married, and luckily he had a big tailor shop. All the girls, when they were old enough, worked in the tailor shop. Aunt Bess hated this. She hated sewing... it was to her advantage, because she made patterns and she designed them, and she was very, very good. Aunt Bess designed the clothes that [she and Houdini] had in the show. So it did help them. At the beginning, she sewed the costumes, but later she had other people
Mystifier: Once you showed me a piece of embroidery that Bess had done.
MHB: I have it hanging up.
Mystifier: So she enjoyed doing that even though she didn't enjoy sewing?
MHB: Well, she was a terrible smoker, and Houdini didn't smoke or drink. During shows, she had these little playing cards "her hands were small" and she used to play solitaire to keep her hands busy so she didn't smoke, because Houdini did not approve of her smoking. The embroidery... she designed it, drew it and embroidered it. I have a big one on an easel. It's beautiful, a swan with water lilies. And I have a house that she embroidered in wool, and that's a needlepoint. "A house with a hearth and books worthwhile bring a cheery smile to all that are in it." And she signed it. It's lovely.
I was sick with my first child and I had to stay in bed. She started this tablecloth for me. She drew it out, and I got two sides done, and that was it. By the time I got around to the third one, she wasn't around there anymore. I still have it folded up. I never finished it... [Laughs.]
Mystifier: What kind of person was your Aunt Bess? Was she optimistic and positive, or moody? Could you describe her?
MHB: Never moody. Oh, no. Very vivacious. In fact, he [Houdini] was the one who was quiet. I don't think I ever heard him tell a joke in his life.
Mystifier: I've heard there's a story about you running away from Houdini's home.
MHB: They could never have children, and he adored children. You've seen that picture of him holding me... you can see the way he's looking at me. When I would go to their house [in New York], I'd be there for a few weeks.
Julie was the housekeeper, my grandmother was there, and their secretary, and I knew them all so well. I had never been to a five-and-dime, so one day they took me. We walked there from 113th Street to 25th Street, and I looked and saw things there for 10� and for 5�... They bought me a little something, and I don't even remember what it was.
A few days later, or the following day, my mother was going to come pick me up to take me home. I wanted to buy presents, but I didn't have any money. So I conned them. First, I went to my grandmother and said, "Do you think you could give me a nickel or a dime so that I could buy my mother a present?" Before you know it, she gave me a nickel. I think I wound up with about
fifty cents. At that time, nobody could take me [to the store]...they were going to have a dinner party. My grandmother couldn't take me, Julie couldn't take me, nobody could take me. I was heartbroken. I remember sitting up in my little room by myself. I thought, "I know how to walk there. It's just straight blocks. I'm going to go there myself."
I don't remember what dress I had on, but I put on my Sunday black patent leather shoes. I didn't tell anybody, and I left. I had a little purse that I had the money in. So on the way, it starts to rain, so I took my shoes and socks off and put them under my arm. I walked through every puddle and had a grand time.
So when I got to the five-and-ten, I went around buying presents. I bought perfume and all different things, and I spent my fifty cents.
All of a sudden, they realized on 113th Street [Houdini's home] that I was missing. Well, Houdini yelled "Marie!" and when they couldn't find me, really, they got hysterical. I didn't realize how long it would take me, and then I spent a lot of time at the store. Houdini sent word out to his people...that I was missing. [The police] had horses and they didn't have police cars...so in the store, a policeman came up to me and said "What's your name?" I said, "Marie." He said, "Do you have an Uncle Harry?" and I said "Oh yes. My uncle is Uncle Harry. I'm his niece." I was about 5� years old, or so... I was a little kid. That's why they were so scared.
So he said, "Will you come with us? We're going to take you back. He's very worried about you." They put me on top of the horse. I was delighted. I'd never been on a horse in my life. So all of a sudden, we get back to 113th Street, and there was a crowd of people, and Houdini was in the middle. When he saw me, the tears were running down his face. I was having a grand time.
He said to me, "When I get you inside, I'm going to kill you." Well, I only laughed harder. When he got me inside, he said "Do you know how scared I was? I thought somebody ran away with you." I had big blue eyes and blond hair, so he said, "Everybody wants to have somebody with blue eyes
and blond hair." And I believed him, so I never did it again.
Mystifier: Who lived at 113th Street besides Houdini and Bess?
MHB: There was Julie Kosher and Julia Sawyer. Julia Sawyer was the secretary, and Julie Kosher was the housekeeper, but she was also in the show too. She was also a companion when they went to Europe. Aunt Bess made use of everybody....
My uncle John, that's my mother's only brother, used to work for Houdini. He was a jack of all trades. He could do anything... he did office work, errands. He [Houdini] sent him on errands, to check on this, check on that...
My father did anything that had to do with carpentry for him. He was a professional carpenter, and he could make anything... some of the tricks he'd built. He [my father] worked with Collins. Collins was interested in the magic part of [the show], and he and my father worked together.
My grandmother also lived there.
Mystifier: Which room was your favorite?
MHB: Their sitting room. The twin beds... you know, I grew up in those twin beds that Houdini slept in. When he died, they couldn't use that furniture and my mother and father inherited them. It was off-white and gold... So Ruthie, my sister, slept in one and I slept in the other until we got
married. I never realized until much later that that was Houdini's bed. So when they say "Houdini slept here," I slept in his bed. [Laughs]....
