In his travels across the country, Harry Houdini made a stop in Chapel Hill in 1924. The N&O reported that the magician’s key objective was to expose spiritualists who said they could communicate with the dead.
Belief in spiritualism is turning thousands of persons toward insane asylums every year, says Houdini, president of the American Society of Magicians, who has mystified University students with his trickery.
Seldom is spacious Memorial Hall filled on any occasion, but every seat was sold for the Houdini performance and standing room was at a premium. Approximately 1,500 marveled at the famous magician.
Houdini did his customary tricks with his customary cleverness but he devoted most of his time to disproving the existence of spiritualistic mediums.
“When you begin to hear voices that is a sure sign that something is wrong in your upper story,” he told the audience. “Positively the living do not speak to the dead and those who claim they do are perpetrating the worst sort of frauds.” The N&O Nov. 25, 1924
He went on to expose the tricks used by leading mediums of the day, and that was the last we saw of Houdini. The state’s next brush with Houdini came 55 years later when Marie Hinson Blood moved with her family to Pinehurst. Blood was a niece of Houdini’s wife, Bess, and was a favorite of the famous couple. In 1992, N&O writer Debbie Moose interviewed Marie Blood.
Blood says she’s the last family member alive who knew the magician and escape artist, who died of a ruptured appendix on Halloween, 1926. Houdini’s wife, Bess, was the sister of Blood’s mother.
Blood is also the only one who knows the code words that he said he’d use to communicate from the Great Beyond.
The Houdinis had no children, so they doted on their little niece, Blood says. She remembers them bringing her dresses from Paris with shoes made to match.
If Houdini’s show was playing anywhere between her home in New York and Chicago, Blood’s mother would take her.
“She would dress me up, and we’d go down to the theater, and there would be a place for us right up front,” she says. “The lights would go out, and a big spotlight would come on from the back of the stage. Houdini would be standing there in his tux and tails. He was only 5-6, but on that stage he walked as if he were 6 feet tall. I still get a thrill, thinking about that.”
At intermission, it was little Marie’s turn to put on a show. She was about 3 years old.
“He would come out and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have a little niece here tonight.’ I’d race down the aisle and say, ‘Here I am, Uncle Harry.’ He would pick me up on the stage, the orchestra would play and he would dance around with me,” she says.
Blood was only 7 when Houdini died under tragic circumstances.
Bess Houdini and Blood’s family bought a house together in New York. After Bess died, Blood’s mother inherited the Houdini estate and memorabilia. Blood’s mother worked on the 1953 movie “Houdini” with Tony Curtis, although Bess Houdini had sold the story earlier.
Before Houdini died, he told his wife that he would try to contact her from beyond the grave. Bess Houdini held seances on the anniversary of her husband’s death until her own death, with no response. After that, Houdini fans took up the tradition.
Blood says the seances are fun, but she doesn’t think she’ll be getting any messages from her uncle.
“Aunt Bess tried for 10 years. If he didn’t come back for her, I don’t think he’ll come back for anyone else,” she says. The N&O Oct. 29, 1992
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