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Harry Houdini: The Making of a Magician

A major turning point in Houdini’s career was his encounter with another showman named Martin Beck who was captivated by Harry’s handcuffs act. He encouraged the young magician to pursue more escape acts. In this article, you will learn some of the steps Houdini took to become a great performer, as well as some of his outside interests.

Early on in his career, Houdini met another performer named Wilhelmina (known as ‘Bess’), who would later become his wife. Together, the duo created a stage act called The Houdinis, where they mastered a trick called the Metamorphosis illusion. Locked inside of a large chest, Houdini was bound by ropes and handcuffs. His wife would sit on top of the chest, momentarily holding a curtain that hid her body. When the curtain was lowered, they would switch places with Houdini sitting on top of the chest and his wife inside the trunk with ropes and handcuffs on.

The success of his illusions allowed him to travel the world. When he went to Europe, he was embraced as an instant star. Some of his tricks involved him coming out of the stickiest of situations , freeing himself from chains, ropes, handcuffs, straitjackets, and even jails. Upon returning to the United States, he attempted acts that tested the limits of danger, such as the Giant Milk Can Escape. Houdini would escape from a milk can filled with water that had been padlocked.

It wasn’t lock until Houdini would share with the world one of his most famous tricks , the Upside Down Water Torture Cell.  With his ankles clamped and locked in stocks and hands bound, he would be placed in into a metal and glass tank full of water. For a period of time he remained until he emerged out of the cell, free from his chains.

Illusions and tricks were not the only things that Harry had an interest in. He also started a career in ‘moving pictures.’ After appearing in The Master Mystery and another picture called The Grim Game, he founded The Houdini Picture Corporation, which produced a picture called The Man From Beyond.

Houdini passionately believed in his magic, but he was firmly against the practice of spiritualists. He felt that this business thrived on the weaknesses of loved ones trying to come in contact with their family and friends. He was quite skeptical of the possibility, even to the point that he disguised himself so that he could attend séances and keep a record their happenings. At times, he would bring along a reporter or a police officer.

Later on, Houdini wrote a book about these experiences that he titled, ‘A Magician Among The Spirits.’ He also went so far as to testify before the House Judiciary Subcommittee (the District of Columbia) in Washington DC against séance fraud in 1926. He was in support of a bill against fortune telling.

On October 31, 1926, Harry Houdini died from a ruptured appendix. He actually passed away on the same day that was to be his last performance. Interestingly, he had prepared for the chance that what spiritualists claimed to accomplish really did take place. He had left his wife with a secret code that he would use if he ever tried to contact her after his death. For 10 years, she tried to make contact with Houdini, holding a séance once every year. The efforts went in vain.