I stand by my statement that Houdini's ego would most certainly have prompted and perhaps, permitted, him to take part in a still another photo opportunity, regardless of his health or additional pending responsibilities. The statements made by those opposing this view, that he was frequently known to overcome severe discomfort and pain, when undergoing one of his challenges or regular performances, would seem to agree.
Houdini was an egoist (as opposed to egotist) by classic definition; as with many successful public personalities, his world centered very definitely upon himself. He was literally known to call local media to report events of interest, we're told in various books, just to keep his name before the public, and he briefly finagled his name, as a verb, into a then popular American dictionary. Though he clearly loved Bess (and others), he preferred his own company, and spent most of his private hours alone in his office or in very long walks.
Please do not misunderstand my position; there were many things (most, in fact), related to Houdini that I did and still do admire. His tenacity and capacity to overcome all obstacles are chief among them. He was not, however, the first "escape artist," though he may arguably have been the best. He wasn't a pioneer, by any stretch of the imagination, in the cause of exposing fraudulent spiritualist mediums and related "crimes," as he saw them. Finally, he was, according to almost every other entertainment professional speaking of him in the era, only a mediocre magician, at best.
What, then, made Harry Houdini a household name, generations after his demise (though, sadly, the average child today has never heard of him, a situation I, and others, are trying to remedy in publications for the trade)? The answer is simple, he was, with PT Barnum being the only possible exception, the greatest self-publicist/promoter in American history, and perhaps in theatrical history (though the latter is subject, I realize, to debate -- It's no secret that Houdini was a dreadful actor, too).
Indeed, there is much to admire about Houdini. He was, like all of us, a human being, however, and we all have flaws. Houdini's short-comings may, in fact, very well have been the reason for his notoriety. If so, I consider this reason to admire him all the more. The man was a genuine phenomena, the likes of whom we may never see again.
I loved to read of Houdini when I was a child, and my interest in, and admiration of him have only strengthened over the years. Like many of you, I'm a serious student of magic history (for me, the nexus between occult magic history and illusion -- as we know it -- are particularly fascinating; Houdini, apparently, thought so too). Houdini items do feature prominently in my personal collection (with only one or two pieces coming from my very dear, departed, friend, Marie Hinson Blood), but he certainly doesn't occupy the largest part of my magic ephemera or literature, as seemingly suggested here(?).
As to the photograph at the apparent racetrack (remember, there might have been no race at all -- this might (?) have been a staged photo meant to serve in some promotional or advertising effort that never came to fruition because of Houdini's obviously unanticipated death -- we may never know). All I can relate is what I've written before, which was related to me. Marie was adamant that this was the final photograph (according to Bess), ever taken of Houdini, and that it was taken just before his last performance. That's all I know regarding its provenance, but I can't imagine a better source than his wife.
Bess was, particularly in the well-known scenario regarding the "Reverend" Arthur Ford, known to stretch the truth. Bess did, in fact, knowingly assist Ford with perpetrating this fraud, while undergoing a bout of depression exacerbated by her then dependence upon alcohol. The latter, too, was related to Marie. Neither women were wont to openly discuss the situation, though. Later, as we all know, Bess recanted, but did not provide the particulars to the public. I can think of no reason, however, for Bess to have lied about the Houdini flag-holding photograph. What was there to gain; the photo was not ever to be offered for sale, but to be kept as a family memento? As I've indicated before, it wasn't offered for sale, but was "taken, by means of bullying" for lack of a better phrase, by the well-known collector and dealer previously mentioned [permit to make it clear that said party is not a contributor to this thread].
It's been well over a decade since I've viewed the photo, though I looked at it many times over countless visits to the home of Forrest and Marie Blood over a period of over fourteen years. In the photo, as I recall it, Houdini was quite disheveled in appearance (a rarity for him), his skin, compared to other outdoor black and white photographic images of him, appeared pallid, indicated ill-health, and his face bore a grimace, rather than the standard, studied, "mysterious" look, or smile. Having been educated and employed for some years in the field of emergency medicine, I can easily say there appear, to me, recognizable aspects of Houdini's apparent demeanor, and overall "look" in the photograph, which indicate serious discomfort and illness.
Could the photo have been taken at an earlier date? Once again, it almost certainly could; Houdini no doubt appeared in several photographs when he was ill and in pain, to be sure, during his career. I've personally battled severe pain issues for many years now, issues that have caused me to retire from all professional endeavors. This is another reason for me to admire Houdini; to him, "the show must go on" was much more than a catch phrase, it was an apparent mantra. His stubborn tenacity very likely cost him his life, in the end, but for one who's battled the demons of searing pain, his legendary feats are all the more impressive.
I genuinely loved Marie and Forrest Blood, and I regarded them and their children as family very nearly as I regard my own. Marie purchased the first holiday outfit my son (our first child, ever wore), and he first wore it at a Christmas party in Marie's home. My daughter, as Marie pointed out to her, shares her name (my daughter is named Mary), and though my daughter was too young to remember Marie, she met her many times, and was photographed with her on several occasions at social functions and at public appearances.
On one of our later visits, my wife, children, and I had lunch on the Blood's enclosed back porch in beautiful Pinehurst, North Carolina (about an eighty minute drive from my home). On that occasion, Marie stumbled and fell, while stepping onto the porch, fracturing a rib in the process. I felt terrible, after giving her a quick "once over" as she was obviously in misery, and demanded that we go at once to the local hospital to obtain x-rays. Houdini-like, she stubbornly declined my friendly (and professional) advice, waiting until the following day to have the films done. The latter confirmed my opinion, and I was very angry with Marie for a some time thereafter, as I and my family might well have (as she insisted upon completing the meal) contributed to her demise, had one of the ribs eventually punctured a lung.
Marie dearly loved Harry, but I want to make it absolutely clear that she shared the opinions I mention above. We discussed them openly many times, but we both admired Houdini for the many of the same reasons. Her memories of life with Harry and Bess were priceless. I conducted several formal interviews with Marie over the years. and will hopefully get this information, along with her personal notes, in print with a major juvenile publishing house this, or next, year.
I lift my cup to the great Houdini, long may he wave.