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New York’s Hidden Houdini Museum

If you brave the tourist-chocked nightmare that is the Penn Station/Madison Square Garden area of Manhattan and manage to push your way through the throngs of dazed people waiting for the budget Bolt Bus lined up along 33rd Street, and look for the small sign next to the larger signs for psychics and porno videos, you will find 421 7th Ave — Fantasma Magic. Through the nondescript office building lobby, on the 3rd floor, you will find a phantasmagorically decorated hallway lined with posters and reflective wallpaper that leads you to Fantasma’s small but absorbing Houdini Museum of New York. Inside, clerks and local magicians hang out with visitors at the counter, showing off and sometimes even exposing the secret behind sleight of hand magic tricks. Lining the walls is a small wealth of Houdini memorabilia. More is stored in a couple glass display cases. And the far wall showcases, among other things, some of the props from Houdini’s greatest escapes and even includes an animatronic Houdini that will escape from a straight jacket for you.

Houdini is perhaps the most iconic and well-known magician, escape artist, and showman in the United States, and his temperament and ego keep him in the spotlight to this day as much as his phenomenal skill as a performer. He looms over everything, sometimes to the chagrin of those around him or those who have come since his passing, but you can’t deny the man his place in history. The museum is a proper tribute to New York’s hometown boy, and there’s no better place to find this menagerie of ephemera and props than in a semi-hidden magic shop in a somewhat shabby corner of Manhattan. Admission is free and the museum won’t take up much of your day. Drop in. Say hello. See some card and coin tricks. And marvel at Houdini’s history.