Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today's Tidbit - Harry Houdini and WWI

Happy 137th birthday to Harry Houdini! (and 51st birthday to my sister Molly - magically, she never seems to look any older!)

Most would agree that the world's most famous magician and escape artist was Erik Weisz, or better known as Harry Houdini.  He was a master of outdoor spectacles and life-threatening magic and took his stage name from Robert Houdin, a French magician he idolized when he was a boy.  By the time he was 26, he was world famous and known as "The Escape King".  During World War I, the U.S. Army hired Houdini for an unusual task.  What did they hire him to do for them?

Answer:  Houdini was a great innovator and performer.  He literally invented the "challenge escape act", in which at various times he escaped or got out of any and all of the following: handcuffs, leg irons, straitjackets, jail cells, giant paper bags (without tearing the bag), iron boilers, a giant football, a sealed milk can, and the infamous "Chinese Water Torture Cell". In some of his escapes he was often hung upside down 100's of feet in the air and in plain sight of his audience.  Because of his talent, the U.S. Army hired Houdini in 1917 to train American troops on how to escape from handcuffs! (no report on whether any ever used the skill).  Houdini continued to perform brilliantly until 1926.  On October 26th, while resting before a performance he was "sucker-punched" in the stomach by a young college student.  Houdini died 5 days later in a Detroit hospital from a ruptured appendix (He did not die in a failed escape, as Hollywood would have us believe).  He is still known today as one of the greatest performers of the 20th century.

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