A Woman to Know: Bess Houdini

Ten years is long enough to wait for any man. — Bess Houdini

Ten years is long enough to wait for any man. — Bess Houdini

(image via Wikimedia)

Bess Rahner first met her future husband at Coney Island when she was just 18 years old. She performed in her dancing act, The Floral Sisters, and the soon-to-be-legendary magician caught her eye. The two started their own act in 1894, the same year they got married. They traveled the country together with Harry creating daring stage feats and Bess assisting him as both dancer and stagehand.

When Harry transitioned his act from illusions to escapes, Bess and their other assistant, Dorothy, would arrange the handcuffs, ropes and other accessories needed to pull off the tricks. Their most famous performance, “Metamorphosis,” was a hit with audiences — Houdini cloaked Bess in fabric and magically changed her costume onstage. In 1908, she retired from the stage to manage his career (and their menagerie of parrots and other animals).

But when Harry died in 1926, Bess returned to the magical life. She opened a tea parlor in New York and began performing illusions of her own. According to legend, Harry’s dying words asked his wife to look for visitations from his ghost. Dutifully following his instructions, she’d host a séance every Halloween, desperately trying to summon the ghost of Houdini.

But after 10 years with no appearance from her dead husband, she gave up the act. “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man,” she told Houdini fans.

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