Born in 1874, Harry Houdini cemented himself as one of the best escape artists, magicians, and debunkers. He was fearless, ambitious, daring, and confident. During his time, Houdini performed tricks that most professionals can’t attempt today. He knew no boundaries; if anyone could do it, it was always him. Here are some mind-blowing Harry Houdini facts that will leave you speechless.
1. He Was Born Erich Weisz
Harry Houdini was born Erich Weisz. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, to a Jewish family before relocating to the United States in 1878 with his family. Here, he changed his name to Harry Houdini to match his mentor, Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, a renowned magician from France. The incredibly successful escape artist later claimed he took the name “Harry” from Harry Kellar, another American magician.
2. Joseph Rinn Coached Him
After reading Jean-Eugene Rober-Houdin’s biography, Harry Houdini’s love and desire for magic sparked; he was more than willing to learn more. Fortunately for him, Joseph Rinn, an established American magician, was there to coach him during his teenage years. Just like Rinn, Houdini later developed an intense dislike for paranormal phenomena.
3. Houdini’s Start to His Career Was Difficult
While people marvel at Houdini’s incredible career today, he struggled initially. He started with the traditional card tricks, billing himself as king of the craft at some point. However, he hit a dead end, with other professional magicians saying he lacked the grace and finesse to succeed in the field.
Houdini also featured in several circus events, acting as the “The Wild Man” in one. At one point, he worked at Huber’s Dime Museum for what is described as “near-starvation” wages.
4. He Had a Brother Who Was Also a Magician
Harry Houdini had six other siblings, among them Ferenc Dezso Weisz, famously known as Theodore “Dash” Hardeen. Hardeen was younger than Houdini and always presented himself as so. He was also a magician and escape artist and was the primary beneficiary of Houdini’s will.
5. His First Break Came in 1899
After several years of trying and countless failures, Houdini finally found his big break in 1889 when he met Martin Beck, the manager and owner of Vaudeville Theater. Beck was impressed with Houdini’s handcuffs act and urged him to concentrate on escape tricks.
6. Houdini’s First Big Payout Came from His Europe Tour
Houdini’s influence grew after performing at Martin Beck’s theater, but his finances were still lacking. With the help of his British agent, Harry Day, Houdini got a European tour, which catapulted him to success. After performing his handcuffs trick to the police, they were so amazed that they booked him for the Alhambra Theater. His payout increased to $300, which was hefty at the time.
7. Houdini Sued a Police Officer in Germany and Won
Harry Houdini performed in the UK, Netherlands, Russia, France, and Germany during his first European tour. While in Cologne, Germany, Houdini sued Werner Graff, a police officer who claimed that the escape artist relied on bribery to pull out his tricks. He won the case by unlocking the judge’s safe. Interestingly, Houdini later claimed that the judge had forgotten to lock the safe.
8. Houdini Gifted His Mother a Dress Design for Queen Victoria
In what he described as the best day of his life, Houdini bought and gifted his mother with a dress designed for Queen Victoria. With his newfound wealth, the artist could afford such, paying a whopping $25,000 for a house in the United States.
9. Houdini Changed His Stance on Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin
During his France tour in 1902, Houdini wanted to visit his “mentor’s” grave but was denied. Even though he visited the site anyway, Houdini was so angry about his reception and treatment that he denounced his love for Jean-Eugen Robert-Houdin. He thought the magician had, for a long time, been placed on an undeserved pedestal.
10. He Tried His Hand in Publication
In 1906, Harry Houdini tried his hand at publication by creating the Conjurers’ Monthly magazine, hoping to compete with The Sphinx. His journal documented his crusades, successes, and digs at his rivals. It failed after only two publications.
11. Houdini And His Wife Agreed to Experiment If the Dead Could Communicate with the Living
Before his death, Harry Houdini made a deal with his wife to find out if the dead could communicate with the living. It was agreed that when Houdini died, he would use the code “Rosabelle believe.” For about a decade after Houdini’s death, his wife held séances on Halloween. It remains unclear if he ever communicated to her.
12. Houdini Vanished an Elephant Live on Stage
From freeing himself from jail to unlocking handcuffs and straitjackets, Houdini could do it. One of his biggest phenomenal is how he vanished a grown elephant live on stage. Performing at the New York Hippodrome, Houdini made one of the biggest animals disappear, to the amazement of onlookers. He bought the trick from Charles Morritt, another famous magician.
13. He Taught Soldiers How to Take Off Handcuffs During World War I
During World War I, Houdini took a year off to prepare some soldiers for war by teaching them how to remove handcuffs giving away some of his magic secrets in the process.
14. Houdini Was the Escape King
Hands down, Harry Houdini remains one of the best escape artists ever. His notable escapes include the daily mirror challenge, Chinese water torture cell, suspended straitjacket escape, buried alive stunt, overboard box escape, and Milk Can Escape.
15. Houdini Disliked Spiritualists
Before his death, Houdini focused on debunking mediums to prove they took advantage of the bereaved. He also took an issue with stage magicians and occasionally attended magic shows in disguise. After knowing their trick, he would light a flashlight and yell, “I am Houdini! And you are a fraud!” He even offered a huge prize for anyone who could prove they had supernatural abilities – nobody did.
16. He Featured in Several Films
Other than performing tricks and his failed publication, Harry Houdini also featured in several films, acting as himself or depicting other characters. Some of the movies he featured in include The Master Mystery (1918), The Man from Beyond (1922), and Haldane of the Secret Service (1923).
17. Houdini Was An Active Freemason Member
Freemason refers to fraternal organizations with origins from the local guilds of stonemasons, which ended in the 14th century. A St. Cecile Lodge No. 568 member in New York City, Houdini, actively participated in the group’s activities.
18. He Died From Peritonitis
On October 31, 1926, Houdini fans were treated to the sad news of the legend’s passing. Credible sources reveal Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead hit him in the abdomen severally while he was backstage preparing for a show. This happened after Houdini claimed his stomach could endure a lot, and Whitehead sought to prove that. Not knowing/believing his appendix was ruptured, Houdini performed with immense pain and was rushed to the hospital. He died of peritonitis several days later.
19. He Loved Aviation
In 1909, Houdini had grown into a force, money was no longer a problem. With that came a passion for aviation, purchasing a French Voisin biplane for about $5,000. He hired a full-time mechanic to service it and had successful flights to Germany and Australia. He envisioned as the first person to fly in Australia.
20. The Society of American Magicians’ Crest is Inscribed on His Grave Site
Harry Houdini was interred in the Machpelah Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, on November 4, 1926. With roughly 2,000 mourners present, his grave site was inscribed with the Society of American Magicians’ crest, cementing his legacy.
21. Houdini Used an Ingenious Trick to Patent His Chinese Water Torture Stunt
At the peak of his craft, Houdini wanted to prevent people from copying his Chinese water torture trick. However, to do so by the book, he had to explain how the stunt worked, so he performed it to one person and then filed for a copyright on the play.
22. He Willed All His Effects and Props to His Brother
Harry Houdini willed all his effects and props to his brother, Hardeen, who was also an escape artist and magician. He also stipulated that they be burned if his brother died. On the contrary, the effects and props were donated to a museum. Interestingly, the museum caught fire in 1995, but most items survived.