Harry Houdini Makes The Jersey Shore Scene

Part One: The End

Ehrie was all packed. Bess was upstairs, still fussing around. He sat with his mother, 72-year-old Cecilia. Her health was failing, and she was frail and weak. “What would you like me to bring you from Europe, Mother?” Cecilia smiled, “Just come be safe and come home, Ehrie.” She said in German. Cecilia did not speak English. “Surely, there must be something that I can bring you?” She thought for a moment. Suddenly she smiled. “Slippers! I would like a nice pair of wooden slippers, size 6!”

Cecilia Weiss, Ehrie, and Bess

Ehrie laughed. “Slippers? She wants only slippers. All right, Mother, I’ll bring you slippers.”
Just then Bess entered the room and told him that the limousine that was to take them to the ship was waiting outside, and it was a doozie! (The car was a 1913 Pierce Arrow Model 38 Limousine!)

1913 Pierce-arrow Model 38 limousine

It was a doozie for a Hungarian Immigrant kid called Ehrie Weiss, short for Erich. But not for the man who emerged from the house at 276, West 113th St in New York City. As he stepped through the door, Ehrie Weiss had transformed into the world-famous magician, Harry Houdini. His mother and brother, Dash, piled into the car to see them off to the German ocean liner Kronprinzessin Cecilie. Houdini’s tour would see him perform in front of the King of Sweden. Dash was also a famous magician known as Theo Hardeen. He had agreed to stick close to Cecilia and accepted an engagement in Asbury Park, NJ.

Hardeen Plays Asbury Park

Hardeen opened at the year-old Lyric Theater at 214 Cookman Avenue, on July 14, 1913. The theater featured vaudeville acts and even what we would call early movies known as “The Lyroscope Animated Photo Plays.”


Theo Hardeen would perform the act that he and his brother had made famous. He would escape from a strait jacket, accept some challenges from the audience and end the show with the Milk Can Escape. The next performance found Hardeen escaping from a packing crate made by The Tusting Piano Co.

Hardeen Press photo

On July 17, 1913, a poster hung on the marquee of the Lyric. It advertised a different act “owing to the sudden death of Hardeen’s mother”. Shortly after their arrival in Asbury Park, Cecelia Weiss suffered a stroke that left part of her body paralyzed.

Imperial House Hotel Asbury Park

She was tended to in Room 18 at the Imperial Hotel, 103 Second Avenue, by Dr. James
Ackerman. She was in critical condition. Dash phoned his brother Leopold and sister Gladys, and they made the trip from New York to Asbury Park. After he escaped from the packing crate at the Lyric, Hardeen raced back to his mother’s bedside. Cecilia tried to communicate a message for Houdini but was unable to speak. At 2:15 AM, July 17, she died.


A stricken Hardeen sent a telegram to Houdini. According to a Harry Houdini biographer “He was in Copenhagen on July 17, being interviewed by several newspapermen when a cable arrived for him. Houdini ripped open the envelope and discovered that his beloved mother had died. He fell unconscious to the floor.” Houdini breached his Copenhagen contract canceled the rest of his European bookings and returned to New York for the funeral.

Asbury Park Press_
Jul. 17,1913

It was the greatest below the great magician had ever suffered. He did not resume his European tour until September. He often said that the death of his mother had been “a shock from which I do not think recovery is possible.”

Her family delayed her funeral so that Houdini could see Cecilia one last time. As he gazed at his mother, Harry Houdini was once again the young boy, Ehrie. Slowly, almost gingerly, he placed a pair of wooden slippers in the coffin next to her and cried. About a year after Cecilia’s death, Houdini visited the Hotel Imperial and asked to see the room where his mother entered immortality. They say that he sat in the room, quietly, for a very long time. Then he left the hotel without ever saying a word. Perhaps the most famous performer of the time and no one even noticed him.

Editors note: Part Two will be published on September 8

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