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Who’d Want to Murder Harry Houdini?

Houdini Milestones
From the Nov. 8, 1926, issue of TIME TIME

Oct. 31, 1926: Harry Houdini dies from complications of a ruptured appendix

In the cutthroat world of magicians and mediums, Harry Houdini made enemies.

He had racked up so much ill will by the time of his mysterious death, in fact, that some people suspected he had been poisoned by psychics whose claims he regularly debunked.

The cause of Houdini’s death — on this day, Halloween, in 1926 — was officially a combination of appendicitis and peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal lining. But its onset was swift and surprising in the otherwise healthy 52-year-old, known for superhuman strength and the ability to escape every tight spot he had ever found himself in — including being buried alive, one of four “close-ups with death” of his career, according to a New York Times story.

The Times reported on the bizarre string of events that led up to the fatal infection, including a barrage of gut punches from a college student who wanted to test the strength of Houdini’s stomach muscles. Although a doctor told him that his appendix had likely ruptured, Houdini performed in a scheduled show rather than undergo immediate surgery, his obituary reveals.

A theory soon emerged that his death was no accident, however, and the rumor stuck. As recently as 2008, Houdini’s grandnephew sought permission to exhume his body and test for poison, noting that the outspoken magician had given many people motive for murder.

In addition to being a masterful escape artist who broke free from handcuffs and straightjackets, prisons and padded cells, a leather mail pouch and a giant milk can filled with water, Houdini was an acerbic critic of clairvoyants he believed were defrauding the public. He denounced famed mediums as a member of the Scientific American Committee on Psychic Phenomena in 1924, as TIME reported, and went on to recreate their tricks before his own audiences later.

In 1926, he testified before Congress in favor of a bill to regulate mediums and fortune-tellers, toward whom he showed both skepticism and contempt. It was easy to see why they might want him out of the way.

Notwithstanding his suspicion of séances, he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of communicating with spirits. He and his wife agreed that when one of them died, they’d each attempt to get in touch with the other from whichever world they found themselves in.

Wilhelmina Houdini held up her end of the bargain: For more than three years after his death, she attempted to make contact. And while a number of so-called spiritualists told her they’d had gotten messages from her husband, it was easy to tell they were fakes, according to a 1930 dispatch in TIME: “She and Houdini prearranged a code, in which no medium has yet brought word from him.”

Finally she gave up, taking his silence as a sign that the spirit world does not exist — or at least, it doesn’t talk. Houdini’s psychic foes, on the other hand, took it as a sign that he continued to spite them from beyond the grave.

According to TIME: “Spiritualists retorted that it proved nothing. Some even charged that Houdini’s spirit is being stubborn.”

Read more about Mrs. Houdini’s conclusion, here in TIME’s archives: Houdini, Doyle

Photos: Houdini Being Houdini

TIME People

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino Dies at 71

Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino
Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino W. Marc Bernsau—Boston Business Journal

Menino was the city's longest-serving mayor, who led for more than two decades

Thomas M. Menino, the beloved former mayor of Boston who led the city for more than two decades, died Thursday. He was 71, and his passing was confirmed in a statement on his Facebook page.

Menino, who served five terms in office to become the city’s longest-serving mayor, was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer soon after stepping down earlier this year. Last week, Menino announced that he would stop chemotherapy treatment — and suspend a tour to promote his book Mayor for a New America — to spend more time with his family and friends.

“At just after 9:00am this morning the Honorable Thomas M. Menino passed into eternal rest after a courageous battle with cancer,” the statement said. “He was surrounded by his devoted wife Angela, loving family and friends. Mayor Menino, the longest serving Mayor of the City of Boston, led our city through a transformation of neighborhood resurgence and historic growth — leaving the job he loved, serving the city and people he loved this past January. We ask that you respect the families’ privacy during this time and arrangements for services will be announced soon.”

Menino is credited with overseeing the ascent of Boston’s skyline and leading the city through economic downturns to become a hub for business and technology. The city’s first mayor of Italian descent, according to the Boston Globe, Menino’s old-school political style won him the support of the city, leaving office with an approval rating of nearly 80%. A 2008 Globe poll found that more than half of the Boston respondents said they had met him personally.

Read TIME’s 2013 profile of Menino here: The Last of the Big-City Bosses

TIME Companies

Apple CEO Tim Cook Is ‘Proud to Be Gay’

The tech executive's first public acknowledgement

The CEO of Apple announced he’s gay Thursday, in an essay that puts him among the highest-profile publicly out business leaders in the world.

“I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Tim Cook, who took the reins of the world’s most valuable company from the late co-founder Steve Jobs, writes in Bloomberg Businessweek.

The highly private Cook has never publicly acknowledged his sexuality, though it was widely rumored outside the company, and he writes that colleagues at Apple already knew.

