Friday Fun: Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection

Even though the famous escape artist Harry Houdini lived in Wisconsin for many years of his youth, the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center houses his papers, including a scrapbook collection related to the history of magic. Some materials have been digitized. The description of the scrapbooks on the web site says, “Most of the content falls into two categories: notices and reviews of performances by magicians, and articles about magic and spiritualism. Nearly every scrapbook contains elements of both categories.” Some of the scrapbooks were originally owned by other magicians, five are “thematic” and contain mostly articles about “magic tricks, and related subjects.” Houdini liked to debunk spiritualists, and even incorporated that into his acts.

If you browse the collection you will see choices such as “Spiritualism Scrapbook” and “Scrapbook about snake charmers and other conjurers.”

I read interesting articles that explain how the popular seances of the day were done, with techniques such as “sleight of foot” (see, for example, page 25 in the snake charmer book, “Ghost and Spirit makers” from Pearsons Weekly, December 25, 1902).


And if you’d like to learn more about Houdini, Andersen Library has resources from books such as Spellbinder: The life of Harry Houdini (3rd-floor Main Collection, GV1545.H8 L35 2000) to articles such as “The bonds he did not break: Harry Houdini and Wisconsin” (Wisconsin Magazine of History, 2002, vol.85:no.3).

Please ask a librarian for assistance if desired.

About Barbara

I am a Reference & Instruction librarian, head of that department in Andersen Library, an associate professor, and a member of the General Education Review Committee and Faculty Senate. I've been working at UW-W since July 1, 1990.
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