My room was upstairs... there were three upstairs bedrooms, and the office... I would come down the back staircase in the morning...and I'd be very quiet. I'd listen at the door, and if I heard voices, I'd knock. If I didn't hear voices, I'd run back upstairs because I didn't want to intrude on them. If I heard voices, I'd say, "Hello" and Houdini would yell, "Marie! Marie!" and I'd say, "Yes!"
I'd run in, and he'd be in one bed reading the paper, and she'd be in the other... and I'd jump in bed with him. He would throw me up in the air, and we had a great time.
We played a game. We'd put the covers up over our heads, and both our hands would be on top of the covers. And all of a sudden, he'd pinch me... and I'd holler, "You're pinching my leg!"
He'd say, "I am not! I've got my hands on top of the covers." And I'd say, "You're pinching me with your toes." You see, he'd seen in the circus this armless woman. She could feed herself and do everything with her toes. He needed another pair of hands to do his escapes, to unlock things... with his toes. He trained himself, and he could work the muscles of toes and feet the way you do your hands. And I knew this, and it was just a game that we played.
Mystifier: Did you ever see Houdini perform?
MHB: I'd go to the theater, and we always sat in the same place... on the first floor. There was a big orchestra... It would be a three-hour show, and there wouldn't be anyone else on the program. Just him. The first part of the show, he would do magic. Then he would go off... and somebody would come out or sing or something. When I was there, then he'd come out [on stage] in a smoking jacket... and say "I have a little niece that I want you to meet. She's in the audience." Meanwhile, my mother's fixing me up... And he'd say, "Is Marie here?"
And she'd let me go, and I'd race down that aisle and he'd lift me up and introduce me to the audience.
When we were sitting in the audience, normally performers would come out the side entrance... "Pomp and Circumstance" would be played... and all of a sudden a big spotlight comes on in the back of the theater and it shines on him... and he comes down through the audience. He was 5'7", but he walked like he was six feet tall in his tails and everything. People would be clapping and clapping.
When he got up on the stage, he turned around and opened up his arms, and they gave him a standing ovation. He didn't do anything yet! It's his charisma. It was so crazy about him....
In Hamburg, Germany, he got up on stage and spoke to them in perfect German, and they were his. The whole town was his.
Mystifier: Were you ever frightened as a child when Houdini performed such dangerous escapes? Did you ever think that your uncle might not get out?
MHB: I don't think it entered my mind that it was anything dangerous... I was never frightened in any way.
I do remember the last time I ever saw him. He left for Detroit soon after that... He died in 1926, and I was going to be nine years old at the end of that December. The last time I remember that Mom took me, and he called the children up on stage. Of course, I was the first one up there...
He was going to do the dice box trick... and he told me not to shake it. Well, I got nervous and I shook it. Well, the tears rolled down to the stage. After the trick was over, he put his arm around me and had everybody bow. The kids all bowed, and he kept my hand and brought me backstage and he held me. And I never forgot that. And he looked at me and said, "Don't you worry about a thing."
Mystifier: How did the family react to his funeral being such a public event?
MHB: They knew how wonderful he was, and I think they figured he should definitely have that kind of funeral. Don't forget, Rudolf Valentino only died, I think, a week or so ahead of Houdini, and he had that kind of funeral... I didn't understand any of it; I was too young. I was in [the funeral procession] with my grandmother and Mrs. Houdini, in the first
limousine, right in back of the hearse. Only I didn't know that's what it was.
I was looking out, and it was packed with people on both sides of 42nd Street, and I didn't know why. I just thought we were riding along. I didn't know it was for Houdini. They just didn't tell me. My father had carried me around at the Elks Club, where [Houdini] was laid out in state. I looked down [at him], but I didn't realize he was dead. Any minute, he could get up and walk.
When we got to Machpelah Cemetery, I wasn't allowed out of the car. My grandmother and I just stayed in the car, and I didn't know why I was there.
Mystifier: What would you like people to remember most about Houdini?
MHB: You don't need me to say that. Everybody does remember him as the most wonderful magician, or rather, escapologist, which is really what he was. They just loved him... people are in awe of that name. And to think that I'm
related to him. I had nothing to do with that. It was an accident of birth....
I'll never forget Aunt Bess saying, "Marie, never let the name of Houdini die."
Article originally appeared in 1998, the Mystifier, a quarterly publication of the Houdini Historical Center, Appleton, Wisconsin. Reprinted with permission. For more information, call the HHC at (902) 733-8445, ext. 107 or e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org. The HHC web site address is http://www.houdinihistory.org/.
HoudiniTribute.com also has a page dedicated to the HHC, See Houdini Historical Center for more information.
Marie H. Blood presented lectures at magic conventions, was friends with many magic celebrities, was interviewed on television several times and most recently attended the "Burial" of magician David Blaine in NYC. When lecturing she always brought along many items of Houdiniana (Houdini memorabilia) to show.
HoudiniTribute.com is generously providing the Houdini Family with a page on our site to display items of Houdini memorabilia. If you are interested in reviewing these items which are available for purchase directly from the Houdini Family, see Houdini Memorabilia.
Copyright 1998-2013 by Robert R. King