Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Death of Houdini

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPop lore states that Harry Houdini died of multiple blows to the abdomen delivered by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, following a performance in Montreal on October 22nd, 1926. Modern medical science, however, discounts that Houdini's acute appendicitis could have been caused by any physical trauma; it appears that the blows he suffered were not fatal, but aggravated an existing undetected illness.

When Houdini arrived at Detroit's Garrick Theatre two days after what would be his fatal blow, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 40°C (104°F); despite his condition, Houdini took the stage.

Afterwards, he was taken to Room 401 of Detroit's Grace Hospital, where he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 PM on this day in 1926, at the age of 52. After taking statements from witnesses, Houdini's insurance company concluded that the death was due to the incident on the 22nd and paid double indemnity.

Probably the fact that Houdini was a believer in spiritualism (combined with the fact that he died on the day he did) has given his death the eerie connotations it has picked up over the years. For a full decade after his death Houdini's widow Bess used to hold a seance every October 31st, hoping to contact his spirit; she discontinued the practice in 1936, after he steadfastly refused to show up. Death proved to be the one thing from which Harry Houdini couldn't escape...

Still, it all makes for a suitably ghoulish story for bloggers to rehash every Hallowe'en, so I think in the spirit of the season I'll just go with it.
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