It’s a wide-spread tale told by tourists and supernatural enthusiasts alike: the great Harry Houdini, escape artist extraordinaire, relocated to Hollywood after entering into the motion picture business, purchased a lavish estate on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, and spent much of his time there. The property was the perfect retreat for America’s first “action hero”. Built in the Edwardian tradition in the early 1900’s, the house had parapets, towers, an indoor theatrical stage, underground tunnels, secret passageways, basement pools, and a secret dark deep-water cavern where Houdini kept a locked chest with all his greatest secrets. It was also reported that this was where he practiced his famous underwater escapes and illusions until a short time before his death in 1926.
The magic and mystery of “The Handcuff King” still remain with the estate where Houdini’s wife, Bess, gave a famous party for five hundred magicians and lived on for years after her husband’s death. The home and its gardens were restored following the 1959 Laurel Canyon Fire that burned the original mansion, and now modern amenities can be enjoyed while still maintaining the grand mystique and marvel of Harry Houdini. His ghost allegedly haunts the site, roaming through what’s left, cobblestones, and decrepit marble staircases that survived the fire. Occasionally one can see him standing alone on a staircase, still haunting the ruins of his old estate. Houdini’s form can also be seen wandering the garden grotto.
Shortly after the fire that tragic fire in 1959, locals assumed that the house that was burnt to the ground was Houdini’s house. And although, it was magnificent, creepy, weird; everything that Houdini’s house should be – it wasn’t his house.
It’s all rumor.
No one is quite sure where the rumor originated, but there are two possible sources: first is that the house did at one time belong to R.J. Walker. Again according to conjecture and rumor, Walker was apparently a good friend of Houdini’s and the rumor states that before his death, Walker bequeathed the house to Houdini. However, Houdini’s name fails to appear on any of the property deeds, invoices, transfers of title, etc for the estate. Course, this rumor keeps alive with people claiming, that Houdini lived and stayed at the guesthouse across the street, which was connected by an underground passageway. And others claim that he visited once in a while when he was working on some movies in the area.
In reality, Houdini would stay at the Alexandria Hotel when he was in town to perform his act. When he was in town to work on his movies, the studios often put him up as close to where they were shooting as possible. Even more, there has been no credible link established between R.J. Walker and Harry Houdini. And second reason for the rumor, Houdini’s wife, Beatrice, moved into the Laurel Canyon area after Harry’s death, ironically around the corner from the Walker Estate.
Stories continue to claim that Bess Houdini, Harry’s wife, held séances in the guest house across the street of the burnt down mansion. She did hold séances but not in any guest house on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. And, of course, local children propagated ghost stories about Houdini along with other tall tales. It is also alleged that the location was used to hang bandits from the trees at the street intersection. What’s more, according to local school children in the sixties and seventies, a crazy homeless man apparently resided in the area of the burnt down mansion. The crazy vagabond apparently thought he was Robin Hood and spoke in old English using Laurel Canyon as his Sherwood Forest. Lastly, Laurel Canyon Boulevard apparently hides a cave where the notorious bandit Tiburcio Vasquez hid all his gold, just waiting for intrepid teenagers to find! It’s no wonder that with all the stories about the location, that Houdini obviously “lived” there too.
Rumor also has it that the property was up for sale back in 1999 for a reported $1,777,777.77. Seven is often considered a lucky number.
How did Houdini die?
On Halloween 1926 at 1:26 pm, Harry Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. His last words were “I’m tired of fighting.”
He had been fighting appendicitis for several days prior, but had refused medical treatment. Days before he died, he took several surprise blows in the abdomen from McGill University student J. Gordon Whitehead. According to an eye witness, “he was hit three times before Houdini could tighten up his stomach muscles to avoid serious injury.” Houdini use to claim that if he was prepared he could easily take hits to the stomach area and use to have people hit him all the time. On the 24th, sick and in pain, he arrived in Detroit, Michigan and went on for his last performance at the Garrick Theater. He even reportedly blacked out during the show, but finished up his performance after being revived. He died several days later on October 31st. Although it is likely that Houdini’s appendix would have burst anyway, despite the abdomen blows from Whitehead, the insurance company concluded the death was due to the famed incident.
In life, Houdini was not a complete skeptic in the supernatural, and even attempted to come up with a potential way to prove it. He stated that if there was a way to contact the living from the realm of the dead he would find it, and convey a coded message to his wife. The coded message was supposedly “Rosabelle believe”, which was a phrase from a play in which his wife performed at the time they first met. Beatrice or “Bess”, his wife, held séances for ten years after his death attempting to contact her dear departed husband.
For ten years, she held séances at the now haunted Knickerbocker Hotel on the roof. After ten years, and the last unsuccessful séance, Bess put out a candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of her husband.
Although legend states that at the tenth and final of the séances, there was supposedly a large thunderclap, and a sudden rain storm over just the Knickerbocker Hotel. Afterwards Bess Houdini stated: “Houdini did not come through. My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me, or to anyone.The Houdini Shrine has burned for ten years. I now, reverently, turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry!”
According to a number of sources, Houdini’s mansion is located at 2398 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, near the intersection of Laurel Canyon Drive and Lookout Mountain Avenue. Many have failed to located the famed estate, and often give up in frustration due to the amount of traffic in the intersection. It’s available to rent for functions, events, or just to stay in.
Another location with rumors of Houdini is “The Mansion“, a recording studio owned by Rick Rubin. Several different artists have used the mansion, and some have reported stories of hauntings on the property. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Marilyn Manson, Jay-Z, Slipknot, Linkin Park and Maroon 5 are just some of the bands that have recorded at the location. The mansion was also used in the second season of the show: Californication.
What’s haunting the recording studio remains a mystery.