🔒Today in Detroit history: Harry Houdini’s final performance before his Halloween death in 1926

Houdini died at Grace Hospital on Halloween

Hungarian-American escapologist Harry Houdini (1874 - 1926), circa 1925. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images) (Pictorial Parade, 2013 Getty Images)

DETROIT – On Oct. 24, 1926, the legendary magician Harry Houdini performed what would be his final show before his untimely death at a Detroit hospital.

Houdini was 52 years old when he performed at the Garrick Theatre that night in Detroit. He was reportedly in a lot of pain and suffering from a 104-degree temperature and cold sweats, but historians say he insisted on going onstage at the Garrick Theater.

Houdini collapsed right after the show (he made it through the show!) and was rushed to the hospital. He died a week later on Halloween at Grace Hospital.

From HistoricDetroit.org:

“Though it treated thousands of people over nearly 100 years, Grace is best known for one patient in particular. Harry Houdini, the most famous magician to ever live, died of peritonitis in Room 401 of Grace Hospital on Oct. 31, 1926 -- Halloween. He was staying at the Statler Hotel for his performance at the Garrick Theatre. All three of these Detroit buildings with ties to Houdini’s final moments have been demolished. The William R. Hamilton Funeral Home on Cass was where his body was taken, and is the only remaining link to the master magician.”

The Garrick Theatre was located at 1122 Griswold St., across the street from American Coney Island.

What caused Houdini’s tragic death has been disputed for nearly a century now. The official cause was listed as peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix. Doctors did perform surgery to remove the appendix.

However, there were witness accounts of Houdini being punched in the abdomen just days before his death when he was in Montreal.

From History.com:

“At some point, a student named J. Gordon Whitehead arrived and asked Houdini if it was true that he could resist hard punches to his abdomen -- a claim the magician had supposedly made in public. According to witness Sam Smilovitz, when Houdini said the rumors were true, Whitehead abruptly delivered “four or five terribly forcible, deliberate, well-directed blows” to his stomach. Houdini was still reclined on the couch and had no time to prepare for the punches, which appeared to leave him in considerable pain.”

Whatever caused it to happen, Houdini died in Detroit on Halloween, making it one of the most random, yet amazing, notes in the city’s long history.


More: Detroit History stories


About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.