VCU Libraries Gallery

Cabell the Collector: The Houdini Connection

Letter to James Branch Cabell from Beatrice Houdini

As James Branch Cabell became a well-known author, people began to send him books and to request his autograph. One such request came by way of this letter from Beatrice Houdini, the widow of Harry Houdini. Typed on mourning stationery--indicated by the black border--Mrs. Houdini asked Cabell to autograph and return a copy of The Music From Behind the Moon 
which she wanted to include in the Houdini Library. In exchange for this favor, Beatrice Houdini sent Cabell a book from the Houdini collection. 

Like Cabell, Harry Houdini had an interest in certain aspects of world religions. Houdini accumulated a great many books related to "psychic phenomena, Spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, demonology, evil spirits, etc." After Houdini's death on October 31, 1926 those books were bequeathed to the Library of Congress, arriving in 1927. 


Some Mistakes of Moses

The book which Beatrice Houdini sent to Cabell was Some Mistakes of Moses written by the brilliant and controversial orator Robert G. Ingersoll, also known as "The Great Agnostic." Ingersoll inscribed this copy as gift to his friend John G. Mills, a freethinking journalist. In April 1883, three years after giving Mills this book, Ingersoll delivered a tribute at Mills' funeral, famously declaring "Humanity was his God; the human race his Supreme Being."

Some Mistakes of Moses bears the marks of the famous men who owned it. Harry Houdini placed his bookplate opposite Ingersoll's inscription, and James Branch Cabell indicated his ownership by writing his name at the top right corner. 

You may view larger images of Beatrice Houdini's letter and of Ingersoll's book by clicking on the images.