Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Houdini's Grave

In Glendale, Queens there is a necropolis known as the "Cemetery Belt"; a large group of graveyards pushed there due to the need for space thanks to the Rural Cemeteries Act of 1847. Among them (not too far from the J train, walking north on Cypress Hill Street) sits a small a Jewish mortuary called Machpelah Cemetery.

Most of the memorial park is abandoned, and unkempt, with even the office buildings being empty - one of which was bulldozed in 2014. Walking around, one can see why this funerary ground has many dubbing it the creepiest grave site in the city.

There are few sights to see here, besides two graves of note, both of which are in the same family plot.

Here lies Eric Weiss, who - at 17 years of age - changed his name to Harry Houdini.

On Halloween of 1926, world famous magician, and escape-artist, Houdini died of peritonitis, due to a ruptured appendix, because two days before some idiot unexpectedly (and purposefully) punched him in the stomach several times, as he was reclining in recovery from a broken ankle.
In pain, Houdini went on to perform his last show at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, MI. After his death, his body was returned to New York, and buried on November 4th, with over 2,000 in attendance.
Though the crest of the Society of American Magicians adorns his family's plot...

...many locals were upset when a bust of his likeness was added the following year, because images of the dead are not allowed in Jewish cemeteries.

This has not stopped vandals from either destroying or stealing it, as it has been desecrated four times between 1975 and 1993. The Society of American Magicians gave up replacing it, and even stopped care of the grounds. In 2011, the Harry Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, replaced the bust, and decided to pay for someone to take care of the grave site.

The other distinguished burial here is of Ferenc Dezs┼Ĺ Weiss, who was Houdini's younger brother, and was also a magician and escape artists, billing under the name Theodore Hardeen.

Hardeen was the first to perform escape stunts in view of the audience, over hiding behind a curtain. He had also starred in a few movies, such as the Warner Bros short Medium Well Done, and the hilariously bizarre 1941 film Hellzapoppin'.
At 69 years old, he died of complications during surgery, only a year after he founded the Magician's Guild.
If you are thinking of visiting, I would suggest any day of the week, besides Saturdays when the gates are locked due to Shabbat, as well as Houdini's death anniversary of Halloween, because of the deluge of fans, and the curious, plus there tends to be a heavy police presence.