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Harry Houdini
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Harry Houdini

(Erik Weisz)



Erik Weisz better known as Harry Houdini was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary. to parents Rabbi Mayer Sámuel Weisz and Cecília (Steiner).

Erik's father, Rabbi Weisz was a distinguished Rabbi, scholar and teacher in Hungary. For unknown reasons the family was forced to flee Hungary. On July 3, 1878, the Weisz family immigrated to the United States where they settled in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Weisz took an interest in magic and at an early age. When Erik was nine, Jack Hoeffler's "Five Cent Circus" visited Appleton. Young Erik persuaded Hoeffler to allow him to perform his needle trick at the show.

In 1887 Erik moved with his father to New York City, his mother and siblings would join them later. While in New York Erik practiced and began performing on the trapeze, calling himself "Ehrich, the Prince of the Air". His trapeze skills would be useful later while performing his famous upside-down escapes.

At age 17 began performing professionally. He performed traditional card tricks at sideshows on Coney Island without great success.

After reading a autobiography on the famed French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, Erik re-named himself "Harry Houdini". In later years Houdini stated that he chose "Harry" due to his admiration for Magician Harry Kellar.

In 1893 Harry was performing an magic act with his brother Theodore at Coney Island, they called themselves "The Brothers Houdini". This same year Harry met Wilhelmina Beatrice "Bess" Rahner. The following year, (1894) the couple were married and began working together as "The Houdinis".

In 1899 while the Houdinis were performing in St. Paul, Minnesota, Harry met vaudeville theatre owner and founder of the Orpheum vaudeville Circuit Martin Beck. Beck was impressed with Houdini's handcuff escapes and encouraged him to concentrate on escapes.

In 1900, Beck arranged for Houdini to go to England. A publicity Stunt Harry demonstrated his handcuff escaping skills to police at the headquarters of Scotland Yard. The manager of the Alhambra theatre of London was so impressed that he book Harry into the Alhambra for six months. After his engagement at the Alhambra Houdini continued to tour Europe, performing in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia.

Much of Harry's success was due to his ability to create publicity for himself. In each city where he performed he would to the police station and challenge them to lock him in restraints, of course the local press always invited to witness these events.

In 1904, the Houdini's returned to the United States where his fame and fortune continued to grow. He continued his publicity campaigns, being handcuff and shackled then dropped from bridges into rivers and restrained and locked into trunks and then submerged.

Not only was Harry the country's foremost magician and escape artist, he was also an avid aviator. Harry purchased his first airplane, a French made Voisin biplane in 1909 only six years after Orville and Wilbur Wright's first powered flight on December 17, 1903. On his first attempt to fly the plane he crashed. With the help of his mechanic the plane was rebuilt. The following year Houdini sailed for Australia and brought his plane along. On March 18, 1910, at Diggers Rest, Victoria, Australia 20 miles northwest of Melbourne, Harry became the first person to fly a powered airplane in Australia.

Harry's Father Rabbi Weisz had died in 1892, after his death Houdini vowed to take care of his mother who he idolized. In 1913 while Houdini was performing in Copenhagen his mother passed away. Harry was grief-stricken and inconsolable.

After the death of his mother, he became obsessed with the possibility of contacting her through mediums. After many failed séances, Harry began debunking these mediums and spiritualists. Houdini would spend the rest of his life in these efforts and wrote several books of the subjects, the most noteworthy is "A Magician Among the Spirits", (available in our bookstore).

Houdini was quite athletic and fit, he prided himself in being able to take a blow to his abdomen without injury, a vanity that perhaps led to his death.

In October of 1926 Houdini was giving a series of lectures on fraudulent mediums and spiritualists at McGill University in Montreal Canada. After his lecture on October 22, several students came backstage to meet Harry. One of the students, J. Gordon Whitehead asked Harry if it was true that he could take punches to his body without injury. Houdini answered in the affirmative, then before Harry could prepare himself the student struck him with several hard blows.

At the time Houdini did not think much about the incident, late that afternoon he began having abdomen pains with increasing severity. Houdini gave another lecture that evening and again the following day. Houdini's next event was to be in Detroit, Michigan. at the Garrick Theatre. On the train ride to Detroit, the pain became so severe that a telegram was sent to have a doctor waiting on his arrival. When the train arrived in Detroit, rather than letting the doctor examine him Harry went directly to the theatre to begin setting up for his performances. The doctor did examine Houdini at the theatre and determined that he had severe appendicitis and should immediately go to the hospital. By now the audience had arrived and the theatre was packed to capacity. Houdini was determine to go on with the show. Despite his incredible pain Houdini performed his complete two hour show. Still reluctant to go to the hospital, at Bess' dismay he insisted on going to their hotel. During the night Bess now in hysterics, convinced Harry to go to the hospital. Houdini was admitted to the Grace Hospital in Detroit, where it was determined that his appendix had ruptured. Surgery was performed to remove the appendix but peritonitis had set in.

On October 31, 1926, (Halloween Night) Harry Houdini died. On November 4, 1926, a crowd of more than 2,000 mourners gathered in New York City for his funeral. Erik Weisz better known as Harry Houdini is buried at Machpelah Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, NY.


Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini with his mother and wife Bess
Harry Houdini with his mother
and his wife Bess
Harry Houdini in handcuffs and shackles
A young Harry Houdini in
handcuffs and shackles


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