Oct 31 2010

On This Day in History: October 31

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

October 31 is the 304th day of the year (305th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 61 days remaining until the end of the year.

This day is internationally known as Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, Reformation Day, and Day of the Dead for the Philippines

On this day in 1926, Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, dies of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital.

Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, and soon demonstrated a natural acrobatic ability and an extraordinary skill at picking locks.

He went on his first international tour in 1900 and performed all over Europe to great acclaim. In executing his escapes, he relied on strength, dexterity, and concentration-not trickery-and was a great showman.

In 1908, Houdini began performing more dangerous and dramatic escapes. In a favorite act, he was bound and then locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a water tank or thrown off a boat. In another, he was heavily bound and then suspended upside down in a glass-walled water tank. Other acts featured Houdini being hung from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried-without a coffin-under six feet of dirt.

In his later years, Houdini campaigned against mediums, mind readers, fakirs, and others who claimed supernatural talents but depended on tricks. At the same time, he was deeply interested in spiritualism and made a pact with his wife and friends that the first to die was to try and communicate with the world of reality from the spirit world.

Eyewitnesses to an incident in Montreal gave rise to speculation that Houdini’s death was caused by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who delivered multiple blows to Houdini’s abdomen to test Houdini’s claim that he was able to take any blow to the body above the waist without injury.

The eyewitnesses, students named Jacques Price and Sam Smilovitz (sometimes called Jack Price and Sam Smiley), proferred accounts of the incident that generally corroborated one another. The following is Price’s description of events:

   Houdini was reclining on his couch after his performance, having an art student sketch him. When Whitehead came in and asked if it was true that Houdini could take any blow to the stomach, Houdini replied groggily in the affirmative. In this instance, he was hit three times before Houdini could tighten up his stomach muscles to avoid serious injury. Whitehead reportedly continued hitting Houdini several more times and Houdini acted as though he were in some pain.

Houdini reportedly stated that if he had time to prepare himself properly he would have been in a better position to take the blows. He had apparently been suffering from appendicitis for several days prior and yet refused medical treatment. His appendix would likely have burst on its own without the trauma. Although in serious pain, Houdini continued to travel without seeking medical attention.

When Houdini arrived at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 1926, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 104 F (40 C). Despite a diagnosis of acute appendicitis, Houdini took the stage. He was reported to have passed out during the show, but was revived and continued. Afterwards, he was hospitalized at Detroit’s Grace Hospital.

Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 p.m. in Room 401 on October 31, aged 52.

After taking statements from Price and Smilovitz, Houdini’s insurance company concluded that the death was due to the dressing-room incident and paid double indemnity.

Houdini’s funeral was held on November 4, 1926 in New York, with more than 2,000 mourners in attendance. He was interred in the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York, with the crest of the Society of American Magicians inscribed on his gravesite. To this day the Society holds a broken wand ceremony at the grave site in November. Houdini’s widow, Bess, died on February 11, 1943, aged 67, in Needles, California. She had expressed a wish to be buried next to him but instead was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester, New York, as her Catholic family refused to allow her to be buried in a Jewish cemetery out of concern for her soul.

 475 – Romulus Augustulus is proclaimed Western Roman Emperor.

1517 – Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther posts his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

1587 – Leiden University Library opens its doors after its founding in 1575.

1822 – Emperor Agustin de Iturbide attempts to dissolve the Mexican Empire.

1861 – American Civil War: Citing failing health, Union General Winfield Scott resigns as Commander of the United States Army.

1863 – The Maori Wars resumes as British forces in New Zealand led by General Duncan Cameron begin their Invasion of the Waikato.

1864 – Nevada is admitted as the 36th U.S. state.

1876 – A monster cyclone ravages India, resulting in over 200,000 deaths.

1913 – Dedication of the Lincoln Highway, the first automobile road across United States.

1913 – The Indianapolis Street Car Strike and subsequent riot begins.

1917 – World War I: Battle of Beersheba – “last successful cavalry charge in history”.

1918 – Banat Republic is founded

1923 – The first of 160 consecutive days of 100 degrees at Marble Bar, Australia.

