Detroit funeral home where Houdini’s body was sent is deteriorating

W. R. Hamilton and Company Funeral Home on Cass Avenue. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Magician Harry Houdini died at Grace Hospital in Detroit on Halloween in 1926 after his appendix ruptured. His body was then taken to the W. R. Hamilton and Company Funeral Home in the Cass Corridor.

Houdini’s body was embalmed and stored there in a bronze coffin with a glass lid, which Houdini wanted to use as a prop for his magic shows. The coffin was then placed in a crate and shipped by truck to Michigan Central Station, where his body was taken by train to New York.

It’s believed that Houdini’s appendix was ruptured after a college student repeatedly punched the magician in the stomach in a dressing room in the Princess Theatre in Montreal. While in severe pain, Houdini performed his last show at Garrick Theater in Detroit on Oct. 24, 1926.

After the show, he was taken to Grace Hospital, where he reportedly uttered his last words on Halloween: “I’m tired of fighting.”

Sadly, the funeral home where he was taken and the adjacent building, which was built as a mortuary space in 1930, have been neglected and abandoned for years at the corner of Cass and W. Alexandrine. Lightning struck the funeral home in October 2016, causing a fire and creating a hole in the roof. As a result, rain water has damaged the third floor.

The buildings, which have been owned by the nonprofit Art Center Music School since 1981, are two years behind on property taxes, records show. The owners, who are board members of the now-defunct school, have ignored city orders to clean up the buildings. They owe more than $38,000 in delinquent taxes.

The owners couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Art Center Music School has held several fundraisers over the past few years to reopen as a community and education center, but that has never come to fruition.

The buildings closed about a decade ago.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.