The 39 Clues

Cahill

<
The encyclopedic guide to useless facts on the internet.
  • article
  • comments
  • links

Harry Houdini

*Warning: This article does not even meet ILikeUselessFacts.net’s standards of accuracy. It may contain errors, inaccuracies, or blatant lies.

Early Life

Erik Weisz—who would later rename himself Harry Houdini—was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874. When he was 4 years old, his family moved to America, and his name was written as “Ehrich Weiss” on the immigration papers.


Ehrich, called “Ehrie” or “Harry” by his friends, made his show business debut at 10, performing a trapeze act as “Ehrich, the Prince of the Air.” He later began performing magic tricks in New York’s Coney Island as Houdini. He chose the name in honor of his idol, the great French magician Robert-Houdin. Houdini found greater success performing escape acts, mainly from handcuffs and straitjackets. In Coney Island, he met his wife, Bess, who acted as his stage assistant for the rest of his career.


No one’s sure exactly why Houdini switched from magic acts to escape acts. Most people assume that it was for the money. Escape acts were much more popular than the tamer illusions. Some psychologists have suggested a subconscious urge to constantly “escape.” Others note that Houdini’s main talent was picking locks and argue that he was training to break in somewhere secret. What are you talking about?

Escapes

In 1900, Houdini toured Europe. In Moscow, he escaped from a prison van en route to Siberia. Houdini was particularly interested in learning how to break out of Russian custody. Some of his friends joked that he must have been looking for some long-lost Russian treasure! Where did you get this information? It’s true!

When he wasn’t busy fooling foreign authorities, Houdini perfected tricks like his famous milk can escape. A circular milk can was filled with water. Houdini got in, and the lid was chained down. This act evolved into Houdini’s most famous trick, the Chinese Water Torture Cell. The cell was basically a water-filled phone booth, and after being bound and handcuffed, Houdini was hung in it upside down. He always escaped and performed the trick from 1912 until his death in 1926.

Other Interests

One of the earliest pilots, Houdini was the first person to fly over Australia and land without crashing. Though he said he would be flying his plane from city to city for his next tour, he never got into it again. There has been some speculation that Houdini was looking for something on the Australian outback, which he must have found. Why he never flew again is a mystery that died with Houdini.

Death

Houdini died of a ruptured appendix on October 31, 1926. It was said that he could withstand any blow, and a Canadian university student punched him repeatedly in the stomach with no warning. Houdini’s death was no accident. That thug was paid to beat him up! No way. Why would anyone want to kill a harmless magician? He was too good at escaping. He could break in and out of anywhere. No secret was safe from him.

Houdini refused medical treatment and continued to travel, in considerable pain. He died of acute appendicitis in Detroit at age 52, though his appendix would have likely burst without the blows anyway. Yeah, right. He was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York.