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Created: 09/12/2023
Updated: 09/12/2023

Houdini Marginalia

by Chris Wasshuber

For a while, I wanted to inspect Harry Houdini's copy of Jack Pots by Eugene Edwards, which is a collection of poker stories. In my opinion, Eugene Edwards was another pseudonym for Edward Gallaway, aka the legendary S. W. Erdnase. There are also rumors that Erdnase and Houdini met each other, or perhaps had a closer association or even friendship. Thus, there is a possibility that a dedication or some other comment is written in the book. Since I am located a good distance away from the Library of Congress where Houdini's library is housed, I asked my colleague Paul Hoehner, to inspect it.

While Paul did not find any such dedication or comment that would shed more light on the identity of Erdnase or the author of Jack Pots, he did find some interesting handwritten notes and a subway ticket.

Houdini margin note 1

I asked the Houdini expert John Cox if the handwriting looks anything like Harry Houdini's handwriting. He said: "I think there is a real possibility that it is Houdini's hand. I've seen that “A” in liar before. I've also seen many books annotated in this way. Also that “h” in haha is very Harry. Yeah, this certainly appears to be his hand."

Houdini margin note 2

Houdini margin note 3

The comment below is particularly interesting because it is about Herrmann and Kellar. Houdini does not seem to be convinced about their superior sleight-of-hand ability with cards, as the author appears to be.

Houdini margin note 4

Houdini margin note 5

The subway ticket was used as a bookmark between pages 218 and 219. The ticket provides a date of Tuesday, August 16th, but not the year. Can we find out which year the ticket was from? With the help of John Cox, we pieced together the following. Jack Pots was published in 1900 and Harry Houdini died in 1926. During this time frame, August 16th only fell on a Tuesday during the following three years: 1904, 1910, and 1921. The 116th station, specified on the ticket, opened in Nov. 1904, thus it couldn't have been 1904. In 1910 Harry Houdini was in England and therefore it wasn't possible for him to ride the subway in New York City at the same time. 1921 is the correct year. Houdini is in New York. In fact, he is shooting "Haldane of the Secret Service" during that month on the docks and in the bay. 116th station is only three blocks from his house on 113th Street. So this was the station he would leave from and come home to. Fascinating!

Houdini subway ticket