Harry Houdini’s Grave in the Machpelah Cemetery
The final resting place of Harry Houdini – the world-famous magician and escape artist – can be found at Machpelah Cemetery, a Jewish burial ground in Queens. Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, in March, 1874. He was one of seven children born to Jewish parents – his father was a rabbi – who moved his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1878. Ehrich began his magic career when the family moved to New York. It was during this time that he began using his stage name, which was based on the famous French conjurer, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. Houdini started with card tricks and circus shows, yet eventually acquired enough fame and clout to become a founding member of the Society of American Magicians in New York, the oldest magical society in the world, in 1902. Houdini died of a ruptured appendix in October, 1926.
Backstory and Context
Under the Rural Cemeteries Act of 1847 cemeteries became a legitimate commercial enterprise. Before the act, burial plots could not be sold for commercial gain, and most burials were restricted to graveyards operated by churches or on privately owned land. Now, non-profit organizations could buy and sell burial plots. Queens was still quite rural at that time, and many new cemeteries quickly appeared in the land between Brooklyn and Queens – an area now called the Cemetery Belt.
Houdini himself was actively interested in graveyards, and often visited and funded the upkeep of the graves of famous magicians. His own burial plot was mounted with a large, central pedestal upon which a bust of Houdini was placed and both his stage and real name inscribed. A bronze mosaic emblem of the Society of American Magicians in New York also adorned the monument. However, the bust was stolen or damaged four times between 1975 and 1993. The monuments dedicated to his sister, Gladys, and brother, Leopold, have also disappeared. In addition, the granite benches were destroyed in 1993 and crypt covers damaged in 1996. Over the last decade, there have been a number of projects that have restored the state of this monument, the most exciting of which was in September, 2011, when members of the Houdini Museum secretly installed a reproduction of Houdini’s bust onto the empty pedestal. The burial plot was cared for by the Society of American Magicians, but since 2011, it has been taken care of primarily by the Houdini Museum.
Houdini is buried in a solid bronze coffin beside more than twenty of his relatives, including his wife, father, mother, and brother Theodore Hardeen – himself an accomplished magician. This same coffin was that which he used during stunts on his final tour, during which he would remain in the airtight coffin for one hour. In fact, in 1926, he advertised this stunt by declaring that this would be the coffin he would be buried in when he eventually died – which happened that same year.
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