Sidney Radner Passes – Keeper of Houdini Legend

Inside Magic Image of Sidney Radner and Curator Elizabeth C. Dobrska The New York Times broke the sad news of Sidney Radner’s passing today.  He was 91.

We considered a few people pillars of our Magic Reality.  Sidney Radner, Martin Gardner, Harry Blackstone, Jr., and David Copperfield.  We could not imagine magic without these four fixtures in our worldview of this wonderful art.

Mr. Radner  thoroughly in loved Magic and literally held the key to some of the finest pieces of history from Magic’s Golden Age.

According to his son, William, cancer was the cause of Mr. Radner’s death.

The Times correctly observed Mr. Radner’s unique position in the preservation of magic history.

Mr. Radner is credited in the world of magicians and magic collectors with having preserved some of the most important of Houdini’s props, including the “Chinese Water Torture Cell” (a water tank in which Houdini was lowered upside down, his feet chained) and the oversize “Milk Can” he used in a similar escape stunt.

His collection also included lesser items, but for Houdini buffs equally treasured, like the lock picks Houdini hid from his audiences by swallowing them, then regurgitating them, for escapes; cylinder pulleys, key wrenches, latches, levers and tumblers he used in various tricks; and a set of charred handcuffs from the exhibit that was set up in the theater lobby for his shows, advertised by Houdini as “handcuffs used in Spain on prisoners burning to death in 1600!”

Mr. Radner’s great fortune began when he attended a convention in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1935.  It was there that he met Theo Weiss a/k/a Hardeen; Houdini’s kid brother and an fine escape artist in his own right.


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Houdini and Radner Find New Home

Sydney Radner Shows Houdini Cuffs to Elizabeth Dobrska

Houdini’s legacy passed down through his brother Hardeen and safely kept by Sydney Radner has found a new home in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Mr. Radner’s care for the great showman’s equipment is legendary.  For years, many of the pieces sat on display in Houdini’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin.

He donated pieces outright to the Outagamie Museum and leased other items for their exhibits.

Following a well-publicized dispute with curator Terry Bergen, Mr. Radner sold much of the collection at auction.

The New York Times covered the sad lead-up to the Halloween 2004 sale.

“Mr. Radner said this week that he would not rest until he had removed the Houdini Historical Center from the control of the Outagamie County Historical Society and had relocated it far from the grip of Ms. Bergen.

“I don’t care where it goes, so long as it is not in Appleton,” he said. “She doesn’t know Houdini from Liberace. She just knows dollars.”

Mr. Radner found a new museum and new director for what remains of the collection, and perhaps more importantly, the legacy it represents.
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