Donegal woman donates Harry Houdini's bible to museum

Though the Weisz family were Jewish, one of their prized possessions was a bible

By Eamonn McFadden

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By Eamonn McFadden

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eamonn.mcfadden@donegaldemocrat.com

Donegal woman donates Harry Houdini's bible to museum

Tara O'Grady with the bible that once belonged to famed magician Harry Houdini. Picture by Richard Velasco.

By Eamonn McFaddeneditorial@donegaldemocrat.com@dgldemocrat

A unique piece of history belonging to the famous magician and escapologist, Harry Houdini, has been gifted in his memory to a museum in Budapest by an Inver woman.

Helen Gallagher runs the “Belong To Inver, Co. Donegal” facebook page dedicated to celebrating the place and people of Inver in south Donegal and its diaspora around the world.

Helen has penned a fascinating account of a how an Inver woman, Mary Conaghan - O’Grady, who lives in the United States was given a copy of a bible once owned and signed by the famed magician and his father.

Last week, Mary’s daughter Tara travelled to Budapest in Hungary to donate the bible to “The House of Houdini” - the only museum dedicated to the magic icon.

Helen writes: “There are not many people out there who have not heard of the magician Harry Houdini, the grand illusionist, famous for his daring and spectacular escape acts which has made him one of the most famous magicians of all time.”

Harry Houdini was born on March 24,1874 in Budapest, Hungary, but the young Houdini moved with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he later claimed he was born. But Harry Houdini was his stage name, his real name Ehrich Weisz. Houdini was one of six children and the son of Rabbi Mayer Weisz and his second wife, Cecilia Steiner.

In 1876, Mayer Weisz immigrated to the United States with the dream of a better life. He found work as a rabbi and changed his last name to Weiss.

Though the Weisz family were Jewish, one of their prized possessions was a bible.

The bible, which is signed by Houdini's father and by Houdini as "Ehrich Weiss" in 1893, came into the possession of Mary Conaghan-O’Grady, who now lives in New York but originally came from Inver Parish. The bible came to Mary via the nurse of Houdini's brother Dr. Leopold Weiss. It has been in Mary's family home since the late 1970s.

Houdini's brother, Dr. Leopold Weiss, was a successful New York radiologist. His nurse was Marguerite Elliott who lived across the street from Mary and her family in New York. Dr Leo Weiss gave her his family bible, signed by his father Rev. Dr. M. S. Weisz, and his brother, Ehrich Weiss.

Mary befriended and cared for the old nurse and in 1978, Mary asked what the large book on the floor was?

It was Houdini's family bible, she gave it to Mary because she had no value for it.

Marguerite Elliott died in 1982. The Weiss family bible lived on in the home of the O'Grady family until now.

It was Mary’s daughter Tara O’Grady, an accomplished musician, who decided to do some research into the Weiss Family Bible and now this rare artifact has been taken back to Houdini's birthplace

On December 3rd Tara O'Grady returned to Budapest to present the book where she was joined by Irish Ambassador Pat Kelly, museum founder and Hungarian escape artist David Merlini, as well as the Hungarian Prime Minister’s cultural advisor Géza Szőcs.