Capturing Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini by the Numbers

Posted on February 15th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts is from School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


“[It] Opened my eyes to the many things I never knew about Harry Houdini. Best of all, it showed that he was a smart man, along with his star power.” – Comment left in our Visitor Feedback Book for Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini

 

It is no illusion that Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, a JMM original exhibit, captured the attention of many while on display for the past six months (June 24th, 2018 to January 21st, 2019). In fact, over 8,900 visitors came to experience this magical exhibit. So now, after the exhibit has hit the road – next appearing at the Breman Museum in Atlanta and then, if things go according to plan, at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, let’s look at some of the numbers that capture this monumental success.

Of the 8,900 people who visited, general attendance made up 4,600 of these visitors (that is, individuals who did not come as a part of a school group, adult group, or for a public program). You may have been one of the many Houdini enthusiasts, magicians-in-training, history lovers, or those learning for the first time that Houdini was Jewish, who joined us to explore Houdini’s life and legacy. In fact, you may have been part of the 58% of people who visited the JMM for the first time during this exhibit! If so, welcome! Please come back and see what we have in store next.

Visitors Immersed in the history of Houdini

People came from all over the world, including Ireland, Australia, Mexico, and Japan. While only 2% of our visitors were from other countries, this exhibit captivated our home audience, with 72% of people coming from Maryland and 26% from other States.

Dai Andrews performing a great escape at the Magic of Jonestown Festival in July (Photo by Will Kirk).

From films and book talks to escape artists and magicians, the Museum hosted an array of Houdini-related public programs for 1,900 visitors. Highlights included the Magic of Jonestown Festival, the 91st Official Houdini Seance hosted on Halloween and A Fantastical Farewell to Houdini where Magician Brian Curry performed to a standing room only crowd of 180 people.

A Fantastical Farewell to Houdini. Brian Curry and audience assistant performing for the crowd.

Thirty-eight public, private, and Jewish schools and camps made up of over 1,800 students, teachers, and chaperones who visited to learn about the story of young Erik Weisz immigrating to the U.S and transforming himself into Harry Houdini. Students worked together to crack the code and reveal one of Houdini’s famous illusions — the disappearing elephant. They were immersed in a personal story of immigration, the performing arts, and the technologies and entertainment trends surrounding the turn of the 19th century.

Students from the National Academy Foundation tried out the Spirit Photograph to see if Houdini would appear during their visit in October.

Students didn’t just engage with Houdini while at the JMM, over 2,400 students, teachers, and chaperones had a visit from Harry Houdini himself at their school or camp. David London, magician and guest curator of the exhibit, performed as the Museum’s newest Living History Character. Harry Houdini didn’t just perform for schools, he also entertained adult groups and public programs at the JMM, performing 27 times for over 3,100 audience members in total. This dramatic performance hasn’t come to an end yet. Just as Houdini’s legacy lives on, our Living History Character of Harry Houdini has another 9 performances scheduled before the end of April.

250 campers at Habimah Arts Camp waited for Harry Houdini to take the stage at one of his many performances at Jewish Camps and Schools. 

David London Performing as Houdini at the JMM.

Schools were not the only groups enjoying the opportunity to try out some of Houdini’s magic tricks on display, 640 attendees from 39 adult groups explored the hands-on illusions and rare artifacts on display.

Residents from Brightview enjoyed a tour by our Director of Learning and Visitor Experience, Ilene, in July.

With numbers like these, it is no surprise that the month of December 2018 was the highest single-month onsite attendance in the last seven years with 1,909 visitors to the Museum.

While these numbers are incredibly thrilling for those of us who are data-lovers, it’s what you, the JMM visitor, had to say about the exhibit that really hits home. At the JMM, we share stories to inspire, to create conversations, and to empower you to discover something new. One visitor shared, “the connection between Houdini’s popularity and immigrant striving is a well-done story.”

We aim to create memorable experiences and it is truly exciting when we inspire action. That is why this comment left in our visitor feedback book is a favorite:

 “I really enjoyed what I read and the interactive play of tricks. I am from Appleton, Wisconsin, and will now visit the Houdini Museum in my town.”

Whether it was trying out magic tricks from Esther’s Place, conducting more research on Harry Houdini after your visit, sharing something new your learned with a friend, or visiting another Museum (or coming back to visit us again!), we hope that Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini was not just a success as determined by the numbers, but a memorable experience that inspired you after your visit.


 

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New Faces and New Spaces

Posted on January 11th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts by Tracie, click here.


This January, as we say goodbye to Harry Houdini, I thought we should also take a few moments to say hello to some of the newer members of the JMM team and to acknowledge the new(ish) roles some of our number are enjoying.

The newest member of our staff, Emma Glaser, is not entirely new to the JMM. Emma Glaser (pronounced GLAZE-er) interned with the JMM Education Department in the summer of 2014. Emma graduated from Smith College, and completed graduate work at the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies at SUNY Oneonta. In addition to her time with us in 2014, Emma interned at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Emma started as the Program Assistant back in September. In that role, she is helping to plan and execute events and programs for students and adults. She masterfully guided JMM’s mitzvah day celebration to fruition, and has been an important addition to the JMM team. If you haven’t yet had a chance to meet Emma, please say hello next time you’re in the building.

