The birthplace of America’s first superhero: downtown Budapest

houdini posterIt’s weekend which means I am not just about biology and biotech blogging and can allocate a little time to spend on other projects like visiting the nearest Barnes & Noble at Metairie (it is a shame that there are no big bookstores in Uptown New Orleans except the Tulane Campus) and buying new books for entertainment like the one called The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. I slowly got interested in Houdini due to the account of my friend Csaba on the Houdini figure in the book Ragtime by Doctorow. Another indirect hint was Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Guess where was Houdini born: Anne Fleischmann was urging Cecilia Weisz on, alternately wiping her brow and giving her some ice chips to suck on. On March 24, 1874, the small room at Rákosárok utca 1. sz. had been emptied, the three young boys sent out to play. Only a few neighbors were there as Anne expertly cradled the baby’s head and turned it slightly to allow the shoulders to emerge. She gently grabbed the baby’s chest as the rest of the bloody body was expelled from the womb.

Of course, a newborn meant another mouth to feed, and another warm body to share this typically small “room-and-kitchen” flat in the predominately Jewish section of Pest, part of the newly consolidated town of Budapest, Hungary. That made four sons now for Mayer Samuel Weisz, who had recently graduated law school. One could only assume that Mayer Samuel would make a very eloquent solicitor if the story of the courtship of his future wife was any indication.

Ok, let’s move with our Google weapons to figure out exactly where is this location in present Budapest:

Search 1: Rákosárok utca Budapest

Houdini’s birthplace in BudapestFrom Result 3 (result 2 is itself the passage cited here from the book) a Hungarian speaking expert gets the following info:

a., Rákosárok utca (utca=street) today is the Csengery utca b., the numbering of Csengery street launches from the VII. district part of it c., which was the predominately Jewish section of Pest (local knowledge) and now with the assumption of d., the numbering stayed the same during changing the street name the birthplace of Houdini could be localized with a 1-2 blocks certainty (see screenshot).

Now I do not know how well-known this fact is but I guess not really as when I googled “Houdini Csengery utca” (Search 2) the outcome is one result (soon it will be more as the Google crawlers are visiting this very post) which does not help. ‘Rákosárok utca’ is Rakusch Graben Gasse in German (Budapest was mainly a German speaking city that time, but using the German name of the street the result is 0 feeding the terms “Rakusch Graben Gasse Houdini” with Google (Search 3).

Another, but lesser known fact is that my maternal grandfather (coming from a gentrylike family of former landlords) was born 3 streets farther at the Alsóerdősor utca (see the screenshot), while I was born at least 12 streets farther in an adjacent district called Zugló. But it was my paternal grandfather, Sándor Csordás (Csordás means Cowboy in Hungarian or something close to that), who had something common with Houdini: at some point during their lifetime both men had been working in a circus due to their athletic capabilities.


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