By 2009, I hadn’t published much of anything since my days running a publication for CBS Radio/Viacom and stringing for a Southwestern Pennsylvania regional rag called The Monthly Post. Instead, I spent a couple years getting established as an adjunct instructor of history and political science in Pittsburgh.
So I was already antsy to write something good when I read a book called The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by Larry Sloman and Bill Kalush, a marvelous book on a man I had long been fascinated by*.
I loved that book so much and found myself wondering if Houdini had leapt from bridges and dangled high over city streets in Pittsburgh, where I lived. Since I was a college history teacher, I got to work researching and uncovered an amazing photo that the Pittsburgh Historical Society didn’t even know about.
Then I went all in on every old newspaper I could find (The Jewish Criterion was an especially rich resource), and crafted a story about every recorded visit Houdini ever made to the Burgh over a quarter century.
I finished the piece and knew it was good. That same year, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had been running features about the 150th anniversary of Pittsburgh. I picked an editor off their website and made a cold call pitching my story. He told me to send it over.
Later that week, on a Sunday afternoon, I received a message from John Allison at the PPG, who asked if I was the guy who wrote the “absolutely marvelous piece on Houdini.” That made my year.
John made the piece even better with expert edits, I got paid, and my 2,000 word feature ran in a full page weekly segment called The Next Page. It was one of the most read articles that week.
The Post-Gazette has changed their website over the years, but you can still read it if you like. I hope you enjoy…
*Read more about my love of magic in another piece I wrote called On Stage with Penn and Teller: My Magical Night in Vegas.