Houdini’s first trick was to escape his name — Erich Weiss. I don’t know why, but you don’t expect the most amazing escape artist in history to have that name. Or to come from Appleton, Wisconsin. Or to be only 5’5″ tall and have a high-pitched voice. But such was Houdini’s talent and reputation, that he rose above all these limitations.
Houdini’s act wasn’t an instant success. In fact, he became so discouraged that he took out an ad to sell all his magic equipment for $20. No one called. Then he came up with what he called the “Challenge Act.” He told the audience he could escape from any pair of handcuffs they produced. (Local law enforcement officers started jamming them on purpose to thwart him.) He then started escaping from more difficult circumstances — upside down in a strait jacket, jail cells, padlocked crates thrown in rivers, an oversize milk can filled with water, even being buried alive.
Sadly, Houdini also thought he could escape death from a ruptured appendix. He was wrong. A fascinating display of Houdini memorabilia and paraphernalia is part of an exhibit titled Houdini’s Art and Magic. It’s going to be on display at the Jewish Museum in New York through March 27, 2011, then will be moved to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Madison, Wisconsin.
I think I see my grandfather in this video. He’s the man in the hat: