The Magic of Dreams
By Tara O'Grady
December 8, 2016
Queens-born Jazz singer Tara O’Grady recently traveled to the House of Houdini in Budapest to donate a rare 19th century bible signed by Harry Houdini to the museum that bears his name in the city of his birth.
My dreams are vivid, detailed, and they often come true. One night, about ten years ago, I had a dream I was sitting in a hotel room. There was a bible on the bedside table. I opened the bible to find money. I wondered why someone put money inside the book. Suddenly the hotel wall evaporated and I walked out into a lush garden. There was a sign in the garden. It read “Garden of Gethsemane.” Then I woke up. For years that dream stayed with me because I couldn’t interpret it, until now.
This summer I recently found an old book that had been sitting on my parents’ bookshelf since I was a child. I knew what the book was, I used to brag about it to my friends while we played with our dolls in the living room. But they didn’t care, and since I couldn’t get a reaction from them, I found no value in this rare artifact, until I read a blog called Wild About Harry and learned that this book was worth a great deal.
My mother Mary, an immigrant from Donegal, Ireland, befriended her old neighbor in Queens in 1978. The old woman was a retired nurse who worked for Dr. Leopold Weiss in Manhattan. Despite her happy marriage, the old woman told my mother that her boss often showered her with gifts which made her husband quite jealous. One of those gifts was a bible signed by the doctor’s father, a rabbi, and his brother, a magician and escape artist named Ehrich Weiss, whose stage name was Harry Houdini.
My mother saw the book sitting on her neighbor’s basement floor and asked what it was. The retired nurse waved her hand and simply said, “Oh that’s Houdini’s bible, do you want it?” The old woman had no value for the book, which was signed in 1893, because she didn’t want to upset her husband. He made her give away the dishes the doctor had delivered to Queens, and also refused to let his wife accept the contents of the doctor’s apartment when Dr. Weiss committed suicide and jumped off his Manhattan building.
So the bible moved from a basement floor where it had spent some thirty odd years, across the street to a bookshelf where it spent another forty odd years. That’s when I rediscovered it and began to research how much it was worth and where it should be properly stored for all to see.
The magic of the internet led me to David Merlini, escape artist and founder of the House of Houdini in Budapest. I liked the idea of the bible returning to the place where Houdini was born before his family moved to New York. I also liked the idea of hand delivering it myself to a city where I lived and studied during my university days. I had always dreamed of going back to Budapest. One of my Hungarian professors had heard me sing in class one day and closed his eyes in frustration shouting, “Why are you studying Eastern European Economics, when you should be on the stage?”
My dreams have come true. Not only did I find cash in that bible on the imaginary hotel’s bedside table, I returned to Budapest to perform.
We held a press conference December 3 at the House of Houdini in Budapest with Irish Ambassador Pat Kelly and the Hungarian Prime Minister’s cultural advisor Géza Szőcs in attendance. Later that evening, we held a reception and concert at Beckett’s restaurant, the center of the Irish expat community in Budapest, hosted by the Irish Hungarian Business Circle where Hungarian jazz musicians including Attila Korb, Istvan Toth and Zoltan Olah joined me on stage. We performed a number of O’Grady’s original songs, as well as Irish classics including “My Irish Molly O,” which was written by an Irish New Yorker, William Jerome Flannery, and his songwriting partner from Budapest, Jean Schwartz. It was a magical day indeed!
The only mystery that still remains is why did the sign in my dream say Garden of Gethsemane? If I am to be betrayed by a kiss, I will write a follow up in the form of a new song, perhaps a new version of “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” or “I’m Just Wild About Harry!” ♦
For more information contact:
The House of Houdini at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Irish Hungarian Business Circle at email@example.com.
Tara O’Grady Music at www.taraogradymusic.com.