Today’s date is 31st October 2016 and the current time is 19:26 here in Malta. Take note that in Detroit the current time is 13:26.It is also, exactly on this day and time, 90 years ago in 1926 (which year happens to be the current time in Malta now 19:26), that Harry Houdini died aged 52 in Room 401 at Detroit’s Grace Hospital at 13:26 (Detroit time).
However it is not surprising that even after all these years, people of all ages have heard of the name Harry Houdini. It is exactly for this, that the man has become a legend and the name a legacy, a legacy that has left behind a great deal of riches amongst magicians of our days.
Houdini was born on March the 24th, 1874 in Hungary and died on the Halloween October 31, 1926. He joined his family during their immigration to America, where in later years he would find fame and fortune starting off as a magician in vaudeville and becoming world known for his sensational escape acts from straitjackets whilst hung from skyscrapers, escapes from boxes under water or sealed in milk cans filled to the brim with water. He is better known for his aquarium escape, the illusion that many wrongly believe killed Houdini.
Houdini also had a passion for film and tried his hand at several movies, but this failed to bring in money. He also was a keen aviator who’s aim had become the first man to fly a plane in Australia.
His life was a mysterious one, he married his wife Bess, shortly after meeting her in Coney Island, where he was performing as a magician together with his brother Dash and she was a dancer in the dance troupe. Bess eventually replaced Dash in the act, and from then on, Bess worked as his stage assistant.
Houdini became famous for performing modern illusions for the times he lived in and of course outrages dangerous stunts. He became a worldwide phenomenon performing the world over. He was an expert at reaching out to peoples across the seas, even at a time when social media did not exist and the only means of news were the papers.
The story behind the illusions and stunts that Houdini performed is much more amazing than the actual illusions themselves. Although he did not create many of the illusions he performed, he did however create various methods to perform them.
Harry Houdini died of peritonitis, which is believed to have been aggravated by an incident that took place in Houdini’s dressing room. It is speculated that Houdini’s death was caused by a University student, who repeatedly struck Houdini’s abdomen as Houdini would often have this performed on him as a stunt. However Houdini was had broken his ankle while performing several days earlier and at the time was reclining on a couch and not in the correct position for this kind of stunt.
Although in great pain Houdini went on to perform that evening and remained in pain for the next two days not seeking any medical assistance. When a doctor finally examined Houdini, he was advised to immediately seek surgery but Houdini ignored this advice since he had a show that evening. That show was Houdini’s last performance, passing out during the show. After the show, Houdini was admitted to hospital, where he died two days after.
Houdini’s death sparked off something else, that to prove or debunk being able to communicate with the dead. He discovered that many mediums of the time, claiming to be able to make contact with the dead, were actually fake and frauds, using tricks to fake materialism of spirits and communication with spirits. He went on to expose their devious methods after trying to make contact with his deceased mother through them. But proved to be able to do this, and those that apparently did, used tricks and illusions of the time.
Houdini carried on with this obsession until his last days, debunking and exposing medium and spiritualists around the world, hoping to find a genuine case where he could make contact with his mother. Before dying Houdini and Bess devised a secret code which was meant to be used as a sign between them that life after death exists. For 10 years after Houdini’s death, Bess held a seance on the eve of Halloween, hoping that Houdini would make contact with the secret code. It is believed that this never occurred, but only Bess knew the truth.
Harry Houdini and the legacy we can’t touch
I do not know if Houdini did get in touch with Bess after his death and I do not know if he really possessed supernatural powers as some had believed. However I do believe that he had the ability to pass on his legacy of unique methodology across a wide spectrum of magic, many of which magicians and illusionist utilise to this very day. Whether it is escaping from a box under water, performing a card trick, inducing thoughts into a person’s mind or simply reading a spectators mind, it is he who created the modern magician.