San Francisco History

Houdini Visits

Harry Houdini, probably the greatest magician, appeared at least four times in San Francisco, nearly eight years apart: June 1899, September 1907, November 1915, and March 1923. He was 25 during the first appearance and was not yet famous enough to headline the theater billing at the Orpheum. But by 1907 he was known world-wide. In 1915,  for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, he performed an escape from a manacled box lowered into the water at the Aquatic Park. He was also performing his famous Chinese-water torture escape at the Orpheum.  But his visit in 1923 was his biggest.  At the age of 49 and in front of 30,000 watchers, he performed his famous "escape from the strait jacket while in mid-air" at Third and Market streets. This visit was to be, unfortunately, his last.  Before he could return to San Francisco, he died three years later from peritonitis on Halloween, 1926.
Houdini drawing, SF Chronicle, 25 Mar 1923


Here is a trick that will outrival the most fantastic illusion ever created by the wonderful jugglers of mystical India.

Put a handful of needles in your mouth, masticate them thoroughly, swallow them carefully: then take a long piece of sewing thread, swallow it judiciously until only a tiny bit of one end remains in the mouth; wait a few minutes and look wise—then catch the end of the thread with the thumb and finger and, drawing it slowly forth, find all the needles unbroken and neatly threaded. That seems easy, doesn't it? Of course you mustn't mind a needle going astray in your system once in a while and floating gradually around to play Cupid's arrow in your heart.

Houdini, the wonder, has been setting the police agog by his remarkable handcuff escape and a few other hair-raisers, has performed this trick for a private committee of seekers into the mysterious. The whole illusion was accomplished with his audience close around him and in the face of a camera as well as an instrument not subject to hypnotic influence.

The materials were simple and furnished entirely by the audience, and the trick was done with the hands kept on a level with the shoulders and away from the body—thus precluding any palming or getting rid of the needles in the clothes.

Houdini takes from the audience any number of needles they may see fit, places them in his mouth and proceeds to crunch them. You can hear the steel crush and snap under his iron teeth. A light is held close to his face in order that no detail of the trick may escape the committee. He opens his mouth and the needles have disappeared.

He is then given a long piece of white linen thread, peculiarly knotted by some one of the committee for future identification, one end of this he places in his mouth and begins swallowing. This operation is continued until only the smallest particle of an end is visible in his throat. Then with open mouth and in the glare of a bright light, he catches the end of the thread and slowly draws forth not only the same knotted thread, but on this thread are strung the identical number and kind of needles given him by his judges.

Of course it is a mere trick—so says Houdini—but how does he do it?

It is claimed by some who profess to know, that by filling the stomach with breadstuffs, needles may be actually and safely eaten, and after the trick is over a little drink of ipecac does the rest. [Please don't attempt this, it is not true.] But if Houdini does really swallow the needles, how does he manage to palm a reserve supply—to say nothing of duplicating a marked string and further bringing up the string with the needles all neatly threaded.

Houdini has a remarkable anatomy anyway, besides his skill as a magician. Just as a bit of pastime he showed the committee a vanishing pencil trick that would beat the proverbial small boy with a bean up his nose. He takes a pencil two inches long, places it in his mouth and presto! the pencil has disappeared. This trick he kindly explained. The pencil really goes up the nose passage at the back of the throat and upon close examination the end can be seen hanging over the throat. The act is a reversed sword swallow.

Possibly he uses this extra receptacle as a storage during the needle trick?

Source: San Francisco Call, 25 June 1899.


Houdini Tells How You May Free Yourself From a Long Rope in Less Time Than It Takes to Tie You Up.

Houdini, the man who can release himself from any kind of tying up with ropes, chains or handcuffs, is puzzling half the city. Anybody who goes to the Orpheum may have a trial at lashing him into a chair with as long a rope as may be obtainable and with as many turns and twists and knots as may be devised. All sorts of handcuffs have been locked round his wrists, and he has taken all of them off. All kinds of ropes, tied round all parts of his body, have been employed in vain to keep him in a chair. In the following article Houdini has written for "The Examiner" as much as he can describe of his movements in freeing himself from these various bonds.

I do not believe it is possible for any man or committee to tie me to a chair so securely that I cannot get away, and without untying a single knot. Years ago, when I was making that my line of work, I frequently found smart people who thought that they had a new kink and could tie me good and fast, but I never in all my experience found myself tied so securely that I could not get away. For years I had a standing offer of $100 to any one who could so tie me that I could not get away in less time it took to tie me.

