100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Houdini Escapes From Box Lowered In New York River

Harry Houdini was born as Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary in March 1874, the son of a rabbi. His family emigrated to the US in 1878 settling in Wisconsin. In 1887 Houdini’s family moved to New York City. In 1891.started performing magic in dime museums and sideshows, initially doing traditional card tricks but he soon began experimenting with escape acts. In 1893 he met Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner who he married in 1894. Bess would work as his stage assistant.

In 1899 Houdini started working exclusively doing escape tricks and soon he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900 Houdini toured Europe. In London, Houdini gave a demonstration of escape from handcuffs at Scotland Yard and succeeded in escaping from the restraints the police put on him. This well-publicized stunt kept him booked for 6 months. Houdini billed himself as “The Handcuff King.” In each city he played Houdini would challenge local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes Houdini would first be stripped nude and searched.

Since 1907 Houdini, billed as “The Handcuff King” has toured the US with great success escaping from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences.

On July 7, 1912 Houdini was at Pier 6 on the East River in New York City performing a stunt for his local appearance. He was bound with handcuffs and leg irons that had been inspected by police first, placed in a large pine box that was nailed shut. Then the box was bound with strips of metal that were nailed in place and weighted down with lead weights.The box was then slowly lowered into New York Harbor in front of a huge crowd. Within a minute Houdini’s head appeared in the water, unbound and free. When the bound was raised back onto the pier it was in the exact condition it was when it was lowered into the water.

Houdini in handcuffs and leg irons steps into box about to be lowered into the East River in New York City
July 7, 1912

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