Today's birthday boy has one of the best job titles ever: he was an escapologist!
One who escapes from chains and handcuffs, sometimes under water—maybe even upside down and under water! Houdini regularly escaped from handcuffs inside a sealed over-sized milk can filled with water. The milk can was sometimes locked inside a wooden chest, as well, or inside another sealed milk can, or chained and padlocked.
Another popular Houdini escape act was really weird: Houdini was strapped into a straitjacket and then suspended by his ankles from a tall building. He would make his escape in front of a crowd of people on the street—and when I say “crowds,” I mean crowds that sometimes numbered in the thousands! These crowds would spontaneously gather as more and more people ran to see what was going on; and, of course, any time you get a crowd of thousands of people, there is going to be a huge traffic jam! In New York City, Houdini sometimes brought blocks worth of cars to a standstill.
Aside from all the fantastic escapes, Houdini was a magician, stunt performer, actor, film producer, and aviator.
In my opinion, Harry Houdini's most important, and most admirable, role was skeptic. He set out to expose frauds who pretended to be in touch with dead people, also known as the “dearly departed.” Psychics, mediums, and spiritualists claimed to be able to reach the dead relatives of grief-stricken people, and they charged a lot of money for these services. Houdini's training in magic helped him to figure out how these so-called psychics were able to trick customers and even scientists. He debunked so many frauds who were supposedly in touch with ghosts, that he became known as the ghostbuster.
Houdini would disguise himself so that the medium or psychic wouldn't recognize him, and he would go to a séance with a police officer and reporter. He would figure out the psychic's tricks and then expose the fakery to all.
Here you can read about an amazing magic trick, or illusion, that Houdini once performed on his one-time friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was the author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
Here you can see a straitjacket escape by Houdini.
Here is a picture of a 2002 Houdini postage stamp, along with some interesting biographical info on the world-famous magician.
Oh, by the way...
- “Harry Houdini” was a stage name. Houdini's real name was Erik Weisz, later changed to Ehrich Weiss.
- Houdini (then Weisz) was born in Hungary on this date in 1874, and he came to America when he was four years old.
- Houdini died on Halloween Day!
Also on this date: