Finding Houdini in Scranton

Posted on October 26th, 2017 by

We continue our new blog series, Finding Houdini, from magician and storyteller David London, who will be serving as a guest curator for our upcoming exhibition exploring the life and legacy of Harry Houdini. In this post, David brings us along to his visit to the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. To read all the posts in this series, click HERE.


The  Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA

The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA

The first stop on my “Finding Houdini” tour brought me to the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. Throughout his career, Houdini appeared in Scranton numerous times, and performed throughout Pennsylvania. The museum is run by Dorothy Dietrich (The Female Houdini) and Dick Brooks (Bravo The Great). Dorothy and Dick have a long history in the world of magic, working with many of the greats in the world of illusion, previously managing “The Magic Towne House” in New York City. Additionally, Dorothy and Dick restored the bust on Houdini’s grave gravesite, which had been damaged or destroyed numerous times throughout its history. They were also critical in facilitating the re-release of a long-lost Houdini film, The Grim Game, and are currently producing a Houdiniopoly boardgame! These are life-long caretakers of Houdini’s legacy, and it was an honor to arrive at their museum.

I was welcomed to the museum with open arms and open hearts, The amazing tour of the museum, which is offered daily in the summer, and on weekends the rest of the year, is filled with many exciting artifacts and masterfully told stories of Houdini’s life and career. The tour ends with a live show with the entire experience lasting over three hours!

Some great Houdini ephemera. Check out that peek at "Houdini-opoly"!

Some great Houdini ephemera. Check out that peek at “Houdiniopoly”!

Housed in the museum are several pairs Houdini handcuffs, signed books, a reproduction of the Water Torture Cell, and countless photos, posters, and ephemera. Some of the most exciting items at the Houdini Museum in Scranton are objects from Houdini’s apartment at 278 W. 113th Street, which Houdini fans and historians refer to it as simply “278,” including Houdini’s telephone, phonograph, and beautiful gold framed portraits of his parents.

Me with the wonderful museum runners Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks!

Me with the wonderful museum runners Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks!

But truthfully, the best part of my visit was spending time with Dorothy and Dick. After the tour, we went to dinner and shared our passion for Houdini and the strange and wonderful world of magic. We reflected on the unbelievable but real-life story of Houdini and by the time I departed, I had not only seen the first incredible collection on my tour, but also made new friends. And that’s the real magic of magic!

“My brain in the key that sets me free” -Houdini

“My brain in the key that sets me free”
-Houdini

In my upcoming posts, I will be sharing my adventures in Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington, DC, as I continue my search for Houdini. Stay tuned…

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Journey with JMM

Posted on October 20th, 2017 by

JMM Insights: October 2017 

A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

Students explore Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage

Students explore Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage

JMM exhibits and programs often transport our visitors to another time and place, whether to mid 19th century Palestine in The Amazing Mendes Cohen, pre-Holocaust Poland in Remembering Auschwitz, or one of our recent lectures in conjunction with Just Married! “Sephardic Weddings: Traditions of Yesterday and Today.” We are pleased to carry on this tradition with our newest exhibition, Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage which opened this past Sunday to a crowd of 100+ visitors, including a special student group from Oheb Shalom.

Created by the National Archives and Records Administration, with generous support from the U.S. Department of State, the exhibit documents the long and rich history of Jewish life in Iraq which flourished for hundreds of year, beginning with the Babylonian exile through the middle of the 20th century. Evidence of this long history is on view in the exhibit through such artifacts as a Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, and a Haggadah from 1902. Records including school primers and business correspondence testify to the community’s strong presence up until the mid-20th century when Jews faced increasing antisemitism in connection with the rise of the Nazis in Europe. In the aftermath of World War II and the creation of the State of Israel, most of the Jewish community emigrated and today, only five Jews remain.

A case of books preserved by the National Archives.

A case of books preserved by the National Archives.

While the artifacts on display tell a fascinating narrative of a once storied community, the story of how the exhibit came into being is equally remarkable. During the Gulf War in 2003, American troops entered a bombed building that had housed Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services. They found, in the basement under four feet of water, thousands of books and documents relating to the Jewish community of Iraq that had been gathered by the secret police. Thanks to the efforts of the National Archives, a team of conservation experts flew out to Iraq to assess the damage and to make recommendations for how best to preserve the material.

What a great audience for our opening day speaker!

What a great audience for our opening day speaker!

We were pleased to welcome Doris Hamburg, former Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives as our opening speaker on Sunday. Ms. Hamburg spoke about the challenging conditions she and her colleagues faced as they tried to save these documents while operating in the midst of a war zone. Despite the many obstacles they encountered, they were able to ship more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents to the US where conservation and preservation efforts continued as well as the creation of a traveling exhibit. JMM is proud to be the 6th stop on its national tour.

Discovery and Recovery remains on view through January 18, 2018. We invite you to take advantage of the many companion programs that will take place the next few months to learn more about the rich history of Iraq’s Jewish community through food, dance, art, film and personal testimony of former Iraqi residents.

 

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Beyond Chicken Soup Travels Beyond Baltimore

Posted on October 19th, 2017 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to travel to Cleveland for the opening of the JMM exhibit, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage on October 8. As part of my visit, I gave a talk at the members’ opening, trained their corps of docents on leading tours and then gave another talk at an event sponsored by Cleveland’s Jewish Federation.

It is always fun to see how our exhibits get translated into different spaces. Walking into the gallery’s first section, I was delighted to see Dr. Harry Friedenwald’s collection of manuscripts documenting Jewish contributions to medicine going back hundreds of years.

Even though I knew that the books on display were facsimiles, I was so impressed by the quality of the reproduction and had to make sure that the docents were aware of the fact that what is on display are not the actual books that Harry owned.

Even though I knew that the books on display were facsimiles, I was so impressed by the quality of the reproduction and had to make sure that the docents were aware of the fact that what is on display are not the actual books that Harry owned.

It was also reassuring to see the contents of our good friend, Dr. Morris Abramovitz, reassembled so beautifully.

It was also reassuring to see the contents of our good friend, Dr. Morris Abramovitz, reassembled so beautifully.

I also enjoyed seeing how the staff at the Maltz Museum had incorporated new text panels, photos and artifacts that tell the local experience of Cleveland’s Jewish community.

I also enjoyed seeing how the staff at the Maltz Museum had incorporated new text panels, photos and artifacts that tell the local experience of Cleveland’s Jewish community.

The museum assembled an impressive collection of materials telling the story of Cleveland’s Mt. Sinai hospital which have been preserved thanks to the Mt. Sinai Foundation. One of the speakers at the Federation event shared a detail history of the hospital which closed in 1996.

The museum assembled an impressive collection of materials telling the story of Cleveland’s Mt. Sinai hospital which have been preserved thanks to the Mt. Sinai Foundation. One of the speakers at the Federation event shared a detail history of the hospital which closed in 1996.

The Maltz display also features a section devoted to its own home health care heroes.

The Maltz display also features a section devoted to its own home health care heroes.

The best part of participating in the opening events was hearing new visitors laugh at the opening joke, point out interesting things that they noticed in the exhibit, share their own recollections triggered by objects and stories on display and share such positive feedback with me about how much they loved the exhibit.

The opening of "Beyond Chicken Soup" at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

The opening of “Beyond Chicken Soup” at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Maltz Museum members enjoying the exhibit.

Maltz Museum members enjoying the exhibit.

I greatly appreciated how at home the staff at the Maltz made me feel and I was struck by the many similarities between our two institutions in terms of size and audience.

Beyond Chicken Soup remains on view in Cleveland until April 8. Be sure to tell your friends and family in the Midwest to visit.

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