Bess Houdini (Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner)

Bess Houdini

Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (January 23, 1876 – February 11, 1943), better known as Bess Houdini, was the stage assistant and wife of Harry Houdini. Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner was born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. in 1876 to German immigrants Gebhard Rahner (a cabinet maker) and Balbina Rahner (née Bugel). Bess Houdini was working at Coney Island in a song and dance act called The Floral Sisters when she was first courted by Houdini’s younger brother, Theo (aka Theodore Hardeen). But it was the older Houdini brother, Harry, that she fell in love with and married on June 22, 1894. Bess and Harry worked as The Houdinis for several years before Houdini hit it big as The Handcuff King. But he and Bess continued to occasionally perform their signature trick, Metamorphosis, throughout his career. Bess also looked after their menagerie of pets, collected dolls, and made the costumes for Houdini’s full evening roadshow. The Houdinis remained childless throughout their marriage. Bess’s niece, Marie Hinson Blood, said Bess suffered from a medical condition that prevented her from having children.

After Houdini died on October 31, 1926, Bess opened a tea house in New York, and briefly performed a vaudeville act in which she froze a man in ice. In the 1930s she moved to Hollywood, California, and worked to promote Houdini’s memory along with her manager and partner, Edward Saint. On Halloween 1936, Bess and Saint conducted a “Final Houdini Séance” on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. At the conclusion of the failed séance, she put out the candle beside a photograph of Houdini that was said to have burned for ten years. In 1943 she said “ten years [was] long enough to wait for any man.” After the 1936 séance, Bess passed the torch to Walter B. Gibson writer of the famous mystery series “The Shadow” and friend, confidant, publicist and ghost writer for Houdini, and asked him to carry on the yearly tribute, who held them for many years at New York’s Magic Towne House with such magical notables as Houdini biographers Walter B. Gibson and Milbourne Christopher. Before he died, Walter passed on the tradition  to Dorothy Dietrich, who now does them yearly at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. Bess Houdini died from a heart attack on February 11, 1943 while in Needles, California, aboard an eastbound train traveling from Los Angeles to New York City. She was 67 years old. Her family would not allow her to be interred with her late husband at the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York as she had been raised a Roman Catholic. She is interred instead at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

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Born

  • January, 23, 1876
  • USA
  • Brooklyn, New York

Died

  • February, 11, 1943
  • USA
  • Needles, California,

Cause of Death

  • heart attack

Cemetery

  • Gate of Heaven Cemetery
  • Hawthorne, New York
  • USA

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