Any one can do the escape act if they only know how, and this being aided by spirits in the dark cabinet is all bosh. Of course one must do the act out of sight of the audience, just as I do the escape from the handcuffs at the Orpheum, or after people had seen how simple it is, they would not pay to see it again.

The whole secret is in getting the first hand freed, after that it is all plain sailing. The quickness with which one gets out depends upon how soon one can get a little slack in the rope. When I am about to be tied I always sit a little forward from the back of the chair; the people tying me do not notice this. If my feet and legs are to be tied to the chair, then I sit so that my knees are at least one-quarter of an inch from the chair leg. My feet may be close against the chair.

After I have been tied and carried into the cabinet, I settle back into the chair and begin to squirm about so as to bring the slack of the rope to a point over the hand that I wish to free. One cannot be tied so that they cannot get some slack in the rope when they want it; if by no other means they can secure it by expanding the chest while being tied. I have been tied so tight that the blood almost stopped and I have turned blue in the face.

Try it once and see how easy it is to twist about in the chair, no matter how securely they have tied you. With a little experience one soon learns to twist and squirm as to bring all the slack of the rope to one point. As soon as one hand is free it is then plain sailing, for the release of the hand not only gives it freedom to assist in removing the rope, but the slack gained is enough to make the ropes loose at all points.

As soon as both hands are free I then start in to remove the ropes from around my neck, as they are usually rather uncomfortable at this point. Next the feet are freed, then the rest is easy, for all one has to do is to squirm out of the ropes around the body, and that is an easy matter, for they are very loose by this time.

One mistake that committees make in trying to tie a person to a chair is to use so much rope. They think that the more rope is used, and the more knots that they put in it, the harder it is to get free. After the explanation that I have given, the reader will see that the more rope the more there is to work with in stretching it to gain slack. When I was doing the "escape" from the ropes I was always meeting people who have thought out a sure way of tying me so that I could not get away, but they never succeeded in doing it. On the same principle, everybody who sees me "escape" from the handcuffs at the Orpheum has a theory as to how I do it, but I never argue the matter with them. If I told them how it was done they would not believe me, it is so simple. However, my offer of $50 for a pair of regulation handcuffs that I cannot escape from is still open to the doubting Thomases.


Source: San Francisco Examiner, 19 June 1899.


by James Crawford

Houdini drawing, SF Call, 26 Aug 1907Houdini, lavishly touted as "the sensational jail breaker and handcuff king king of the world," did some remarkable things yesterday afternoon at the Orpheum. Not the least noteworthy of them was his development of evidence sufficient to warrant the assumption that a considerable portion of San Francisco's citizenry carries concealed manacles.

It came about through Houdini inviting anyone who had a pair of wrist fetters in his pocket to convey them to the stage. The response was prompt and surprising. No less than seven male adults, only one of them in police uniform, immediately clambered over the footlights and submitted for inspection "darbies" which they had drawn from hiding in their raiment. The men in plain attire were neither private nor municipal detectives, but just ordinary workingmen who apparently had dropped into the Orpheum with no preconceived intent to exhibit their steel bracelets. But why they should have had such things in their possession at all was hardly less of a mystery than Houdini's best trick.

Can it be possible that handcuffs have attained popularity as a means of disciplining refractory households?

As for Houdini's performance, it consists of his going into seclusion and quickly freeing his wrists and ankles from whatever manacles have been used to unite them. It is not a thrilling act, because the elements of suspense and surprise are lacking. Every spectator knows—in fact, is told beforehand—what is going to be done. If something else than the expected were to happen the interest of the witnesses would be enlivened. To them it matters very little that secrecy is attached to the performer's means of shaking off his shackles. Only the criminal or idle mind would endeavor to solve the mystery. But everybody would sit up and take notice if announcement were made that he doffs the handcuffs as they have been donned, and not under cover.

Source: San Francisco Call, 26 August 1907.

Houdini drawing, SF Examiner, 26 Aug 1907HOUDINI DEFIES ALL LOCKSMITHS

Topliner at Orpheum Mystifies and Bewilders All Who See Him.


by Ashton Stevens

Since last we saw him, our old friend Houdini has been breaking out of Russian jails and into large American type. If ever there was a "star" in vaudeville, Houdini is one. He can shoot handcuffs faster than the trained leading man can shoot the other kind. He is brother to the eternal, Mr. Love, that laughs at locksmiths.