“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook wrote. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Read next: The Best Way to “Come Out” to Coworkers and Bosses

TIME People

An Aluminum ‘Window’ May Solve Mystery of Amelia Earhart’s Disappearance

Researchers believe a fragment they found in 1991 likely was attached to Earhart's long-missing plane

Researchers are confident that an aluminum fragment found off a remote island in the Pacific Ocean came from Amelia Earhart’s long-missing plane.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery said Monday that the fragment was a custom window added to Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane while she took a rest-stop in Miami during her infamous final expedition in 1937. Researchers say the piece “ was as unique to her particular aircraft as a fingerprint is to an individual,” and the patch “matches that fingerprint in many respects.”

The aluminum piece was discovered in 1991 and researchers say it could help lead to a definitive answer Earhart’s final resting place. Earhart is believed to have landed on a reef at Nikumaroro, sending out radio distress calls for as many as five nights before the aircraft was swept out to sea. The researchers are returning to Nikumaroro in July 2015 to search for more clues that support this theory.

TIME People

See an Exclusive Clip of Marilyn Monroe’s Response to Nikita Khrushchev in 1959

See footage of a 1959 political luncheon — featuring a very special guest

At the height of the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, wanted to go to Disneyland.

Khrushchev was visiting the U.S. that September on a tour of the enemy nation, a chance to meet with President Eisenhower but also to see what America was all about. The itinerary was varied and was supposed to include, as this exclusive clip from PBS’ “American Experience” special Cold War Roadshow shows, that amusement-park visit — which was cancelled, to the visitor’s dismay, over security concerns. And to whom did he complain? The guests at a fancy lunch thrown in his honor, who included Marilyn Monroe. Hundreds of journalists were on hand to follow Khrushchev everywhere he went, and they captured the movie star as well (giving, in this clip, pretty much the least scintillating interview ever).

Khrushchev’s visit to Hollywood also included a set visit to see the musical Can-Can being filmed, something star Shirley MacLaine had been prepping for. As TIME reported on Sept. 21, 1959:

As she flounced off the set of Can-Can in Hollywood one day last week, Actress Shirley MacLaine began running over her lines. “How the hell are you, Khrush? I’m goddammed glad you’re here. Welcome to our country; and welcome to 20th Century-Fox, and I hope you enjoy seeing how Hollywood makes a musical. We’re going to shoot the can-can number without pants.” Like most of Hollywood, which was like most of the U.S., Shirley MacLaine had the Khrushchev visit on her mind (she is an official movie hostess) and, since it was inevitable, saw no reason for not relaxing and making it the gayest oddball social event of the season.

By the time the “Butcher of Budapest” was ready to go back home, Soviet newspaper Pravda was reporting that the attitude toward him in the U.S. had clearly changed — and TIME was backing that up by reporting on Khrushchev’s take on his first hot dog (“”Well, capitalist,’ he boomed to Official Escort Henry Cabot Lodge, whom he needled throughout his trip, ‘have you finished your sausage?'”), his decision to swap hats with a longshoreman and his joking with Iowa farmers. The good will between the U.S. and the USSR wouldn’t last, however: a U.S. spy plane was caught in Soviet airspace before the year was up, so Eisenhower’s planned trip to do the same glad-handing in Russia was nixed.

The special Cold War Roadshow premieres on PBS on Nov. 18, 2014.

TIME People

Clinton and Warren, Together at Last

Both showed up in Boston to support Democratic candidate for Governor of Massachusetts Martha Coakley

Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren appeared on the same stage today, in the ballroom at Boston’s Park Plaza, but at different times. There must be some significance in that, right? Uh, no. Their appearances were complementary, not competitive. We tend to overanalyze these things at times… but it was fun to compare and contrast, all the same, as both women worked to gin up support for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts Governor race, as she seemed to slip behind her Republican opponent Charles Baker.

Warren went first and emphasized Coakley’s willingness to take on the big banks that have been “tricking and trapping” the American people. She actually shook her fist at one point, but this was not a pitchfork speech… and not a long one, either. I’ve always been impressed by Warren’s ability to explain the complexities of financial policy in a way that civilians can understand, but she didn’t have much time for that. She stuck to the job at hand: praising Coakley as a populist hero. And she did it very well, if not transcendently.

Clinton was obviously the star of the show. She spoke after Coakley, and was given much more time than Warren. She was greeted, as both Warren and Coakley were, by a roar, though her roar may have been a smidgeon louder than the others’. She wasted no time in praising Warren as someone willing to “give it to those who deserve to get it.” (She also praised all the other elected officials present, especially Coakley.)

