When Houdini opened in Boston at the end of February 1906 his performances became the talk of the town (1). Over the next 6 weeks Houdini escaped from handcuffs, ropes, packing cases, paper bags, wicker hampers, straight jackets, and even a witch’s chair. He even made the front page with his escape from a jail cell in Boston’s famous Tombs Prison. There was so much interest in seeing Houdini’s performances that standing room only crowds occupied part of the stage. The Houdini craze was on.
Two weeks after Houdini closed, Austin and Stone’s Museum announced that Mons. and Mme. Bellyea would introduce “ ‘The Missing Princess’ a la Houdini” (2). In the advertisements the billing was “Bellyea, King of Cards”, with no mention of Mme. Bellyea.
That changed the next week. Mme. Bellyea’s performances must have been the highlight of the act as the billing changed to “Bellyea and Effie Lorraine introducing the most Marvelous Trunk Mystery.” Their main effect was Lorraine escaping from a box, placed inside of a trunk and locked within a wooden crate (3). She did this within 26 seconds. Bellyea and Lorraine performed again at the Museum in August.
The novelty of the act was not so much the escape but the escapee. One critic stated she is large, fair and distinctly feminine. She tips the scale at over 200 lb and is very light on her feet.” (4) Another wrote after describing her box escape; “It should be borne in mind that she is twice as large as any performer doing any similar feat.” (5). Lorraine was not Bess Houdini.
Houdini returned to Boston at the beginning of January 1907 and again had a long and very successful run, leaving the city in mid-February (6, 7). Soon after he left a
Boston newspaper reported that (8):
“Effie Lorraine, a recent arrival from Europe, will tonight allow herself to be locked in the old bank vault of the Winthrop Bank building and says she expects to be able to release herself in a very short time. Miss Lorraine claims to attempt the feats of Houdini.”
The next day the Boston newspapers all carried the story of the escape. Here is one example (10):
“There was a sensation in the old Winthrop Bank Building at 2169 Washington street yesterday noon, when Effie Lorraine, a 200-pound Venus, out Houdinied Houdini by escaping in 18 minutes after being securely locked in the old bank vault.
Miss Lorraine is a Roxbury girl, and as fair as she is big.
Miss Lorraine was carefully searched, and was then ushered into her temporary prison. The office was then closed and the crowd waited without.
In a few minutes the office door opened and out walked the young woman. A careful inspection revealed the vault still locked, apparently just as before.
Miss Lorraine has been engaged to show some of her similar stunts at Austin and Stone’s Museum. The principle claim made for her is that while Houdini is a lithe, well-built man, Miss Lorraine is an unusually large woman, yet has all the poise and grace of a ballet dancer.”
Since this was not a challenge there was amble time for Bellyea and Lorraine to work out a way to escape from this unused 60+ year old vault (11).
They received great reviews that were headlined: “The ‘Female Houdini’ Rivals Her Namesake” and “Female Houdini in Starting Feats” (13, 14).
The magic community first heard about Effie Lorraine in the March, 1907 issue of Houdini’s Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine. Frederick Roche reporting in his Boston Bits column discussed Lorrain’s escape from a bank vault and her upcoming appearance at the Museum where she would escape from a box and hamper. He thought it would be a tight fit (13). In the April issue Roche must have witnessed a performance and gives a rather negative description of one effect (16):
“While at Austin & Stone’s museum, Miss Effie Lorraine presented a box mystery. A large heavy base on legs was shown first the sides of quarter-inch wood, were placed upon the base, the Venus entered and the top was strapped down, not nailed. The complete box was placed in a crate which was locked with several locks. This particular escape is evidently meant for a deaf audience judging by the amount of noise made by the lady escape artist in getting out, which great feat she accomplished in about five minutes. She was assisted by Prof. Bellyea. “
An interesting article about Lorraine appeared in the Boston Journal describing her escape from a large camera, about four foot square, at a local photography studio. Lorraine was placed inside, a plate was inserted and the shutter was closed. The journalist then left the room. Trapped within the body of the camera she was able to escape in less than eight minutes, appearing in the outer office “wearing a rosy flush and her hair was out of place – that was all.” The camera was then examined and further the plate developed and showed that “not a ray of light had touched its sensitive surface. There was no hint at how Lorraine had escaped. The article proclaimed that Effie Lorraine has stepped into the limelight as Houdini’s most dangerous rival. (4)
Their success, or at least some good press, must have secured a run at Huber’s Museum in New York City in June of 1907. The interesting thing is that they were performing opposite Houdini. The New York newspapers carried advertisements for both performers (17). Houdini must not have been very happy.
Bellyea and Lorraine returned to performing in Boston. They would periodically perform at Austin & Stone’s Museum, Theatre Premier, Howard Athenaeum and Bowdoin Sq. Theatre for the rest of 1907 and 1908 (18-21). Sometimes Bellyea would also perform his card manipulation routine on the bill.
In June 1909 they were again performing for a month long run at Austin & Stone’ Museum (20). However, on June 21st Lorraine was replaced by Pearl Abbott for one week, then the billing changed to Bellyea and Arnold for the last week (22, 23). This was the last time that Bellyea or Effie Lorraine were ever mentioned in the press.
Now what happened to Effie Lorraine? There is no conclusive proof, but here is one possible scenario. She may have had some health problems, which lead her to stop performing. In late June Boston experiencing a heat wave and June 25th set new records with many deaths and prostrations. The June 26, 1909 Boston Journal reported that:
“Mrs. Effie Loraine, 39 year old, was prostrated by the heat at her home, 83 Williams street, Roxbury, yesterday afternoon. A physician who attended her advised her to go to the hospital, but she refused to leave her home.”
She may have not been well enough to perform and that was why substitutes were used for the last two weeks of the run. Effie must have used “Lorraine” as a stage name.
Interestingly an Effie Loraine in the mid-1890s to around early 1900s was active in traveling burlesque shows (25-27). She used Lorraine and as her stage name, as did our Effie. According to the 1900 Census she was born in Cleveland, OH on October 1874, which would make her 36 in 1907 (26). Close to the age mentioned in the article. So could this be our Effie? There is no conclusive evidence, but for now she is the best candidate. The search goes on.
Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.
- Boston Herald, February 25, 1906, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, February 29, 1906, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, May 6, 1906, Boston, MA
- Boston Journal, March 27, 1907, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, September 29, 1908, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, January 7, 1907, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, February 16, 1907, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, February 26, 1907, Boston, MA
- Boston Post, February 27, 1907, Boston, MA
- Undated clipping from a Boston Newspaper, ca. February 27, 1907
- Norfolk Democrate, May 7, 1841, Dedham, MA
- Boston Herald, March 3, 1907, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, March 5, 1907, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, March 12, 1907, Boston, MA
- Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine, March, 1907
- Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine, April, 1907
- Sun, June 9, 1907, New York, NY
- Boston Herald, November 24, 1907, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, May 19, 1908, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, September 27, 1908, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, October 18, 1908, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, June 6, 1909, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, June 20, 1909, Boston, MA
- Boston Herald, June 29, 1909, Boston, MA
- Buffalo Courier, November 11, 1895, Buffalo, NY
- Constitution, January 5, 1896, Atlanta, GA
- Cincinnati Post, October 26, 1894, Cincinnati, OH
- 1900 United States Census, June 14, 1900, New York, NY