Monday, 26 August 2013

Selling an invention to Houdini by Carleete

Carleete inventor and escapologist

Carleete was the stage name of Harry Howes, born 8 May 1873, who claimed to be the inventor of the Water Escape trick, also known as the Water Torture Cell, Under Water Escape and Mysterious Cask. This trick was sold to Harry Houdini in 1911 and this post tells the story of this event.

Carleete was an inventor and performer of magic tricks and escapology around the Bradford area in the early 20th century, often performing often on the same bill as his wife. He also owned a theatre licence to organise and run shows that could include acts such as jugglers, singers, piano players with himself as the final and star act.  The name Carleete was also later taken up by his son Osmond Howes, and later his grandson Raymond (Ray) Howes in the 1950s.  

The original Carleete - Harry Howes.

Harry with magic props

One of Harry Howes's three sons - Osmond - as Carleete

Water casket is shown on the left

Houdini Introduction

Houdini was part of a touring group that used to play at theatres and toured the UK, visiting Bradford at least in 1911 and 1914.  Houdini was extremely expert in both marketing himself and learning from other magicians and experts during the tours.  Houdini had problems with a water escape trick and this lead to him looking for solution during his tours (also see Escapology article below) .  

Houdini looking to resolve a problem with the Milk Can escape

One way he did this, was to challenge people in each town and city he visited to show he could escape from any apparatus.  To do this he placed adverts in papers, visited inventors and magicians and learnt from their innovation. 

He would also buy tricks from these people and had his own workmen, who were sworn to secrecy throughout their lives, to make up tricks for him (see De-Val article below in Escapism).  
Placing adverts in the paper and setting out these challenges to magicians with a local reputation, therefore enabled Houdini to market himself, build up a hype around his visit and also put him in contact with people he could learn from.

1911 Tour

In 1911 Houdini came to Bradford and Carleete responded to the challenge he placed in the newspaper by Carleete that he will fasten Houdini with one pair of handcuffs   According to Osmond as written up in the De-Val newsletter below, Houdini visited Carleete in Salt Street Bradford, Houdini did his home work on Carleete and found he was useing the water trick invented by Carleete  Houdini was very interested in this  This water trick solved some problems that Houdini was facing with his own water trick and Houdini asked to take away the trick to understand more. Carleete refused this, but came to a financial agreement with Houdini to have the trick.

Publication documenting the Houdini meeting and sale.
As told by Osmond Howes (as pictured above) in 1986.

David De-Val - a regular contributor

After the sale  

27 January 1911 it took Houdini about 12 weeks he and his workmen recreate the trick  Houdini  and registered the trick as his own, as described in the book extracts below.  on may 2 1911 Houdini received his copyright   special licence from the lord chamberlain.  Houdini then stored the trick in London 27 April 1911  [see the life secret life of Houdini page 281] for when the time comes that he needed it to add to his show as he often did, as described on page 123.  [Houdini untold story ]

A photo of the trick are shown below and in the book reference on page 239 - note the six straps on the trick refereed to here and in the article below, showing the link between the problem Houdini stated and the solution shown with Carleetes invention.

Challenge of proof by Houdini page 239 - see below for extracts of the source materials 

Carleete (Osmond Howes) and apparatus

Meanwhile, Carleete continued to perform in the theatres and halls  around Bradford and built his reputation further as shown in the flyer from 1913.  In 1913 this exchange was publicly declared by Carleete in a flyer stating "as sold to Houdini" and claiming himself as inventor.

Flyer from 1913 with claim of the invention and supply and use by Harry Houdini

In addition, the claim from page 239 as shown previously made by Harry Leat is shown below.
Claim of holding proof by respected London Magic shop owner Harry Leat
(unfortunately the proof described was destroyed on the death Harry Leat with other personal possessions)

1914 visit

Houdini toured the Bradford area once again and he placed an advert in the local paper confirming that Mr Howes (Carleete) was the inventor of the casket.  

Houdini visited Carleete once again and came to an agreement that Carleete would perform with Houdini at the Bradford theatre.  At this performance Carleete would be shown as the local expert in tricks and escapology and yet Houdini would then be shown to baffle Carleete, and be bombarded with boos from the audience.  Houdini asked Carleete to keep writing to the papers saying that he will challenge and definitely beat Houndini, and he said he would pay the postage expenses to do this.  mr. howes and his son Osmond meet houdini at his lodgings in Morley street bradford to work the show out, because houdini did not want to be seen together at the theatre before the show.

Houdini arranged for a cab to be ready at the back of the theatre for Carleete to escape given the potential bad feeling towards him from the audience.  When Osmond asked his dad about this, Carleete mentioned that he was being paid enough to make the boos and jeers worthwhile. 

Example of an unsuccessful challenge in 1914 at the Empire Theatre, Bradford from  the newpaper

                      This refers to Harry Howes (Carleete) 

A telegram to Carleete (Harry Howes) asking for the meeting Empire Theatre in janury 27  1911 is shown below, the original is still in possession of the Howes family.

The telegram requesting the meeting dated 27th Jan, 1911
Text of the telegram in close-up

Reverse showing part of the original receipt number

Houdini also gave Osmond Howes a signed photograph

Collection of evidence

These events were related from evidence in papers, newsletters from Harry Leat (who used to run and own the largest magic shop in London and produced a series of regular newsletters based on evidence collected) and first-hand interviews with Osmond by De-Val, Harry Howes' other son Bayne Howes and his grandson Harvey Howes. Harvey Howes collated the materials together over many years from family sources and through research.  

Source of the Harry Leat leaflet as shown previously

Additional article from the Bradford Argus by Bayne Howes, son of Harry Howes
(note: Chessum street is mentioned here in the paper - a mistake in editing, this was Salt street)

Additional information on the the handcuff challenge made to Houdini is told by Harry Howes's other son, Bayne Howes on a video recording here@ Carleete Video.