It will be said that Warren emphasized her break-up-the-banks populism while Clinton spoke about women’s issues, and that is true–although Clinton did offer one passing acknowledgment of Coakley as someone who was willing to fight against “corrupt financial institutions” during her years as Mass. Atty. General. But that wasn’t the most important thing about her speech. Actually, there were three important things:

1. The emphasis on women’s rights, especially equal pay, was spot on the Democrats’ most successful message in these 2014 campaigns. She told a personal story about Chelsea getting sick at the age of two, on a day when Clinton had to appear in court as a young lawyer. She told it well, making clear her anguish throughout the day, the difficulty of finding someone to take care of Chelsea (finally, “a trusted friend” volunteered to help) and the relief when she got home to find Chelsea better and reading with the friend. This was the opposite of her awkward “poor”-mouthing during her book tour. It was recognizably life-sized and very effective.

2. The story was striking to old-timers like me because this was exactly the sort of message she rarely delivered when she ran for President in 2008. She took the advice of her pollster-strategist Mark Penn and emphasized her experience rather than her gender, which was disastrously stupid. Her life-long obsession with women’s and children’s issues is a calling more than a message. Although, a message it certainly is, grounded and practical…and she laid out the financial benefits of equal pay in a way that might have made the Big Dog proud: she talked about the things that moms could buy with the extra money. Food for the kids, better daycare, maybe even a car–think about the impact on the economy! (Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if her husband had helped a little with that one.)

3. She spoke slowly, confidently, conversationally. No screaming. The audience listened intently, at times losing track of what they were supposed to do for applause lines. She didn’t try to rouse them, except at the end–when her peroration began inaudible because of the cheers.

Yes, it was packaged. Almost everything is, in politics these days. But it didn’t seem packaged. There’s a long and winding road to travel between now and 2016, but she seems to have given smarter and subtler thought to how she’s going to present herself than she did last time.

TIME People

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino Stops Chemotherapy

Ex-Boston Mayor Menino Cancer
FILE - In this April 21, 2014 file photo, from left, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, former Mayor Thomas Menino, and four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers walk past the finish line before the start of the 118th Boston Marathon in Boston. Elise Amendola—AP

The announcement came as a shock to Bostonians who see Menino as an indelible presence in their city

Former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino has stopped treatment for advanced cancer, the much-beloved titan of Boston politics said on Wednesday.

Menino’s announcement startled and saddened Bostonians, who have seen the five-term mayor — perhaps still the most recognizable person in Boston’s political scene — carry on with business as usual since he was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer in Feb., the Boston Globe reports. Menino had left office just a month before the diagnosis.

“While I continue to fight this terrible disease, I feel it is time for me to spend more time with my family, grandkids, and friends,” Menino said in a statement. “Angela [Menino’s wife] and I are grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support and kindness shown to our family and ask that everyone keep us in their thoughts and prayers.”

The 71-year-old also suspended a tour to promote his book, Mayor for a New America.

Menino helmed Boston for two decades as the city’s longest-serving mayor, and he is widely credited with shepherding Boston through tough economic times to become a bright, resurgent city.

“It’s hard to do anything in the public eye, and even this, even this, you do with class,” said one commentator on the statement posted to Menino’s Facebook page.

“Thanks Mr. Mayor,” he said.

[The Boston Globe]

TIME People

Tutankhamun Had a Clubfoot and His Parents Were Probably Siblings

EGYPT-ARCHAEOLOGY-MUSEUM
A picture taken on Sept. 30, 2013, shows a statue of the 18th Dynasty King Tutankhamun displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo Mahmoud Khaled—AFP/Getty Images

A "virtual autopsy" conducted on the Egyptian king reveals that he had several genetic disorders

Tutankhamun was afflicted with severe genetic disorders, most likely because of inbreeding, according to an upcoming documentary on the legendary pharaoh.

The Egyptian king, who ruled from 1332 B.C. to 1323 B.C., is believed to have died at age 19 after medical complications following a leg fracture in a chariot accident. However, a recently conducted “virtual autopsy” revealed that he had a clubfoot that would have made riding a chariot close to impossible, according to the Independent.

“It was important to look at his ability to ride on a chariot and we concluded it would not be possible for him, especially with his partially clubbed foot, as he was unable to stand unaided,” said Professor Albert Zink, head of Italy’s Institute for Mummies and Icemen. However, Zink made it clear that a lot of research has yet to be done.

A simultaneously conducted genetic analysis of Tutankhamun’s family also revealed that his parents might have been brother and sister, resulting in genetic impairments that, Zink says, may have weakened him and contributed to his death. There were 130 walking sticks discovered in his tomb.

The new research is part of a BBC documentary called Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered, which will air on Oct. 26.

Read next: Facebook Reveals How Common It Is For Siblings to Have The Same First Initial

TIME Companies

Total CEO Dead in Runway Crash; Plow Driver Drunk

(MOSCOW) — Christophe de Margerie, the charismatic CEO of Total SA who dedicated his career to the multinational oil company, was killed at a Moscow airport when his private jet collided with a snowplow whose driver was drunk, Russian investigators said Tuesday.

