Ehrich Weisz & his mother moved to the US from Hungry as a young boy in 1878. They joined Ehrich’s father, who by now had changed the family name to Weiss, in Appleton Wisconsin. Ehrich grew up there as an average child, though there are stories of him opening locks to the kitchen cabinets to gain access to pies & sweets. As he grew, Ehrich developed great agility. Using this talent, he found his way into the spotlight, first on a trapeze, calling himself “Ehrich, the Prince of the Air.”
He took the rails at age 12, wandering around, probably performing, but eventually wound up rejoining his family, who had moved here, to New York City. He continued performing, but started working his new found talent of magic into his act. Eventually he changed his name and Harry Houdini was born.
I’ve always been captivated by magic. One of my most vivid memories was when a family friend came over and performed some magic tricks for me. He put multi colored silk scarves into a empty box of detergent, and pulled them out white. Afterwards he gave me the box, and I kept it for years. To this day I love magic specials on TV, expect the guy who shows you how it’s done. Somethings things, I guess, I don’t want to know.
As you can imagine, living in NYC’s cemetery belt, there are lots of famous graves around. Even though I spend a lot of time in the graveyards around me, I don’t focus too much on individual graves. I’ve even gone to lengths to not include the names, I dunno, I just feel awkward about it.
I always knew Houdini was buried in the neighborhood, but I was never sure where. I googled around, found the name of the cemetery and was surprised to see it was one that I had been in a few times. The site I found didn’t give the exact location, just a hint “It’s by the entrance, you can’t miss it, you see it as soon as you drive in.” Well, I must drive with my eyes closed, because I made three of four trips there specifically to look for Houdini’s final resting place and never saw it.
I guess the master escape artist was escaping one last time.
One warm spring day I went back, not so much to look for it, but just to enjoy the day out. I parked my car, wandered along the silent rows and climbed to the crest of a hill. I looked around, from there you could even see the skyline of Manhattan. I looked at the busy road in front of the cemetery and my eyes followed it along. Suddenly I saw it… what I had been missing … another gate! It dawned on me now, that the entrance that was being referred to was no longer and entrance, but a chained up service gate. I hurried down the hill, and in a few minutes I was there.
Houdini’s tomb was exactly as I had read it looked like. It bore both his stage name, as well as his real name. A woman in stone wept at the base. Walls stretched out from both sides of it embracing the smaller name markers of those who lay in plot. Harry’s had some stones on it, and someone had left behind a key.
I took some photos, breaking my usual practice, but I figured a man who lived and loved the spotlight so much wouldn’t mind.
(thanks to BK Hagar for reminding me to write this up…lol)