45 Facts About Escapologist Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-American magician, famous for his sensational escape acts, who first gained attention as "Harry Handcuff Houdini" on a tour of Europe, while challenging police forces to keep him locked. Here are 45 facts about the illusionist:

  1. He was born as Erik Weisz on 24 March 1874 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary to Samuel Weisz and Cecilia Weisz.
  2. He has six siblings: Herman .M, Nathan .J, Gottfried William, Theodore, Loepold .D, and Carrie Gladys. Herman was born to Samuel Weisz’s first marriage.
  3. They migrated to United States on July 3 1878 and changed their name to german spelling. Erik was changed to Ehric which was pronounced by friends as Ehrie. Subsequently it became harry.
  4. He started performing as a trapeze artist at the age of 9. He called himself “Ehrich the Prince of Air”. He took many more jobs during his youth.
  5. He was unsuccessful with his magic career during 1891. He started to perform at museums, sideshows and at circus as Wildman. He began to perform card tricks too before focusing on escape acts.
  6. With the help of manager Martin Beck he started performing at top Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. He became famous for his handcuff acts and had his first Europe tour arranged in 1900.
  7. He was nicknamed as “The Handcuff King” around Europe. He would ask local people to handcuff him and lock him in jail, only to break free and baffle everyone.
  8. He once sued a police officer in Cologne who alleged that Houdini escaped these challenges via Bribery. He later won the case when he opened the Judge’s safe.
  9. He bought his first house in the U.S in 1904 at 278W.113th Street in Harlem, New York for $25000.
  10. Houdini changed from his usual handcuff acts to more dangerous escape from locked and water filled milk can due to the reason that imitators of his handcuff acts had started to rise.
  11. To add thrill to it his escape acts, he would ask audiences to design contraptions to hold him. The ideas he got back included nailed packing crates, wet sheets, mailbags and riveted boilers.
  12. One of the most hilarious challenges was from Scranton, Pennsylvania where he was asked to escape from the barrel filled with beer.
  13. His most famous escape act ever in career was the Chinese Water torture cell which he introduced in 1973. He would be suspended upside down into a water filled glass cabinet, requiring him to hold breath for 3 minutes.
  14. He wrote a book titled “Handcuff Secrets” in 1909, which consisted many tricks of the magic trade for his magic brotherhood. He even revealed how locks and handcuffs could be opened by applying proper force.
  15. His brother Theodore was also an escape artist, many a times performed straitjacket escapes while dangling down from the roof of a building in the same city where Houdini was also performing the same act.
  16. His most notable stage illusions was vanishing a full grown Elephant along with the trainer from the Hippodrome Theatre in New York. The stage was set on top a Swimming pool.
  17. He became the president of the oldest American magic company Martinka & Co. in 1923. The company is still in business.
  18. He was elected as the President of the Society of American Magicians for the ninth successive time in July 1926.. All other presidents had served for only one year.
  19. He was instrumental in the biggest movement in the history of magic ever during his tenure as the President of the Society of American Magicians. He urged every magician around the world to unite and form a network of professional and amateur magicians.
  20. He was challenged by the London newspaper Daily Mirror to escape from a specially designed handcuff in 1904. The locksmith Nathaniel hart took 5 years to design it. After an hour of struggle Houdini emerged victorious.
  21. It was widely circulated that his wife who went on stage to kiss him must have hid the key for the Daily Mirror Handcuff challenge in her mouth. However the key which was 6 inches long could not have been easily smuggled by her.
  22. In the year 1908 he introduced his own act “the Milk can escape”. He was put into an oversized milk can filled with water and performed his escape behind a curtain. He would ask his audience to hold their breath along with him till he escapes.
  23. He began performing the Chinese Water torture cell in 1912 which he referred to as “USD” or “Upside Down”. His feet were locked to the top of the cell filled with water, in which he was lowered. He performed the act until his death.
  24. His first USD was in 21 September 1912 in Berlin. He initially performed to one person as a one act play to copyright the effect.
  25. When he performed the straitjacket act he would sometimes do it from the building of a newspaper to ensure press coverage. His acts could sometimes draw huge crown and affect traffic.
  26. The idea behind the straitjacket suspended act was given by Randolph Osborne Douglas, a young boy, when they met during a performance at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre.
  27. Once in 7 July 1912 he escaped from a nailed and roped packing crate which was lowered into water with 200 pounds of lead attached. He escaped within 57 seconds. He later emulated the act several times.
  28. In a buried alive stunt in 1915 he was buried under the six feet earth without a casket. He panicked during his escape while digging and called for help. He was nearly killed when he had to be pulled out of the dirt as his hand emerged. He was unconscious at that time.
  29. In another buried alive stunt he challenged Rahman Bey, an Egyptian performer who claimed to have supernatural powers. They both were buried inside a casket submerged into a swimming pool. He bettered Bey by doing one and half hours inside the casket.
  30. He was to perform another buried alive stunt on stage combining the previous two feats. However he died before that and was carried in the same bronze casket he had prepared for the show.
  31. At the age of 52 he died of Peritonitis at the Grace Hospital in Detroit on 31 October 1926.
  32. His last words before dying were “I am tired of fighting”. He had optimistically believed that he would recover from the illness soon.
  33. It is believed that the punches he received to his abdomen from J Gordon Whitehead in the dressing room caused his death. Also that Houdini being unaware of suffering from peritonitis furthered his cause.
  34. Without the knowledge of such severe problems he performed shows under pain. He did not consult any doctor for the next two days after the dressing room incident. He was taken to hospital when he passed out during a show at Garrick Theatre in Detroit. He was having a fever of 104 degrees.
  35. “Houdini paid for perpetual care, but there’s nobody at the cemetery to provide it, David Jacobson, the operator of the cemetery sends us a bill for upkeep every year but we never pay it because he never provides any care” was what George Schindler, the dean of Society of American Magicians had to say.
  36. His wife Bess died on 11 February 1943 due to heart attack at the age of 67, while on a train. Her wish to be buried alongside her husband was opposed by her family members as they were Catholic and refused Jewish cemetery burial.
  37. During 1920’s he focused his attention towards exposing fraudulent spiritual performers who had fooled scientists and academics. It was appreciated and followed by many later stage magicians.
  38. His was the member of the committee called Scientific American offering cash prize to anyone who could prove supernatural abilities. The prize was never won by anyone.
  39. He also showcased his escape acts in short film “Houdini Defeats HackenSchmidt”. George Hackenschmidt was a famous wrestler.
  40. In the year 1919 he acted in a TV series “The Master Mystery” where he portrays the character Quentin Locke, a justice department agent. This is probably the early known instance of a robot being portrayed on screen.
  41. During the shoot of “The Grim Game” in 1919 there was an accidental collision between two planes mid air. Fortunately the pilots were able to recover from the collision. Houdini wasn’t doing the stunt.
  42. He started his own film development laboratory business named “The Film Development Corporation”. His brother Theodore switched over to run the business with him.
  43. He bought a French Voisin biplane for $5000 in 1909. After crashing once he successfully flew on 26 November 1909 in Hamburg, Germany.
  44. On 18 March 1910 he was reported to be the first aerial flier in Australia, when he flew over Melbourne. However it is still under dispute as Colin Defries flying Wright Model Aircraft on 9 December 1909 is reported to be the first by many historians.
  45. Houdini and his wife had agreed on the secret code “Rosabelle Believe” if they found a way to communicate after death. Rosabelle was their favorite song.

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