1924 – World Savings Day is announced in Milan, Italy by the Members of the Association at the 1st International Savings Bank Congress (World Society of Savings Banks).

1926 – Magician Harry Houdini dies of gangrene and peritonitis that developed after his appendix ruptured.

1938 – Great Depression: In an effort to restore investor confidence, the New York Stock Exchange unveils a fifteen-point program aimed to upgrade protection for the investing public.

1940 – World War II: The Battle of Britain ends – the United Kingdom prevents a German invasion.

1941 – After 14 years of work, Mount Rushmore is completed.

1941 – World War II: The destroyer USS Reuben James is torpedoed by a German U-boat near Iceland, killing more than 100 United States Navy sailors. It is the first U.S. Navy vessel sunk by enemy action in WWII.

1941 – A fire in a clothing factory in Huddersfield, England kills 49

1943 – World War II: An F4U Corsair accomplishes the first successful radar-guided interception.

1954 – Algerian War of Independence: The Algerian National Liberation Front begins a revolt against French rule.

1956 – Suez Crisis: The United Kingdom and France begin bombing Egypt to force the reopening of the Suez Canal.

1959 – Lee Harvey Oswald attempts to renounce his American citizenship at the US Embassy in Moscow, USSR.

1961 – In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin’s body is removed from Lenin’s Tomb.

1963 – An explosion at the Indiana State Fair Coliseum (now Pepsi Coliseum) in Indianapolis kills 74 people during an ice skating show. The explosion also injures 400. A faulty propane tank connection in a concession stand is blamed.

1968 – Vietnam War October surprise: Citing progress with the Paris peace talks, US President Lyndon B. Johnson announces to the nation that he has ordered a complete cessation of “all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam” effective November 1.

1973 – Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape. Three Provisional Irish Republican Army members escape from Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, Republic of Ireland aboard a hijacked helicopter that lands in the exercise yard.

1984 – Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by two security guards. Riots soon break out in New Delhi and nearly 10,000 Sikhs are killed.

1986 – The 5th congress of the Communist Party of Sweden is inaugurated. During the course of the congress the party name is changed to the Solidarity Party and the party ceases to be a communist party.

1994 – An American Eagle ATR-72 crashes in Roselawn, Indiana, after circling in icy weather, killing 68 passengers and crew.

1996 – A Fokker F100 operating as TAM Transportes Aereos Regionais Flight 402 crashes into several houses in Sao Paulo, Brazil killing 98 including 2 on the ground.

1997 – 19-year-old British au pair Louise Woodward, convicted by a Cambridge, Massachusetts, jury of second-degree murder the day before, is sentenced to life in prison.

1998 – Iraq disarmament crisis begins: Iraq announces it would no longer cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.

1999 – EgyptAir Flight 990 traveling from New York City to Cairo crashes off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, killing all 217 on-board.

1999 – Yachtsman Jesse Martin returns to Melbourne after 11 months of circumnavigating the world, solo, non-stop and unassisted.

2000 – A Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 operating as Flight 006 collides with construction equipment upon takeoff in Taipei, Taiwan killing 79 passengers and four crew members.

2000 – A chartered Antonov An-26 explodes after takeoff in Northern Angola killing 50.

2000 – Soyuz TM-31 launches, carrying the first resident crew to the International Space Station. The ISS has been continuously crewed since.

2002 – A federal grand jury in Houston, Texas indicts former Enron Corp. chief financial officer Andrew Fastow on 78 counts of wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice related to the collapse of his ex-employer.

2003 – A bankruptcy court approves MCI’s reorganization plans, essentially clearing the telecommunications company to exit bankruptcy.

2003 – Mahathir bin Mohamad resigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia and is replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, marking an end to Mahathir’s 22 years in power.


  1. TMC

  2. Eddie C

    Now I know why CBS Sunday Morning did a story on Harry Houdini today.  

  3. TMC

    that sat atop the memorial kept getting smashed or stolen. As you would expect, there is a very visible police presence at this cemetery this week. The NYPD has a special task force for several gay s before & after Halloween throughout the city that tries to reduce the vandalism that peeks on Halloween.

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