In Glendale, Queens, near Cypress Hills Street and the Jackie Robinson Parkway lies a small, isolated Jewish burial ground called Machpelah Cemetery. Despite Machpelah Cemetery’s somewhat abandoned state, one of the most famous men in the world is buried near its entrance: Harry Houdini.
A large white monument with a weeping woman honors the world’s greatest magician at Machpelah. A bust of Houdini, towering over the mosaic emblem of the Society of American Magicians (SAM), tops off the monument. Houdini’s real last name, Weiss, is inscribed on the monument. The site also has benches, a vase and usually various trinkets from people who come to visit.
At 52 years old, Houdini died on the Halloween of 1926. He was buried here after over 2,000 people attended his funeral in New York City. In addition, members of Houdini’s family are buried here in Machpelah Cemetery with him: his mother, father, his magician brother named Hardeen, his sister, and his other brothers. His wife was buried at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester since her family was Catholic and didn’t want her buried at Machpelah, but her name is inscribed with Houdini’s on his grave marker.
Even until today, magicians come to honor Houdini and strive to maintain the site. In fact, the first “Broken Wand” ceremony, which honors deceased magicians, was performed at Houdini’s grave in Machpelah Cemetery in 1926, and SAM continues to honor him here with ceremonies.
However, there have been disputes over how to maintain Houdini’s grave, particularly between SAM and the cemetery. According to Atlas Obscura, the magicians have felt that those in charge of the cemetery were underfunded, selling parts of Houdini’s grave and letting the site fall into disrepair. In turn, those at the cemetery have accused the magicians of bringing vandals responsible for the site’s disrepair.
In addition, the bust on Harry Houdini’s monument was destroyed or stolen four times between 1975 and 1993. (It was donated to the Museum of the City of New York by Houdini’s wife, Bess Weiss, but was sledgehammered in 1975, replaced and stolen in 1983, and then recovered in 2003). Most recently, SAM replaced the bust in 2011.
After coming to the United States at the age of three and living in Wisconsin, Houdini first moved to New York City in his early teens…and lived in a boarding house on East 79th street. Houdini performed in New York City for much of his life, so it’s actually not surprising that a cemetery in Queens was his final resting place.
Next, read about the Houdini Museum and other obscure NYC museums, some of the smallest cemeteries in NYC, Ava Vanderbilt’s Final Resting Place in Woodlawn Cemetery, what former New York City cemeteries are now and the New York City cemetery that moved four times. Get in touch with the author @sgeier97.