How Did Houdini Get Free from His Chains?
Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz, later Ehrich Weiss or Harry Weiss; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian born American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice in vaudeville in the US and then as “Harry Handcuff Houdini” on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up.
Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside sealed milk can with water in it.
Harry Houdini was a famous escapologist, who had many methods of freeing himself from chains and other forms of restraint. Some of them remain secret even today. One of his secrets was an ability to expand his muscles to an abnormal degree so that, when he relaxed them, chains that had seemed to be bound tightly round him became comparatively loose.
An authority on the mechanism of all kinds of locks, he knew many different ways of opening them. Also, he was amazingly agile, having begun his performing career as a circus acrobat.
Houdini publicly claimed that he could not be injured by a blow to the abdomen. But he died from peritonitis after a blow ruptured his appendix. He was struck unexpectedly by a college student who did not realize that Houdini had first to steel himself to withstand the blow.
During his career, Houdini explained some of his tricks in books written for the magic brotherhood. In Handcuff Secrets (1909), he revealed how many locks and handcuffs could be opened with properly applied force, others with shoestrings. Other times, he carried concealed lock picks or keys. When tied down in ropes or straitjackets, he gained wiggle room by enlarging his shoulders and chest, moving his arms slightly away from his body.
For most of his career, Houdini was a headline act in vaudeville. For many years, he was the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville. One of Houdini’s most notable non-escape stage illusions was performed at the New York Hippodrome, when he made a full-grown elephant vanish from the stage. He had purchased this trick from the magician Charles Morritt. In 1923, Houdini became president of Martinka & Co., America’s oldest magic company. The business is still in operation today.