On June 22, 1894, Harry Houdini married Wilhelmina Beatrice (“Bess”) Rahner after just three weeks of courtship. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon at Coney Island and were married for 32 years. Bess, a Cathholic girl born in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, was an entertainer in her own right and performed at the Sea Beach Palace in Coney Island as part of “The Floral Sisters” trio. After marrying Houdini, she joined her husband on stage and they appeared as “The Houdinis.” A petite woman, Bess helped Houdini perfect the Metamorphosis illusion with her speed and agility. Yet, as Houdini’s fame rose, Bess found herself farther from the limelight and the attention focused solely on the adventurous feats of her husband. Although Bess disappeared from the stage, Houdini often confided and consulted with his wife about his new ideas.
Houdini adored his wife and enjoyed leaving her love notes and poems around their Harlem brownstone at 278 West 113th Street. He affectionately called her his “Precious Lump of Sweetness,” “Sweetie Wifie, Mine,” and “Darling One and Only.” Houdini signed these notes with various pet names including “your popsy” and “Houdinsky.” Houdini biographer Kenneth Silverman included this note from the magician to his wife in the book Houdini!!! The Career of Erich Weiss:
Of my Life
I have had my coffee
have washed out this glass,
and am on my way to business.
“My darling I love you”
Houdini: Art and Magic on view through March 27, 2011
Image credit: Harry and Bess Houdini, Married Thirty-One Years, 1925. Photograph Kevin A. Connolly Collection.