Everybody will tell you how he does the trick, but no two bodies will tell you the same way. He is as mysterious as a salad, and yet, apparently, as ingenuous as a detective.

Years ago, in the old police station in the City Hall, I saw him give a performance in cuff-slipping before the whole "force." They foot-locked and they hand-locked him till there were almost as many pounds of metal as of man. They did it well. The honor of the town was at stake. It took four of them to carry Houdini to a bare room. They shut the door, and in precisely two minutes (120 seconds), Houdini came forth, carrying a load of unlocked junk that would have sunk a small yacht. There were present six hundred policemen and six hundred explanations.

But one of them very explainers, now a police sergeant, was on the Orpheum stage yesterday afternoon. He was calm and beautiful, but there was blood in his eye. This was the time he had Houdini. He purposed to lock him with a pair of cuffs so as to preclude any possibility of Houdini's using his fingers. Hence he threw Houdini's left arm back over his left shoulder and his right arm up under the right shoulder, where the finger tips barely met at the broad of his back, and there the Sergeant cuffed him with the regulation handcuffs.

A nice little thrill of compassion went through the audience. One heard that it was "a dirty copper trick"; a "shame to break up a good performance"; "Houdini stood no show at all." Houdini stood silent for a space very brief and (one may say) very dramatic. Then to the sergeant and the audience he explained that in order to escape these cuffs he must have them in a position where it would be possible to work on them. Twice he tried to get his head through his arms and twice failed. Then swiftly, and no doubt painfully, for his wrists were red and bleeding from the strain, he forced the left arm down his back. His shoulders were a kink, but in this position he unlocked the cuffs in twenty seconds.

If Detective Burns ever finds me out I hope to draw Houdini for a cellmate.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 26 August 1907.


by Arthur L. Price

Houdini drawing, SF Call, 1 Sep 1907Mrs. Houdini does not appreciate her husband, I fear. She said that if the public found out how he baffled all the policemen in the world from St. Petersburg to Eddy street and had risen on the stepping stones of unfastened handcuffs so the headline on the Orpheum bill, Harry Houdini would cease to "draw" and they "would have to work for their living."

She underrates the unhandme, cuff king. When a man is an Alcibiades, a Leonardi da Vinci or Mayor Taylor of the vaudeville circuit, with several hundred odd, ends and entireties of professions in his fingers and toes, can break jail with impunity, is a real hero, a Lincoln Steffons of prestidigitation, king of card tricksters—he performed for me—and besides all that he has the scenario of a Kremer melodrama for his biography, there is little danger that his wife ever would have to take in typewriting.

When you saw Houdini on the Orpheum stage you marveled at his dexterity in undoing handcuffs, and that is but the professional, the sordid, side of his career.

Mrs. Houdini, if the world ever learns how the handcuff trick is done and the vaudeville trust cancels the meal ticket, just telephone to the nearest newspaper shop and get a ready reporter who can take dictation from your husband, let Mrs. Houdini tell the story of his life into the keyboard, get the copy printed and serve it hot between lurid covers in the path of messenger boys and Bertha M. Clay's impressive clientele. There's money in it at 5 cents a copy.

How to Write the Biography

For instance, start it off this way:


The Boy Contortionist

"See a pin and pick it up, then you'll always have good luck.

"There was a stir in Appleton, Wis., on that beautiful June morning. Life was again worth living, even children were happy. Jack Hostler's circus was coming to town. The stupendous aggregation of acervative muchness would be shown in Bill Binker's lot at 2:30. The teachers of the Appleton school played to empty benches and the bunch at the Appleton Grand Hotel did nothing but gape at the circus poster showing a beautiful maiden most indecorously clad playing peek-a-boo with a white steed through a paper hoop.

"Suddenly all eyes were turned from the brilliant mural decoration on James livery stable to watch the egress of a wondrous damsel from the ports of the caravansary.

"'It be her,' gaped the leading citizens, as the girl approached in queenly dignity. As she passed the group, a glittering diamond pin fell from her bonnet, the point sticking into the reinforced wooden sidewalk."

