Straightjackets, coffins, prison cells, chains, shackles and locks—none of these things could confine the great magician, Harry Houdini! A master of illusions and the first superstar of magic, Houdini performed daring stunts that still remain a legend more than 80 years after his death. But, how much do you really know about him? Here are more interesting facts about Harry Houdini:
1. Houdini Took His Stage Name From Magician Robert-Houdin.
This decision came after he was inspired by Robert-Houdin’s autobiography. Early in his career before he took the name, Houdini performed as Ehrich the Great. He was born in 1874 in Hungary Erik Weisz, which was later changed to Ehrich Weiss at Ellis Island when his family immigrated to the US.
2. He Used Various Methods Of Escape During His Performances.
The film “Houdini” which aired on History Channel with Adrien Brody in the title role explores the magician’s life and psyche, as well as reveals how he accomplished some of his greatest tricks. You will see in the movie Houdini hiding a key inside a false finger and making the Kremlin carillon ring for Czar Nicholas by having an associate fire a rifle at the bell on cue. Also, he would hide a lock pick or key in a hollowed-out compartment of his shoe, in his bushy hair or under his foot with adhesive, or rely on an accomplice to palm a key in his hand while they shake hands. Sometimes, he would use a rigged handcuff, with manacles seeming to lock securely when held upright, but would actually snap open when turned upside down.
If Houdini had the chance to inspect a prison cell in advance, he would plant his tool for escape tool under a bench or in a bar of soap. Aside from this, he would smuggle picks and keys into the boxes, water tanks, milk cans and other containers that he would use in his acts, manipulating them with specially designed extension rods or his teeth.
3. Houdini Was Deeply Interested In Clairvoyance.
Fascinated with spiritualism, the famous magician included clairvoyant elements in his acts and became intrigued by the idea of communicating with the dead after the death of his beloved mother. However, this interest of his had turned into outrage at mediums who preyed on the public making it a mission to discredit them, including Lady Jean Doyle, who was the wife of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—his friend and the creator of Sherlock Holmes. In his article, Houdini wrote, “In the twenty-five years of my investigation and the hundreds of séances which I have attended, I have never seen or heard anything that could convince me that there is a possibility of communications with the loved ones who have gone beyond.” Nevertheless, his wife, Bess, held on to such a belief, continuing to attend séances after Houdini died and hoping to make contact with him.
4. He Worked As An Undercover Agent.
One of the most startling revelations in Houdini’s life is that he worked undercover for several years, spying on political leaders and royalty in Europe for the British and American governments. Also, his access to political power players and heads of state on his travels to Europe, special abilities, such as prestidigitation and subterfuge, and fluency in German had made him an ideal candidate for espionage. As a British Secret Service agent, he relayed critical information he obtained while performing for Czar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm in Russia. The book, “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero,” by William Kalush and Larry Sloman tells deep stories about Houdini’s adventures and divulges while working undercover.
5. Houdini Had a Private Meeting With Ex-President Woodrow Wilson.
Houdini was summoned to a private meeting with President Wilson at the White House in December 1914. During the meeting, Woodrow said to Houdini, “I envy your ability of escaping out of tight places. Sometimes I wish I were able to do the same.” However, Wilson actually failed to evade the raging conflict in Europe, where the US declared war on Germany and joined World War I in 1917. And during the war, Houdini himself entertained troops and offered lectures to soldiers, demonstrating techniques in escaping from handcuffs, ropes as well as shipwrecks.
6. He Made Several Films.
Houdini had created many films that show off his skills, including “The Man From Beyond”, “Terror Island”, “The Master Mystery” and “Haldane of the Secret Service”. He was also given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was dedicated posthumously.
7. Houdini Was Excellent In Certain Sports And Athletics.
The famed magician engaged in some athletic activities that gave him the strength, stamina and endurance necessary to his acts. These include running, gymnastics and amateur boxing.
8. He Was An Aviator.
An early avid fan of flying, Houdini learned to pilot his own Voisin biplane. Then in 1910, he became the 3rd person to fly across Australia.
9. He Believed In Many Marriages And Was Very Romantic To His Wife.
Houdini married the same woman 3 times, with the first one being a secret ceremony and the other two being celebrated in each of their own religious churches. To make the couple’s love life more interesting, it is said that they married after only 2 weeks of courtship, but their love for each other did not seem to have waned. During their marriage of 32 years, Houdini wrote Bess hundreds of love letters, which he often did while they were in the same room.
10. He Served The Longest Term As President Of The Society Of American Magicians.
Houdini served as president of the organization from 1917-1926, which was the longest among others. Every anniversary of Houdini’s death, the organization holds a broken-wand ceremony at his grave at Queens’ Machpelah Cemetery in New York.
11. His Cause Of Death Has Often Intrigued People From Around The World.
Narrowly escaping death almost every time he performed, Houdini died on the 31st of October 1926 in Detroit due to peritonitis caused by an infected and ruptured appendix. But a week before, records show that he was punched in the stomach by a college student who challenged the magician’s much-boasted abdominal strength. The incident was believed to have contributed to (even aggravated) his condition.
With all the interesting facts about Harry Houdini provided here, you can now have a broader picture of this outstanding magician’s colorful life,