100 Years Ago Today

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

Harry Houdini’s New Trick

Erik Weisz was born in Budapest, Hungary in March 1874. His family emigrated to Wisconsin in 1878 and later moved to New York where Weisz made his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist calling himself “Ehrich, the Prince of the Air”. He started performing magic and influenced by a French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin started calling himself Harry Houdini performing at dime museums and sideshows. Houdini focused on traditional card tricks but he soon began experimenting with escape acts. Soon he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. Houdini became widely known as “The Handcuff King.” In 1900 toured Europe and while in London gave a demonstration of escape from handcuffs at Scotland Yard and succeeded in baffling the police.

Harry Houdini
“The Handcuff King”

By 1912 Houdini performed escaping from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. In January 1908 began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. But it was being imitated by other escape artists. Houdini wanted a performance that would be expensive to replicate, more difficult to stage, and far more dangerous to perform. Houdini had a water-tight glass cell built in England at a cost of more than $10,000. The apparatus weighed around three-quarters of a ton and held 250 gallons of water. It disassembled into pieces for traveling. In April 1911 Houdini performed the escape in Southampton, England as part of a one-act play that was performed once so he could copyright the new effect. Houdini received his copyright (“Special Licence from the Lord Chamberlain”) in May 1912.On September 21, 1912 Harry Houdini performed “The Chinese Water Torture Cell” trick for the first time at the Circus Busch in Berlin, Germany. For the occasion, special solid brass presentation pieces were made.

Presentation piece for the Chinese Water Torture Cell trick sold at Circus Busch Berlin 1912

“Imagine yourself jammed head foremost in a Cell filled with water, your hands and feet unable to move, and your shoulders tightly lodged in this imprisonment. I believe it it is the climax of all my studies and labors. Never will I be able to construct anything that will be more dangerous or difficult for me to do.” ~~Houdini

The Chinese Water Torture Cell”
as performed by Harry Houdini at Circus Busch Berlin
September 21, 1912

The Chinese Water Torture Cell at 100 from wildabouthoudini.com : http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/

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