Wins Job by Eyelid

"'I will pick it up for you, lady,' said the gentle voice, and a blue-eyed body with curly black hair stepped from the awestruck throng. He stood with is back to the pin and being over until his little body described a gothic arch, aimed one eye for the pinhead, closed his lids with decision over the jeweled setting and plucked the pin from the pavement. Thus did our hero, Harry Houdini, for it was no other than he, make a hit with the circus lady and get a job in the show."

It would be needless for me to vouch for the truth of that chapter, for Harry Houdini told me himself that he had begun life as a boy contortionist and that his first famous trick was picking up pins from the floor through the ingenious prehensibility of his eyelids.

Now nearly all of our trades have their domestic as well as their public side. A carpenter's talent for driving nails is invaluable when he wants to cage the baby in the crib and a reporter's adroitness in using words and his imagination comes in profitably when he has a love letter to invent, but I could not at first see how Houdini ever turned his propensity for getting out of jail to advantage in a social way. He doesn't look like a young man who would need even an clisor.

In the interest of science, I wondered, if fate had ever been kind enough to furnish the opportunity to match the rare ability.

Uses Fillmore Street Talk

He told me that it had. He spoke in the fluent, pliable language of Fillmore street and not in the Parisian English which he uses as a stage dialect.

The amanuensis might lift this bodily from the interview, even though it is in autobiographical form, and insert it in the half dime novel in this fashion:


The Great Rhode Island Jail Delivery

"Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor iron bars a cage."

"I was with a small show doing Rhode Island one summer. They don't stand for Sunday performances there, but our manager thought that as the fine for breaking the law was only $3 a head he would let us give the show, and even though we got pinched he'd pay the fine all around and still make money. We were pinched, all right; the whole bunch, the two girls that did the sister act in song and dance, the skinny dude and the ossified man. We were put in the detention cell at the calaboose, while the manager chased up the justice to get our fine paid.

"The gang started to kidding me about not being able to pick a lock and break jail when I had to. I took them up on it and before the manager came back we were all out all right, hiking back to the lot where the show was. You ought to see our pictures in the paper next day."

Tells of His First Feat

"I had in my pocket a pair of handcuffs lent to me by Captain Frank Norman of Chief of Police Anderson's office and eventually I had intended to try them on my victim. So I led gently up to the subject of slipping out of prison jewelry."

"When did you first open a handcuff?"

"When I was apprenticed to a locksmith in Appleton, Wis.," he replied categorically. "The town marshal handcuffed a man so tight that he could not unlock the irons. He brought him to the locksmith's shop and I started to file away the metal but made slow work. Then I got the idea of picking the lock. I did it. Nobody but that prisoner and myself know how it was done. My first stunt in the show business was to untie any knot that was fastened on me—I can untie knots as well with my toes as with my hands."

From a symposium on knots, during which Houdini expressed his profound contempt for people who permitted themselves to be irrevocably lashed to the mast or tied to the burning stake, the conversation drifted to what Houdini considered his most thrilling feat—a leap from the Detroit river bridge in December, when ice was floating. This versatility was supernal; just the minute before Houdini had handed me a magazine, "The Conjurers' Monthly." What other magazine editor ever jumped from a bridge? But Houdini not only jumped from the bridge, but he wore handcuffs when he did it.

In his magazine, Houdini uses the muckrakeon Robert Houdin, a predecessor in magic.

"You must have been able to help people out of predicaments, Houdini," I suggested, seeking another chapter in the career of this man.

"I was in a hotel, the Zum Kaiserhof, in Hanover, Germany, in 1902 when the place got on fire. I opened the doors of 14 rooms. I could do it quicker than the people inside could turn the keys in the locks. The proprietor said that if I ever came to Hanover again and stopped at any place but his there would be trouble."

That was all he said about it, simple narrative, and even those meager details had to be probed out of him with interrogation points.

Again we let the professional matter lapse to consider the social advantages of being a lock picker. Houdini told me two thrilling burglar stories. These should go into the 5 cent novel. Once, in Coffeyville, Kans., he was forced by a gang of armed gamblers to pick the lock of a gaming den that they might get in to mark the cards. He picked the lock successfully, but jumped quickly through the opened door into the area and slammed it in the face of the frustrated gamblers. They took a shot at Houdini. He showed me the bullet wound in the back of his hand.

Skill Aids Two Burglars

"Burglary No. 2" happened in Domstrasse, Cologne. Our hero is running for a train, he sees a man and a woman trying to open an obstinate lock, he puts his superior skill at their disposal, the next moment the door flies open.

On the following day he reads in the paper that a house in Domstrasse had been robbed in a mysterious manner; he reports to the police; the man and woman are captured.

"I hope that you eloped with your wife," I suggested tentatively, for I could see little use in being a lock picker and legerdemain and half-dime novel utility man if you did not have opportunity to perform some such feat.

"Oh, that's what you want," he said, his blue eyes twinkling and his boyish face illuminated with a cheery smile. "I'll tell you about it."

And he told this story, which must not be omitted from the biography, for it is the quintessence of romance and shall be told in the hero's own words and called:

"Chapter XXIV. Love (And Our Hero) Laughs at Padlocks."

"I eloped with my wife from her school books; that was 14 years ago and she was just 16 years old. I was only about 20 and was working in a little Brooklyn theater, which she used to pass every day coming from school. Her name was Wilhelmina Rahner and she came about No. 9 in a family of 14 girls."

Willing Wilhelmina

"I saw her passing the place one day and I said 'Hello.'
"'Howdy do?' she said.
"'I do as I please,' I said.
"I asked if I might take her home after school. 'Yes; but don't let mother see you,' replied the girl smiling a bit.
"She thought I was a real actor, a sort of Booth or Sir Henry Irving and I didn't put her wise.
"How'd you like to be an actress? I asked her one day, knowing that most girls were crazy about the stage.
"She said she would like it.
"'Would you marry me?' I asked quickly.
"'I would if you'd ask me.'
"'Well, I ask you.'
"That was on Thursday; Saturday night she met me and we went over to New York City and were married in the city hall!"

(The breathless interviewer had anticipated some lock picking magic and was disappointed that the castle wall had not to be scaled or the portcullis shattered.  He made inquiries.)

"'Yes.'" (replied our hero, coming to the breach like a major), "'I had to pick the lock of the kitchen door and the back gate to get out of the trunk."

The Wife Will Not Tell

Then we went across the street to the Orpheum and met Houdini's "better two thirds," as he called her. Mrs. Houdini has a soul above art and handcuffs.

"Do you do any bridge jumping?" I asked hopefully.

Her lips, brightly vermillioned with "make-up," smiled a little.

"No, and I wish he wouldn't do it."
"Do you slip handcuffs?"
"No. I at first used to help him in illusions; we did all sorts of acts until he settled on this one; this is the easiest."
"Do you know how he opens handcuffs?"
"Oh yes; I kept after him until he told me. But I'll never tell the secret; if it were known the act wouldn't draw and we'd have to work for our living."

She said it wistfully, as if she were really afraid that something might happen, though Houdini wouldn't tell and you couldn't bribe the secret from her with advance sheets of an October fashion magazine. Little Wilhelmina seemed to forget that handcuff slipping and jail breaking is such a small part of Houdini's equipment.

I had forgotten about the demonstration I was to have with the manacles borrowed from Captain Norman when Houdini re-entered the room. "Have you got your cuffs?" he asked briskly.

"They are attached to my shirt—oh, yes, here they are."

I drew the irons from my pocket and slipped them on the Handcuff King. Houdini went out in the hallway and rushed back in a minute with the unfastened "cuffs." Our hero of adventure and romance had turned his smallest trick.

Neither Stevens, the artist, nor I was thrilled by this phenomenon. As we had walked down the hallway toward the Houdini dressing room the wife had run ahead lightly and used a key—a vulgar, commercial key, to open the ordinary Yale lock on the door. There had been lost a glorious opportunity for a little spontaneity on the magician's part. We were impolitely cool when he offered back the cuffs. The feat was accepted impassionately as we accept the sunrise, which I understand is a very splendid manifestation, but is so customary that comparatively few people stay up all night to welcome it.

Source: San Francisco Call, 1 September 1907.


Boxed, Dumped Into Water, Escapes

Houdini throws the big thrills into this week's show at the Orpheum. He has mystified local vaudeville patrons with many and varied exhibitions of his ability to liberate himself from all sorts of stage captivity, defying doors, locks and chains, but his new act surpasses all the previous ones.

In this act he is lowered head downward into a box compartment full of water, and with his feet fastened after the manner of the oldtime stocks, to the top of the cabinet. The whole contrivance is pretentiously barred, bound and padlocked, but Houdini comes out triumphantly about sixty seconds after the submersion. The cabinet is the performer's own invention though it is called a "Chinese water torture cell," after which it is supposed to be patterned. Also on the "elusive American's" programme is the East Indian needle trick.


