Museum maddens magicians

Jeff Christoff

If you were given the chance to learn the secrets behind the magic of Harry Houdini, would you take it? One local organization has caused a controversy over its plans to reveal one of Houdini’s prized secrets.The Houdini Historical Center is currently planning a new Houdini exhibit, entitled “A.K.A. Houdini,” which is designed to reveal the secret behind the illusionist’s “Metamorphosis” trick. Part of this exhibit would be interactive, allowing museum patrons to see first-hand how the trick is pulled off.

The exhibit has angered members of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin, a club designed to “promote magic and its kindred arts to the highest degree and to perpetuate the name of Harry Houdini,” according to its website. The group has even considered pulling out of the planned Houdini Club Convention, annually held in Appleton. Group members believe that secrets behind Houdini’s magic should stay secret.

One such member is Ron Lindberg, a.k.a. “Rondini.” On his website (www.abramagic.com), he calls for a full boycott of the museum, saying that “once a secret is learned, all the wonder is taken from the people viewing the illusion.” Professional magicians will have to remove this trick from their acts, the “magic” having been revealed.

He also cites Houdini’s deathbed wish, “his desire to have all his illusions destroyed to prevent others from learning his effects.”

Despite this uproar from the magic community, the museum staff’s plans for the exhibit have not changed. “We are going forward with the interpretative plan that our curators have designed,” Terry Bergen said. Bergen is the executive director of the Outagamie County Historical Society.

“It’s…a principle of academic freedom – not to be influenced by outside forces, and to maintain academic integrity,” Bergen said. “My role as director is to make sure that [the award-winning curatorial staff members] have the freedom to do their jobs.”

Another factor is that this information is already readily available, in a children’s book, and other library resources. If you perform an Internet search with the words “Houdini Metamorphosis,” you can get information on how to purchase the equipment for the trick, including how it works. However, the magicians have not responded to this point at all, according to Bergen.

“Aside from the fact that I think the whole thing is ridiculous and impassioned, I can see where they’re coming from,” Bergen said. A few years ago, a magician appeared on the FOX television network in a production that revealed secrets behind illusions. Magicians might have been hurt economically because of that, she said, and they might think the exhibit will do the same.

However, Bergen asserts that the museum desires to “put Houdini in a historical context. We use magic to allow visitors to connect to Houdini.”

“A.K.A. Houdini” is set to open June 2.

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