Houdini and Radner Find New Home

Sydney Radner Shows Houdini Cuffs to Elizabeth Dobrska

Houdini’s legacy passed down through his brother Hardeen and safely kept by Sydney Radner has found a new home in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Mr. Radner’s care for the great showman’s equipment is legendary.  For years, many of the pieces sat on display in Houdini’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin.

He donated pieces outright to the Outagamie Museum and leased other items for their exhibits.

Following a well-publicized dispute with curator Terry Bergen, Mr. Radner sold much of the collection at auction.

The New York Times covered the sad lead-up to the Halloween 2004 sale.

“Mr. Radner said this week that he would not rest until he had removed the Houdini Historical Center from the control of the Outagamie County Historical Society and had relocated it far from the grip of Ms. Bergen.

“I don’t care where it goes, so long as it is not in Appleton,” he said. “She doesn’t know Houdini from Liberace. She just knows dollars.”

Mr. Radner found a new museum and new director for what remains of the collection, and perhaps more importantly, the legacy it represents.

Elizabeth C. Dobrska, the 19-year-old Director of the New Holyoke museum, told reporters, “I don’t want it to be just artifacts.”

The best intentions of Ms. Dobrska and Mr. Radner are not enough, however.

Before the doors can open, they need to raise about $200,000.00 for renovation and to build the exhibit space.  Ms. Dobrska said, “That’s a very, very important factor,” she said. “We are definitely searching for sponsors.”

The collector and student / curator believe they can raise the funds, even in this very tough economy.   Ms. Dobrska intends to pitch the museum concept as vehicle to help revitalize the downtown area.

The new museum will display the items along with hands-on exhibits, lectures, movies and live magic performances.  Ms. Dobrska says there will also be a focus on the life and work of Radner himself.

Ms. Dobrska “realizes starting a museum from scratch will take a lot of work – especially for someone still in college. But none of that fazes her. ‘Someone has to be willing to take the first step and I’m willing to do that.'”

Read the full article in The Republic (MA) here.

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