At the Exposition last Saturday, Houdini permitted himself to be locked in a heavy wooden box which was then roped and lowered into the bay. Less than a half minute later he appeared at the surface of the water and swam to the waiting barge. This entire scene was filmed, and the motion picture incorporated in the act, will be shown throughout the country.

Although to the general public it might seem unwise to have the celebrated "self-liberator" exhibit his skill to an audience that might be especially interested in his tricks. Houdini performed for the 2,300 prisoners in San Quentin yesterday afternoon. If nobody in the penitentiary learned any more of the modus operandi than was apparent to the Orpheum patrons in the afternoon and evening the only result, however, must have been to make some of the San Quentin spectators envious of his peculiar accomplishments.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 8 November 1915.


By Buford Gordon Bennett

Houdini, escape wizard, handcuff king and magician, so seldom comes to San Francisco that when he does he always brings with him an act of awesome thrills. Yesterday's Orpheum audience, accustomed to anything and everything spectacular in vaudeville, marveled at its own bafflement.

A mere man, with manacled feet, suspended headfirst into an iron barred and locked torture chamber filled with water, who manages to make his escape in about thirty seconds through iron bars and all, must be expected to give thrills even to blasé vaudeville goers. Houdini is a trickster, he admits himself, but so far no one has been able to discover the tricks by which the man can free himself from any incapitance or pick his way out of any jail.

On the Orpheum stage everything looks on the "level." A committee evidently of "plants," are called to the stage and they watch the star prepare for his feat. There is no optical illusion about the details. The tank, with its glass front, is filled with water. Houdini's feet are then securely locked in an iron contrivance and, attired in a bathing suit, he is suspended head first into the water-filled tank. Over that too is placed an iron lid that securely locks him within the narrow confines of the H-2-O container. Then a curtain is pulled.

It's a great trick, but only Houdini knows it!

He himself invented this Chinese water torture cell, so perhaps the riddle is a simple one after all.

Preceding the principal feature some former Houdini escapes are shown via the Orpheum screen. Also, this king of freedom, in his generous mood, performs his famous needle trick, the "magical wonder," which done by him as a boy first caused Martin Beck to sign a contract with him for appearances on the Orpheum circuit.

At the conclusion of yesterday's performance Houdini invited his satisfyingly-thrilled admirers to attend the free-to-all exhibition of escape which is to be given at 12:10 o'clock today in front of the Hearst Building. Placed in a strait jacket by Chief of Police Dan O'Brien, Houdini will be hoisted feet upperwards to the seventh floor, where he will free himself—if he can.

If he doesn't escape, the San Francisco Police Department is superior to any other in the world; if he does, then Chief O'Brien will have some new worries...

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 19 March 1923.


Wizard Throws Off Bonds With Lightening Speed Suspended From Side of Hearst Building

by Oscar H. Fernbach

Harry Houdini, whom the Standard Dictionary defines as "a wizard and expert in extrication and self-release," did some houdinizing yesterday.

That word is in the dictionary, too, and 30,000 persons gathered at Third and Market streets at noon, had  a visual lesson in what it means.

Hanging head down, 100 feet above the street, while a sea of upturned faces were set in tense anxiety and 30,000 hearts fluttered in nervous apprehension. Houdini wiggled himself out of a strait-jacket in which he had been strapped with all the force that could be exerted by the stout arms of Police Captain William J. Quinn and Police Lieutenant James Boland.

He did it in a fraction under three minutes—and a wild cheer that echoed the length of Market street greeted his marvelous accomplishment. He waved his his arms in acknowledgment of the plaudits, and when, a few seconds later, he was lowered to the sidewalk, the crowd nearly suffocated him in its efforts to grasp him individually by the hand. And chief among his congratulations were Captain Quinn and Lieutenant Boland, who thought they had bound him beyond any possibility of escape.


Long before noon, the appointed hour, the crowds began to gather in front of the Hearst Building, from the seventh floor of which had been rigged the block and tackle that was to raise Houdini to his serial "stage." Market street was packed.. Geary street was jammed. As far as the eye could reach, the windows of all buildings from which the act could be witnessed were crowded with spectators. "The Examiner" had supplied the audience—the rest was Houdini's job.