Three French crew members also died when the French-made Dassault Falcon 50 burst into flames after it hit the snowplow during takeoff from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport at 11:57 p.m. Monday local time.

Tatyana Morozova, an official with the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main investigative agency, said investigators are questioning the snowplow driver, who was not hurt, as well as air traffic controllers and witnesses.

“At the current time, it has been established that the driver of the snowplow was in a state of alcoholic intoxication,” Morozova said.

De Margerie, 63, was a regular fixture at international economic gatherings and one of the French business community’s most outspoken and recognizable figures. His trademark silver handlebar earned him the nickname “Big Mustache.”

A critic of sanctions against Russia, he argued that isolating Russia was bad for the global economy. He traveled regularly to Russia and recently dined in Paris with a Putin ally who is facing EU sanctions over Russia’s involvement in the crisis in Ukraine.

According to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to his French counterpart Francois Hollande, lauding de Margerie for being at the “origins of the many major joint projects that have laid the basis for the fruitful cooperation between Russia and France in the energy sphere for many years.”

Hollande expressed his “stupor and sadness” at the news. In a statement, he praised de Margerie for defending French industry on the global stage, and for his “independent character and original personality.”

De Margerie started working for Total in 1974 after receiving his degree because it was close to home. It was a difficult time to join the firm as the oil embargo, which led to a fourfold increase in prices, was coming to an end.

“I was told ‘You have made the absolute worst choice. Total will disappear in a few months,'” he said in a 2007 interview with Le Monde newspaper.

De Margerie rose through the ranks, serving in several positions in the finance department and the exploration and production division before becoming president of Total’s Middle East operations in 1995. He became a member of Total’s policy-making executive committee in 1999, CEO in 2007, before adding the post of chairman in 2010.

He was a central figure in Total’s role in the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq in the 1990s. Total paid a fine in the U.S., though de Margerie was acquitted in France of corruption charges.

Under his leadership, Paris-based Total claims it became the fifth-largest publicly traded integrated international oil and gas company in the world, with exploration and production operations in more than 50 countries.

On Monday, de Margerie took part in a meeting of Russia’s Foreign Investment Advisory Council with members of Russia’s government and other international business executives.

Jean-Jacques Guilbaud, Total’s secretary general, said the group would continue on its current path and that the board would meet in coming days to discuss who will succeed de Margerie. Total planned a minute of silence in its offices worldwide at 2 p.m. Paris time.

After dipping slightly early Tuesday, Total’s share price was trading 2 percent higher, in line with the broader rally in French stocks.

TIME People

Fed’s Yellen Says She’s Concerned by Rising Economic Inequality

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Economic Conference on Inequality of Economic Opportunity in Boston on Oct. 17, 2014.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Economic Conference on Inequality of Economic Opportunity in Boston on Oct. 17, 2014. Brian Snyder—Reuters

In a speech, Fed chief says Americans should ask whether it is compatible with their values

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday the growth of economic inequality in the United States “greatly” concerns her, and suggested in a detailed speech on the politically charged issue that Americans should ask whether it was compatible with their values.

“The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” Yellen told a conference on inequality at the Boston branch of the central bank.

“It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority,” she told economists, professors and community workers.

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.”

The speech, heavy on data compiled by the Fed and by other sources, continued Yellen’s focus on the trials of America’s unemployed and underemployed.

With global financial markets rebounding from days of frenzied selling, Yellen did not comment on the volatility or on monetary policy.

Income disparity between the richest Americans and the rest has risen in the wake of the 2007-2009 recession. An extensive Fed study published last month suggests wealth and income is concentrated not just within the top 1 percent, as some analyses have suggested, but actually among a slightly broader slice of the ultra-rich: the top 3 percent.

Yellen, who raised concerns about inequality well before taking the Fed’s reins earlier this year, acknowledged that a rebound in house prices over the last two years has restored much wealth to those at the bottom.

But she cited several troubling contributors to a lack of equality of opportunity, including the expensive cost of higher education faced by the young.

In another threat to economic opportunity, she said a slowdown in business formation may depress productivity.

The speech comes after a report found that the top 113 earners among staff at the Fed’s Washington headquarters make an average of $246,506 per year, excluding bonuses and other benefits — more than Yellen and nearly double the normal top government rate.

Meanwhile, the Fed was center stage this week in a volatile market selloff not seen in years.

Global stocks jumped on Friday, following a U.S. rebound on Thursday when St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the central bank should keep buying bonds longer than planned.

Eric Rosengren, head of the Boston Fed, said on Friday however that recent market turbulence and signs of global economic weakness haven’t yet dimmed U.S. economic forecasts and won’t likely change the Fed’s policy path unless they do.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

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