A Look Inside Harry Houdini’s Scrapbooks

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The Longhorn historians over at Not Even Past have a nifty little post up this week on magician Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks, which were made available online last fall by UT’s Harry Ransom Center.

The legendary magician and escape artist, who lived from 1874-1926, captivated the world with his death-defying capers, from wriggling out of a straitjacket underwater to breaking out of a coffin six feet underground.

He was also a scrapbooker. Houdini and his fellow magicians pasted photos of themselves and their peers, descriptions of favorite tricks (like “The Vanishing Horse”), newspaper stories, advertisements, and other miscellanea into books for safekeeping. In 1958, the Ransom Center acquired 10 of Houdini’s scrapbooks, some of which were created by other magicians before they came into Houdini’s possession. And last November, the center put them online for all to see. Visitors can flip through the scrapbooks in high resolution—we could practically smell the musty scent of yellowed pages.

The scrapbooks shed new light on the golden era of magic, when Houdini’s stunts drew audiences numbering in the thousands. As Not Even Past’s Charley Binkow writes:

This collection gives us a comprehensive understanding of what these magicians thought valuable; everything they saw as important or nostalgic or innovative they preserved in these books.  We can track their love of magic across a century and see the dynamic ways in which the field changed, in many instances by the collectors themselves. Almost every page of this collection bleeds an infectious love for the world of the supernatural and is well worth exploring.

Explore the scrapbooks here (and make sure to click on “Page flip view” to seem them in all their glory).

Page from “Magician’s Doings,” a scrapbook created by magician Harry August Jansen, then acquired by Houdini. (Harry Houdini Papers and Magic Collection, Harry Ransom Center).


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