Harry Houdini

Posted by Josh on April 9, 2012 in Book Review |

Harry Houdini was born in Hungary in 1874.  His poor family moved to Wisconsin but Harry (Enrich Weiss was his real name) ran away to Texas, but got the wrong train and went to Missouri at the age of twelve.   After a few years of working odd jobs, he moved to New York City, and lived with his family, where he began to develop an interest in Magic.  He became a messenger when he was a teenager, and later worked in a factory where he met a boy named Jake, and after reading a magic book that changed his life.  They left the factory, started a magic show and they called themselves, the Modern Monarchs of Mystery.

They toured around dime museums and fairs in the Northwest, but Jake left after sometime, and Harry’s real brother Theo joined the act.  The performed the usual magic tricks until they did the grand finale, the “Metamorphis”.  It was trunk in which Theo would be put in in a bag, that was tied, and then the trunk was closed, and tied.  A curtain was put around the trunk, and after Harry Houdini clapped his hands three times in a row, the curtain was taken down, and Theo was standing there and the trunk was still tied and locked!  When it was opened, Harry was inside the bag which was tied!  Theo was part of the act, until he was replaced by Bess, who he had met pursued and married.

In 1899, Harry Houdini got a manager, and his name was Martin Beck, a star maker.  Instead of being paid $25 a week, he was being paid $60, and eventually $250 a week!  Under Beck, he dropped his other tricks and focused on his handcuff escapes.  Beck also taught Houdini that less is more, meaning fewer acts that are bigger and more exciting were better than more tricks that were smaller and the usual tricks.  Houdini, however, got tired of Beck’s managing.  He still went on the trip to Europe Beck had booked for him, even though he had quit Beck’s management earlier.  In Europe he met Harry Day, who became his new manager.

Houdini became very famous in Europe.  Before each show, he would escape from the best jail in the country to promote his show.  His most famous jail escape was when he escaped from London Yard in seconds.  His manager was walking out of the jail when he called for him to wait for he had already escaped. He also was made famous when he escaped from a Siberian Transport Cell.  While in Europe, he became interested in straitjacket escapes, when a doctor invited him to see an insane asylum.  He escaped a straitjacket, by dislocating his shoulder.

Harry was married to his wife Bess for 32 years, but they never had any children to their dismay.  Houdini had four brothers, and he was very devoted to his mother.  He was so devoted to her that he bought her Queen Victoria’s dress she never wore, because she died.  This dress cost $150; that’s $3000 today!  Later on, he joined the Society of American Magicians, and later was made its president until his death.

He tried to meet with other old magicians that he admired, on died two hours before they were to meet.  Unlike in Europe where he escaped jails to promote his shows, he promoted his shows differently in America.  He promoted them by jumping into rivers handcuffed or handcuffed in a box that was tied.  Houdini was also interested in flying.

He became the first to successfully fly in Australia, but it was oddly the last time he ever flew.

Houdini later became famous for his water torture cell, where he hung upside down in and had to reach up and unlock his handcuffs on his feet and lift the top off.  He became even more famous when he made an elephant disappear at Barnum’s circus, and he did it by having Jenny, the elephant walk in to a supersize ghost house.  Houdini also added to his fame when he played in movies in which he actually did his escapes.

Houdini’s tricks became more difficult… and dangerous.  He was once buried an alive and admitted he would never do it again.  Rahman Bey, an Egyptian magician, proposed a challenge.  The challenge was to stay underwater for more than 49 minutes, the amount he had stayed under for.  Houdini did it for 1 hour, and 31 minutes!

Houdini quit the show business for a while after his mother died, whom he was devoted to.  He tried to make contact with the spirit world, through mediums, who conducted séances, where the spirits were supposed to write directly on tablets.  Houdini eventually revealed that all mediums where fake.

In 1926, on Halloween, he conducted a lecture on exposing spiritualism, when three students came to him after the lecture.  They asked him that it was true that he could take three blows to the stomach and not be harmed and he said yes.  He was going through his mail, so when one student asked if he could try it he absentmindedly said yes.  The young, strong student, delivered three blows, and he didn’t have time to tithing his stomach muscles.  He didn’t know it but this had blown his appendix.  Disease set in and he died ten days later.  He is dead but not forgotten. Ask someone what the most famous magician is and Harry Houdini still tops the list.



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