May 5, 2014

Houdini Exhibit at The Castle in Appleton, WI

Harry Houdini, the world famous magician, claimed Appleton, Wisconsin as his home even though he was born in Budapest, so it is only right that Appleton’s Museum at the Castle, has a major Houdini exhibit.

When the Museum opened their current Houdini gallery it caused a flurry among magicians when it was revealed that the exhibit
would show how Houdini performed his famous metamorphosis illusion. Some magicians tried to stop the exhibit’s opening but the truth is that Houdini shared the secret of many of his magic tricks during his lifetime. Metamorphosis is where a person, often in a bag or chained, is placed in a locked trunk or large box, the curtain is closed and, with a “ta da,” seconds later the curtain opens to reveal that the person who was in the locked trunk has “magically” changed places with the magician. Houdini said, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes” The metamorphosis
display lets visitors preform the trick themselves albeit not with the speed and panache of Houdini. Houdini accomplished the illusion in three seconds. Even though the metamorphosis illusion became Houdini’s signature he didn’t invent it. Other displays share other secrets including how levitation was accomplished. 

Houdini’s death was caused by a surprise blow to his abdomen
which may have ruptured his appendix. Even though he was in pain and against the advice of doctors he continued with his
performances and died a few days later of peritonitis brought on by the ruptured appendix. Before his death he and his wife, Bess, agreed that if he was able to communicate from the “beyond” he would send the message “Rosebelle believe.” Bess held séances on Halloween for ten years and initially claimed to have made contact but later said that it was not true and discontinued the séances saying, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”

Other displays in the Museum at the Castle, an architectural gem, include a small one honoring Pulitzer Prize-winning Edna Ferber, author of “Giant” and “Showboat” and one about the infamous Senator Eugene McCarthy.  

Another architectural gem in Appleton is the Hearthstone Historic
House built in 1882 with the best of everything. It was the first home in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity. There were no meters at the time so the electric company charged the owner, Henry J. Rogers, one dollar per bulb per month. There were about 50 bulbs each equivalent to four-watt bulbs that burned night and day. The average salary at that time was about a dollar a day. When the lights were turned on the local newspaper said it was “bright as day.” 

The country's first hydroelectric central power station using the Edison system began its operation September 30, 1882. The generator was situated in the beater room of the Appleton Paper and Pulp Company which was run by Henry J. Rogers, Heathstone’s owner. Hearthstone's rare 1882 Edison light switches and electroliers still are in operation. It is possible that the Queen Anne-style Hearthstone house, on the National Register of Historic Places, is the sole surviving example of wiring and fixtures in their original location from the dawn of the electrical age. 

Appleton in the Fox Cities area known as “Paper Valley” is also home to the Paper Discovery Center that explores the history of papermaking with many hands-on displays where visitors can make their own piece of paper.