Hunter's personal timeline, a place to collect and share things from Hunter's life.
Created by 49ers on Jan 14, 2010
Last updated: 01/14/10 at 08:17 PM
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Houdini’s brother was at his side when Houdini spoke his last words: “I’m tired of fighting…I guess this thing is going to get me.” Harry Houdini died on the afternoon of Halloween, October 31, 1926. Houdini’s funeral was held in New York City, where thousands of mourners lined the streets.
In the fall of 1926, Houdini took a new show on the road. It was an elaborate, two and half hour performance, requiring Houdini to be on stage almost the entire time. The show featured magic, a section debunking spiritualism, and escapes from a coffin and a Chinese water torture, which had become one of Houdini’s most famous stunts. In the Chinese water torture escape, Houdini’s hands and feet were bound and he was lowered, upside down, into a glass tank filled with water, which was then securely closed. In mid-October, the tour took a bad turn in Providence, Rhode Island when Bess contracted a case of food poisoning. Despite the presence of a nurse, Houdini was deeply worried about his wife and stayed awake all night at her side. By the time they reached the next stop, Albany, New York, Houdini had gone three nights without sleep, his only rest coming from brief naps. Then, during the Albany show, the frame holding his leg in place for the Chinese water torture jerked, causing his ankle to break. Used to performing with smaller injuries, Houdini refused medical care and insisted on completing the show, but was awake all night from the pain. The tour nonetheless proceeded to the next stop in Montreal, Canada. Ignoring a doctor’s advice to stay off his foot, Houdini stuck to his schedule, including a lecture at McGill University. While there, Houdini met an art student who presented him with a sketch he had made of the great escape artist. Houdini invited the student to visit him backstage before the afternoon performance of his show. The next day, the student and two friends were chatting with Houdini in his dressing room when one of the students, an amateur boxer, asked if it was true that Houdini could withstand any blow to his body above the waist, excluding his face. Houdini admitted that it was true and, despite his weakened state due to his injury and lack of sleep, gave the student permission to test him. Houdini began to rise from the couch where he was seated, but before he had time to tighten his abdomen muscles, the student punched him three times in the stomach. Houdini fell back on the couch, his face white. Although in pain, Houdini performed his show that afternoon. The pain was worse in the evening, but Houdini refused to consult a doctor. The next day, October 24, despite chills and sweating, Houdini performed two more shows before the company moved on to Detroit, Michigan. Once there, Houdini finally saw a doctor, who urged that he immediately go to the hospital. Houdini refused and, despite a temperature of 102, went on to give his usual performance that night. Only after completing the show did Houdini finally agree to enter the hospital. When doctors operated, they found that his appendix had burst, causing peritonitis, a usually fatal disease in this age before the development of antibiotics. Another operation was later performed, but Houdini was given little hope of surviving. Bess, meanwhile, still suffering from food poisoning, was checked into the same hospital. Believing he was near death, Houdini reportedly shared a secret message with Bess to be used as proof that he was communicating with her from beyond the grave. She would know it was really him if she heard the words “Rosabelle, believe.” “Rosabelle” was the name of a song that Bess had sung at Coney Island in the period when she met Houdini.
Houdini was able to perform his difficult feats by remaining in excellent physical and mental condition. He pushed himself relentlessly. To develop his capacity for holding his breath, Houdini installed an oversize bathtub in his house so that he could practice regularly. Through extensive training, he was able use his left hand nearly as well as his right. While casually chatting with friends, he would perform card and coin tricks without looking at his hands, or tie and untie knots in pieces of rope with his feet. Determined to stay on top of the entertainment field, Houdini refined techniques he had already mastered and continually developed new and more daring escapes.
By the time Houdini returned to the United States in 1905, he was an international celebrity. Among the stunts performed to publicize his American appearances, Houdini escaped from the prison cell that held the assassin of President James Garfield, squirmed from a straitjacket while hanging upside down, and broke free from a packing crate that had been nailed shut and immersed underwater. This showmanship also extended to his act. As a regular feature of his performances, Houdini was shackled and lowered into an oversize milk can filled with water and then hidden by a curtain. Though he was usually able to escape in three minutes, Houdini frequently stayed behind the curtain for up to a half hour, making his re-appearance all the more dramatic.
Houdini would claim the ability to escape from any handcuffs provided by the local police. His easy escapes provided excellent publicity for his shows. Houdini offered $100 to anyone who provided handcuffs from which he could not escape, but he never had to pay.n 1900, Harry and Bess sailed to England with no bookings and only enough money to survive a week. Houdini was able to get an engagement at a London theater, but his breakthrough came when he successfully broke free after being wrapped around a pillar and handcuffed at Scotland Yard. The publicity from that escape caused the theater to extend Houdini’s booking. His fame quickly spread and he eventually played there for six months. Sold-out engagements quickly followed in Germany and then throughout Europe. Wherever he went, Houdini called upon local police to restrain him, but he continually confounded the authorities and escaped. To increase publicity, he also jumped into rivers while handcuffed and chained. Allowing the suspense to build, Houdini remained underwater long after many observers were certain he couldn’t survive, only to spring up, waving the chains over his head.
Harry and Bess married in 1894 and Bess joined the act as Harry’s new partner.Harry and Bess remained devoted companions for the rest of his life. He depended on her to care for him and handle the necessities of life. Harry gave her the credit for his success, and developed the habit of writing her a love note every day.
Harry Houdini began his professional career at age 17 doing magic shows before civic groups, in music halls, at sideshows, and at New York’s Coney Island amusement park, where he sometimes performed 20 shows each day.
A year later he re-joined his family, now living in New York City but still struggling to survive. Ehrich continued to work at a variety of jobs, including messenger, necktie cutter, and photographer’s assistant. At about this time, Ehrich and his younger brother Theo began to pursue an interest in magic. Ehrich’s idol was the great French magician Robert-Houdin. When Ehrich started performing magic before small groups, he added an “i” to the end of his hero’s name and called himself “Houdini.” The “Harry” is most likely an American version of his childhood nickname Ehrie.
At age 12, Ehrich ran away from home by hopping a freight car. The train took him to Kansas CIty, but where else he may have gone and what he did during that time, is not know.
From a young age, Ehrich sold newspapers & shined shoes to help support the family. When not working, Ehrich engaged in athletic activities & practiced acrobatic stunts. Ehrich claimed October 28,1883 as the date of his first appearence before an audience. The nine year-old perfomed on a trapeze hung from a tree while wearing red socks made by his mother. He billed himself as "Ehrich,the Prince of the Air."
Throughout his life he always claimed that he was born on April 6, 1874 in Appleton, Wisconsin...but his real birth was in Budapest, Hungary on March 24th, 1874. His given name was Ehrich Weisz.