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Séance at Houdini’s NYC home, a Halloween tradition, lives on

Dick Brooks, center with hat, and Dorothy Dietrich, co-directors of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, conduct a seance at the childhood home of Harry Houdini, at 244 E. 79th St. on Wednesday.
Dick Brooks, center with hat, and Dorothy Dietrich, co-directors of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, conduct a seance at the childhood home of Harry Houdini, at 244 E. 79th St. on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Stephanie Keith

On Halloween, several magicians gathered at Harry Houdini’s first home in New York City to continue the tradition of conducting a séance on the anniversary of the illusionist’s  death.

The séance started at around 1:26 p.m., the time at which Houdini died 92 years ago, on Halloween of 1926.  

The séance tradition started a decade after his death, when Bess Houdini, the magician’s wife and stage assistant, performed the first ceremony. After 1936, there have been séances every year on Halloween to contact Houdini, but so far, none have been successful.

At the event, New York State Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, who represents the 76th District, dedicated the building where the magician’s family first lived in the city, after emigrating from Budapest.

Today, the ground level of 244 E. 79th St. is home to the Sojourn Restaurant, where the event was held. The owner of the building, Sammy Musovic, 57, said there is a lot of interest in the building and its relationship with Houdini’s family.  

Musovic said that residents also report having weird dreams, objects disappearing and moving. “I hear whispers sometimes, late at night, at four in the morning.” The spirit of Houdini, he believes, is still there.

During Wednesday’s event, before the séance, magic lovers in the audience could try dishes from Houdini’s childhood and watch performances.

Renowned magician Dick Brookz, one of the directors of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, headed the event. Brookz was joined by mentalist, illusionist and TV personality Alain Nu, who performed a hypnosis trick. Dorothy Dietrich, also a director of the museum, performed a straitjacket escape in less than three minutes.

Dietrich led the séance. She has been described as the “female Houdini,” an escapist and the first female magician to perform the Bullet Catch — magic’s most dangerous trick, known to scare Houdini. “There’s a lot of love in this room for you today, Houdini,” Dietrich said. “And I want you to know that if you decide to come back, it will be memorable, and people will spread around the world that you never died.”

For 20 minutes, those present looked for a sign of Houdini’s presence. “Be guided by the light of this world and visit us. Harry, please say something, we miss you terribly," said Robyn Adele Anderson, who plays Bess Houdini in “The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini,” an immersive theater production now playing at Theatre 80.

Phones rang, candles flickered and the chandelier swung above the table where the ceremony was held, but unfortunately, there was no clear sign of Houdini’s presence.

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