Houdini in his writings had identified its type as a Tower and Lyon Double Lock. He described a special pick for opening the cuffs. The cellar pair differed as to the linking chain. Instead, each cuff had smaller links with longer chain strands, clasp ended, that could be interlocked readily. One of the cuffs was provided with an almost undetectable gimmick for opening, not needing the clumsier pick that had been publicized in exposures.
For years, the vague implications of the find, and the circumstances surrounding that occasion continued to vex me. The challenge reinforced my determination not to sell, trade or give it up, although many collectors and others tendered tempting offers.
One day I received a letter from the newly inaugurated Houdini Historical Center. The ingenious use of a handcuff to join together the letters "O U" in Houdini's name as depicted in the letterhead startled me. I rushed to compare it with my handcuff relic. Both cuffs were identical in shape.
There is no clear explanation as to what may have impelled the designer to create the iconographic likeness. The last pair of handcuffs from the Hardeen home had called attention to itself in the true Houdini tradition.
Note: a photo of the actual handcuffs discussed in this article was previously posted on this blog.
Hauntingly, the instructions Houdini had recorded in his last will and testament shouted through my mind..."devise and bequeath to my brother Theodore Franz Weiss, professionally known as Hardeen, all my lithographs, theatrical effects, new mysteries, and illusions and accompanying paraphernalia to be burned and destroyed upon his death...". Recalling this, I sought to reconcile reality with dashed hopes.
Possibly, Houdini had taken a cue from Hofzinser, an Austrian magician genius of the early 1800's, who had wanted to have all his magic properties done away with after his death. Apparently, Mrs. Hofzinser did not comply. Perhaps, too, Houdini's instructions, if revealed during his own lifetime, would add to the lustre of the Houdini fable. It could also serve as a footing for Hardeen, in establishing him as successor for presentations of the deceased mystericist's show.
It may be that economic pressures played an insidious role in directing Hardeen's course of action. He sold off most of the important materials, allowing little for his wife to dispose of similarly. After John McManus' and my final screenings and what our kind friends carted away, the customary agencies of civic sanitation were called upon for the final dispersal, except for that "little bag of picks".
Moreover, that tantalizing pair of handcuffs which I had removed from a cellar wall was the last representative handcuff to be released from the Houdini-Hardeen estates and escape oblivion. From a collector's point of view, what a prize!
We proceeded to gather together many small objects and pack as much as possible into John's car, to be checked through as to those we felt warranted retention for historical preservation. Then Mrs. Hardeen invited us to her late husband's bedroom where we might be tempted by other memorabilia.
Captivated by the aura of the room, I was fascinated by a small round mirror on a stand, perched on the dresser, that seemed out of place. Mrs. Hardeen explained that it had been her husband's make-up mirror, which always accompanied him on tour.
Nearby, a tray of trinkets contained several gold-plated buttons on which the letter "H" was fashioned. They were from jackets worn by Hardeen and members of the show. John took the mirror and I picked up two of the buttons, one of which is now at the Houdini Historical Center. The mirror joined Ken Klosterman's Salon de Magie.
Before leaving the house, I returned to the cellar for a final look, hesitant to depart because of the almost supernatural spoor of the brothers Houdini and Hardeen that lingered. A glint from an opposite wooden wall led me to become aware of a somewhat dusky pair of handcuffs fastened to it just above eye level by bent nails. It may never be known why Hardeen had placed it there, or never disposed of it, or why not one of the dealers, friends or collectors had latched on to it. Perhaps, like a horseshoe, the handcuffs had been nailed up "for Luck".
Mrs. Hardeen assured me that there were no other restraint devices in the house aside from the torture cell tops. She did have a small bag of picks treasured by Hardeen and Houdini, but had been instructed never to give them to anyone. They were to be kept in a vault or destroyed. Without demonstration of any emotion, she gave me permission to detach and keep the handcuffs.
Within two days, a friend I contacted removed all tools and debris from the cellar. Eagerly, another friend picked up a set of narrow tail mirrors, the remains of an illusion, to use them for decorative purposes in his Great Neck, Long Island, home.