June 15, 2008 — We often visit the graves of the deceased as closure to allow us to move on in life, but my here-chronicled visit to the official location of Houdini’s decomposition had just the opposite effect on me. It resurrected him, and now he just won’t die...in my head. I have a zombie Houdini in my head. As a result, when I found myself in Montreal, Quebec, after a tangled string of events that I’m still kind of sorting through, I felt compelled to find a certain location inextricably tied to the deathing of Harry Houdini, legendary magician and escapist.
And I found it...and it was a wall.
Now, it might look like I’m standing in front of vacant retail space in this picture, but before this place was a blank spot on the Rue Sainte-Catherine in downtown Montreal, it was the Le Parisien cinema house. That fact is completely irrelevant, and “the Le” might be redundant. However, decades ago, before it was Le Parisien, it was the Princess Theatre, where Houdini had a performance engagement in October of 1926.
It was backstage at this theater that Houdini, after a brief speaking engagement to the college kids at nearby McGill University, entertained three of those students. One of them was J. Gordon Whitehead. Houdini was publicly proud of his ab strength, so Whitehead insistently launched a completely uncalled for and oafish volley of punches at the abdomen of a prone and unprepared Houdini that, while not killing him directly as the story usually goes (and which I perpetuated in my already-referenced article), at least contributed indirectly to it.
Houdini mistook the pains in his stomach for minor injuries from that altercation instead of going to the hospital to learn that the pains were actually caused by acute appendicitis. His appendix ruptured, and he died in a Detroit hospital, pus-filled and weak, nine days later on Halloween afternoon at the age of 52.
The ex-Princess Theatre building is located at the corner of Rue Sainte-Catherine and Rue City Councillors. Unfortunately, Le Parisien closed just last year, along with my opportunity for a) a visually interesting picture, b) a chance to actually enter the building, and c) a better article to devote to the topic. Currently, the site of the Princess Theatre is labeled “ESPACE A LOUER,” which is Montrealian for either “space to rent” or “Houdini’s death was not our fault.”
Yes, it was.