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The Illustrious Life of Bess Houdini: Harry Houdini’s Wife

Explore the exhilarating, mystifying, and at times, poignant life of Bess Houdini, the trailblazing woman alongside the legendary illusionist, Harry Houdini. Uncover her unique love story, multifaceted talents, her grief-stricken attempts to connect with her late husband, and her tireless efforts to uphold his legacy.
by Rob Gillham | Dec 28 2023
The Illustrious Life of Bess Houdini: Harry Houdini's Wife
Credits: TheTelegraph

Step into the intriguing world of Bess Houdini, the enigmatic Harry Houdini’s wife. More than just a supportive wife, Bess also had her share of fascinating traits.

Discover her life, her relationship with Harry, and their enduring bond that transcended even death.

Bess Houdini: The Woman Behind The Magic 

Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Rahner was born to German immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, in 1876. Her life changed while performing at Coney Island with “The Floral Sisters” act, catching the eye of Theo Houdini. 

However, Bess fell in love and ended up marrying Harry Houdini, Theo’s older brother, on June 22, 1894. 

They started working together as ‘The Houdinis,’ with Harry as ‘The Handcuff King’ and Bess as her assistant, occasionally performing their signature trick: Metamorphosis

Bess enjoyed collecting dolls, caring for their pets, and designing costumes for Harry’s shows. They didn’t have children due to Bess’s medical condition.

Houdini’s Death: Show Must Go On

Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926 from a ruptured appendix caused by peritonitis. He was punched in the abdomen by Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead on October 22, which may have contributed to the rupture. 

Houdini had severe abdominal pain, but he didn’t seek immediate medical help and continued performing for the next few days in great pain, leading to his death.

The Houdinis and Their Love Beyond Life 

Long after Houdini’s death Bess continued to hold séances in an attempt to communicate with her deceased husband, honoring a pact they made while he was alive. Despite persistent attempts, she never successfully contacted him and eventually called off.

Contrary to popular speculation, Bess Houdini did not remarry after Harry’s death.

After her husband’s tragic death, Bess opened a tea house in New York and briefly performed a vaudeville act freezing a man in ice. In the 1930s, she settled in Hollywood with her partner Edward Saint and worked to keep Houdini’s memory alive.

They held the “Final Houdini Séance” in 1936, but Harry’s spirit didn’t appear, causing Bess to extinguish a candle that had burned for ten years.

Bess passed away from a heart attack during a train trip from Los Angeles to New York City on February 11, 1943. Due to religious differences, she wasn’t buried with Houdini at Machpelah Cemetery.

Her final resting place is the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

The captivating narrative surrounding Harry Houdini’s wife transcends her status as merely the partner of the famed illusionist. Bess Houdini was an enigmatic figure whose life was intricately interwoven with her husband’s, bonded by a shared interest in illusion and an undeniable love for each other.

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The book offers a riveting glimpse into Houdini’s life and his iconic escapades. Click here to enjoy a free 7-day trial and start immersing yourself in this spellbinding narrative.

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