Poof! Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks have been digitized

Houdini scrapbook

Would a light seance entail only meeting cheerful dead people? From Houdini’s spiritualism scrapbook at the HRC.

Rebecca Onion reports that the Harry Ransom Center has digitized ten of Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks. They follow his professional interests in spiritualism and magic. As was true for most performers, his scrapbooks were also a repository for clippings on his own career (and in his case, his inspiration Robert Houdin, and various competitors too.)

Advertisements

Dorsey’s 400 Black History Scrapbooks

William Henry Dorsey was a dedicated scrapbook maker beyond belief — around 400 scrapbooks from the 1860s to 1910s — not just the phenomenal “Colored Centenarians” book I wrote about in some detail in Writing with Scissors, but others on Philadelphia’s African American notables, black prize fighters, pictures of Africans, black education, Emancipation anniversary celebrations, black Odd Fellows — the list is vast. And yes, my hunch was confirmed: he did know about Robert M. Budd aka Back Number Budd, the pioneering black dealer in old newspapers in NYC. He corresponded with him, and he clipped an article on him I hadn’t seen before, from the Indiana Freeman.

William Dorsey's nephew, Dorsey Seville, worked at the post office, and passed along undeliverable papers for his uncle to clip.

William Dorsey’s nephew, Dorsey Seville, worked at the post office, and passed along undeliverable papers for his uncle to clip.

Sabra Statham, Matt Isham, Mike Furlough and others at Penn State’s “People’s Contest” project for digitizing otherwise hidden resources from the years around the Civil War are hoping to digitize them. Keith Bingham of Cheyney University has sent them over to be assessed. I hadn’t seen much of the actual collection before, but mainly the microfilm. The pallet full of boxes is an impressive sight! And the contents are dazzling — so many forgotten bits and pieces of African American history, clipped from newspapers — sometimes from black newspapers that have no documented copies still existing. Not to mention more information on how Dorsey got the newspapers he clipped, and how his friends and colleagues used them.

Here’s a video of my talk, setting William Henry Dorsey’s scrapbook in the context of other black scrapbook makers.