Harry Ransom Center commemorates Houdini on 90th anniversary of his death

Wesley Story

A ball weight with an ankle cuff, love letters and handwritten magic tricks are a few of the items you might find on display this month at the Harry Ransom Center.

All of these materials have one thing in common: They belonged to renowned illusionist Harry Houdini.

This Halloween marks the 90th anniversary of Houdini’s death. Throughout October, the HRC is commemorating Houdini with events that provide insight into the illusionist’s life and career. In addition, the HRC has a collection of Houdini’s materials on display in their lobby through Nov. 6.

The collection features materials such as scripts and press kits from Houdini’s motion picture company. 

Eric Colleary, Cline curator of Theater and Performing Arts at the HRC, said Houdini stood out because of how he identified himself.

“Houdini was different than many others during his time for a number of reasons,” Colleary said. “He considered himself an illusionist, rather than a magician.”

Houdini worked to reveal the deceit of spiritualism to the public after he witnessed families swindled out of money by those who claimed to have magical powers.

Khalid Qarryzada, electrical and computer engineering senior and director of UT Magic Club, said his personal experience with magic has been driven by both a passion for performance and a respect for the artistic elements of magic. He likes to think this artistic passion is what motivated Houdini, as well.

“For me, it used to be all about the deception and trickery,” Qarryzada said. “But as I became experienced, it became more about the art.”

Some of the events the HRC will be hosting include a screening of “The Grim Game” and a cooking class inspired by Houdini’s favorite foods.

“I’m very interested in illusionists’ performances and their ability to captivate and confuse audiences with acts that seem beyond the realm of possibility,” communication studies junior Alyssa Hollander said. “I even subscribed to a magic subreddit because I wanted to learn how to do card tricks.”

Colleary said the HRC hopes to raise the profile of their collection, while also revealing new information relating to one of the most enduring figures in American popular culture.

“Programs like these are not only fun and engaging, but they also help us to understand different facets of Houdini’s life and career that we may not have realized before,” Colleary said.