Detroit's Grace Hospital where Houdini died. Just before being torn down in 1979.
The corridor to Houdini's room.
Blow up of the sign. Houdini died in room 401.
The door to Houdini's room, 401.
The actual room where Harry Houdini died on Halloween in 1926.
Most of the letter from Bob Franke, Jr. of Texas, the person who sent in these historic picures.
Enclosed are the last existing copies of Grace Central Hospital, located in the downtown Detroit Medical Center in December, 1976 prior to the hospital being closed forever.
Historical Background Detroiters will recognize old Grace Central (as it was referred to) verss a newer edition of the hospital Grace Northwest, which was built during the 1960's in rapidly-expanding Detroit.
Located adjacent to Harper Hospital (the two buildings were physically joined in the mid-1970's in an early attempt at consolidation), Grace Central Hospital was absorbed into the Harper-Grace Hospital system which did not succeed. (Northwest Grace Hospital was sold in the mid- 1980's. Grace Central's rooms were initially converted into Harper-Grace's administration offices, the building later torn down. (See picture, ca. 1979). Concurrently, the proud all-female Grace Hospital School of Nursing dormitory building - with its own finely crafted wood and marble interior - graduated its final class, closed forever in 1977 and was also demolished.
My affiliation with Grace Hospital I was accepted into the 1975-77 two-year Grace Hospital X-Ray School of Technology and graduated from it after the final year of training at Northwest Grace Hospital. Candidly, the situation in the old Grace Central was dilapidated, dingy and drafty. One by one, from early- 1975, nursing units were being closed and transferred to Harper Hospital. The various X-Ray, Nurse Anesthetist, Physical, Occupational, and Respiratory Therapy schools were either commingled with Harper's programs or being phased out in total.
Prior to Christmas, 1976 the X-Ray department and student program were told that the building would be closing. Employees would be assured jobs at Northwest Grace or Harper Hospitals. Students would complete their training at the Northwest Grace unit. It was only then that the impact hit that this once-magnificent, innovative, proud and historical hospital would forever be closing its doors.
As literally the last occupants of the building on its last functional day (December 3, 1976) the X- Ray staff and students individually walked and toured the hospital from top to bottom. Whole floors once buzzing with life and hope were gutted of hospital beds and equipment. Fixtures had been pulled from walls, nursing stations stood empty and the complete silence eerie.
Just months before, while gutting a ceiling above a surgical suite an entire amphitheater was revealed. It's history dated from Civil War days and was reputed to have been one of the first surgical-in-the-round suites (as pictured in old textbooks) in the country. Whether or not this was fully documented by The Detroit News I do not recall. But this is historical fact recalled over 21 years later. Harry Houdini ties It was ordinary, common knowledge that the hospital allowed yearly seances by a local group of Harry Houdini followers on Hallow's Eves in the Grace Central hospital room in which he died - Room 401. Virtually every year we would hear that he was unsuccessful in reappearing from the "other side" as he predicted would have been his greatest illusion. Upon hearing of the hospital closure I was drawn to - and felt it historically important (for some unexplained reason) to take pictures of the hall outside and the room in which he died* I pulled back the bedside curtains of the semi-private room and recorded the notable spot (401-2). Strangely enough, when I took the picture of the bed in which Houdini died 50 years before, I distinctly recall the bed neatly made up with the white woven bedspread arranged over top of the pillow. After developing, there is every appearance that the bed had been recently vacated and a newspaper lay on the bedside tray table. Could it have represented a final fulfillment of his promise, a last signal or good-bye?
*Coincidentally, both of my (father's-side) Grandparents came to America in early 1900 from Europe's Austria-Hungary region to Ellis Island, NY then Cincinnati, and Detroit. They must certainly have followed his exploits and feats.
Very Truly Yours
Bob Franke, Jr.
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