Magicians to Fix Up Houdini's Grave, Keep It Clean

After disputes with cemetery management, magic society to take over upkeep
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 28, 2014 4:56 PM CST
Magicians Rally to Fix Up Houdini's Grave
In this 2011 photo provided by Ronald G. Chicken, Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz sit at the grave of legendary magician Harry Houdini at Machpelah Cemetery in the Queens borough of New York.   (Ronald G. Chicken)

Nestled next to the late Lewins, Blums, and Levys in a spooky old cemetery in New York City lies the final resting place of America's most legendary magician, interred under a granite monument that bears his stage name in bold letters: Houdini. It's an impressive tribute to the man born as Ehrich Weiss, who died on Halloween of 1926 of complications from appendicitis. However, over the years, the site has been venerated, vandalized, thieved, and forsaken, and now a group of magicians wants to help care for the grave. Dorothy Dietrich, a magician who runs a Houdini museum in Scranton, Pa., serves on a national magicians' committee working to raise money to restore Houdini's gravesite and allow for the permanent care of the monument at Machpelah Cemetery in Queens. It will cost about $1,200 annually to maintain the grounds, plus thousands more for restoration.

Cemetery managers say they've done their part over the years to keep up the gravesite, but it's their job to look out for all the dead—not just the famous dead. Most of Houdini's relatives have since died, and those left don't have extra money to fund the upkeep, Dietrich says. So the plot has been cared for over the years by fans like Dietrich; she took up the mantle after the local magician society chapter had a dispute with the cemetery and stopped paying annual fees. The head of the Houdini gravesite restoration committee says the Society of American Magicians will help pay for the upkeep and plans to clean and recaulk the granite, give the mosaic a face-lift, and fix damaged markers. He doesn't have a cost estimate yet but says repairs will take two years. "[Houdini] gave back to society in so many ways," says Dietrich. "It's the least we can do to give back in some small way for all he's given to us." (Read more Houdini stories.)

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