Emma’s position, Program Assistant, was made possible by the promotion of our Program Manager, Trillion Attwood. Trillion has been skillfully orchestrating our top-notch programming since 2013, though Trillion didn’t always want to be an event planner. With degrees in Egyptology, Trillion, like so many among us, is a tried-and-true Museum professional.

When, in this fiscal year, we wanted to create a new position, Curatorial Assistant, to provide additional skills and support to the collections and exhibits team, we saw an opportunity to serve the Museum’s needs while providing more and different challenges for Trillion to use her skills. As of this fiscal year, Trillion is both Program Manager AND Curatorial Assistant. While her colleagues (guilty!) often forget which hat she is wearing on which day, Trillion has been splitting her time 50/50 between event planning and collections and exhibit management. She even has two email addresses!

Speaking of promotions, we recently were delighted to offer a brand new position to a very capable member of our staff. If you’ve visited the JMM in the past year, you’ve met Paige Woodhouse. Paige has been our exceedingly talented Visitor Services Coordinator since October of 2017. In that time she has worked wonders in cleaning up our procedures and our communications channels. Everything she does she does with an air of professionalism and cheerfulness that is noticed by her colleagues and her customers alike.

When, through the generosity of the Cohen Opportunity Fund of the late Suzanne Cohen (z’’l), JMM was able to create a new School Program Coordinator position, Paige decided to apply. Though she had some stiff competition from a number of highly-qualified candidates, Paige was offered and accepted the position – a promotion – and will transition into those duties as soon as we are able to find a successor for her in the Visitor Services position.

This is an exciting time at JMM. In addition to our future evolution, which will have a much more visible manifestation in bricks and sticks, we are already growing and adapting. Welcoming new staff–and new responsibilities for existing staff–is an important part of the organization’s progress.

Please say hello to Emma and “Mazel tov” to Paige and Trillion next time you’re in the building. And please stay in touch. These are exciting times in Jonestown. You don’t want to miss it!

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What Learning Looks Like In the Lloyd Street Synagogue

Posted on December 12th, 2018 by

This post was written by JMM Visitor Services Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

Learning at the Jewish Museum of Maryland takes many forms. Since the beginning of the school year in September, over 1000 students, teachers, and chaperones have brought their curious minds to the Museum with the hopes of learning something new. In November, Northwood Elementary School’s seventy-one 4th grade students visited over two days. They participated in our Introduction to Judaism program that takes place in the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Northwood’s students were a perfect example of what learning in the Lloyd Street Synagogue looks like. However, my title is not completely accurate. It’s not just what learning “looks” like. It’s not just visual. It’s verbal. It’s auditory. It’s kinesthetic. At the JMM we encompass all these styles.

Learning is visual. Inside the sanctuary of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, Program Assistant Emma asked Northwood students what they saw. She was curious to know what looked familiar to students and what was new. It was like a “show and tell” of the Synagogue. Students found the ark, bimah, Ner Tamid, and the Star of David stained glass window. Notably, students pointed out that the phrase written across the ark was not in English, but in Hebrew.

Students playing Show and Tell in the Sanctuary with Emma.

Learning is verbal. Its students sounding out letters of the Hebrew alphabet as Emma teaches them a new word. Students didn’t just find the Hebrew characters above the ark, they had an opportunity to learn Hebrew phonetically.

Students using Hebrew guides to sound out the word Shalom.

Learning is kinesthetic. Students didn’t just see the oldest architectural exterior stained glass window in the United States, they built it. This hands-on approach by our education team is often mentioned by teachers in their feedback forms as something that impressed them.

Northwood’s 4th graders piecing together the Star of David stained glass window.

A few students from Northwood decided to take notes during their visit. Writing is a form of kinesthetic learning. One student wrote “When the Lloyd Street Synagogue opened in 1845 it was the first synagogue built in Maryland.”

A Student’s amazing notes made during her visit at the JMM.

Learning is auditory. At the Museum we are storytellers. Students listened to Emma as she told the story of the three immigrant communities that worshipped in the Lloyd Street Synagogue. By asking questions, students made connections between the stories Emma shared and their own lives. At the end of their visit, students mentioned that they learned about “the Jewish community (in general and in Baltimore).”

Finally, learning is social. After spending the morning exploring the third oldest synagogue still standing in the United States, students worked together to recreate the building. They chatted amongst themselves to determine which wall went where and when the bell tower was added (and removed).

Northwood Students working together to build the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Each school visit to the Jewish Museum of Maryland is unique. Each student may connect with a different part of the story that we share. What is not unique is that every student walks away having learned something new that will, hopefully, spark a future conversation with friends and family. On a feedback form, a Northwood teacher remarked that “My students were virtual ‘blank slates’ when it came to Jewish history … it’s been a joy watching them learn so much!” I can guarantee that our education team enjoyed seeing, and being a part of, all the types of learning that took place with the Northwood Students.

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