Twelve o'clock. The shout was "Here he comes!" and the little handcuff king and jailbreaker emerged from the Hearst Building, with Quinn and Boland grimly on either side of him. They mounted a truck that had been stationed on the sidewalk beneath the rigging, and the straitjacket was produced from a satchel. Houdini had but a moment to examine it before the police grasped him and began to truss him up.


They thrust his arms into the long, blind sleeves of the jacket. They plowed their knees into his back as they clinched the buckles. They brought his arms behind him and strapped them again with all the force they could exert. And when they were through with him Houdini looked like Tut-Ankh-Amen in his mummy cloth, with just about as much room to spare.

The crowd was with him, and they bandied Captain Quinn and Lieutenant Boland unmercifully.

Quickly they fastened the anklets to Houdini's feet, and two attendants manned the ropes. Up, up went the wizard, until he hung head down far above the throng. For a moment he was motionless. Then a ripple seemed in play along his spine. A systematic rhythmic convulsion was going on inside that straitjacket. A mighty wrenching of his back, a contortion of his bound arms, and he had the sleeves loose, but still strapped to each other at the wrist, with his hands inside. Again and again he swung himself until that strap was firmly caught over his upturned feet. And like a snake shedding his skin in the springtime, Houdini worked that straitjacket over his head [and] threw it to the street below while the crowd yelled itself hoarse.

"Well, I'll be d——d," said Police Captain William J. Quinn.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 20 March, 1923.


Surgical Attempt to Save Noted Escape Artist From the Grip of Peritonitis Proves Futile

Colorful Career and World Travels of Famous Stage Entertainer Are Recounted

DETROIT, Oct. 31.—Harry Houdini, the magician, died today.

The noted escape artist, whose adeptness at freeing himself from strait-jackets, chains and cells mystified audiences in all parts of the world, died after a second attempt had been made to save his life from the effects of peritonitis.

Houdini was operated upon last Monday for appendicitis.

Although it was known the magician was ill when he arrived here eight days ago, the seriousness of his condition was not learned until he collapsed at the end of his opening performances.


Houdini, popularly supposed to be of Oriental birth, was born in Wisconsin in 1874, the son of the Rev. Mayer Samuel Weiss. His theatrical name was early acquired through legal procedure. [Actually, Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary and his family moved to United States when he was four years old.]

As one of the outstanding personages of the American stage and leader of magicians, his popularity lasted for a quarter of a century. Beginning his stage career as a trapeze performer, he toured the world. It was during his journey through Asia that he became interested in mysticism and shifted his role to that of magician.


Houdini counted among his audiences the royalty of Europe and Asia. He wrote numerous treatises intended to expose spiritualists as a fraud. His book, "A Magician Among the Spirits," created a uproar among professional spiritualists by its assertions that the practice was "bunk."

One of his public challenges of long standing that he could duplicate or expose any seemingly magic feat was accepted by Ramen Bey, Egyptian mystifier, in August.

The Egyptian has created a sensation by remaining in a sealed coffin under water for 19 minutes. "Short breaths and conservation of oxygen," said Houdini, who entered the coffin and stayed there 90 minutes, "did it."

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 1 November 1926.


NEW YORK. Oct. 31.—(By Associated Press.)—Harry Houdini, the world famous magician, who died in Detroit today, was born in Appleton, Wis., April 6, 1874, the son of Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss.

His first appearance as a public entertainer was at the age of eight, when he performed on the high trapeze with a circus troupe. Because of his mother's objections he was brought back home and apprenticed to a locksmith. Almost at once he turned attention to the business of opening locks without keys.

A handcuffed prisoner brought into Appleton by a sheriff who had lost the keys to the handcuffs was the occasion for the discovery of the trick of opening of handcuffs which Houdini said was known only to him, his wife and the prisoner.

After an unsuccessful attempt to appear in vaudeville, Houdini scraped together enough money to go to Europe, where he made his reputation. When he returned he was able to command fifty times the price he first asked for his act.

Besides performing various so-called magical tricks, Houdini was adept in releasing himself from almost any kind of confinement that could be devised.

He freed himself after being manacled and shut up in a box. He escaped from strait-jackets. He freed himself while hung from a derrick in manacles and a strait-jacket. He suffered himself to be confined in a coffin under water. Although he challenged any man to perform those feats, no man ever duplicated one of them.

Houdini leaves a widow, who was Wilhelmina Rahner, of Brooklyn. They were married in 1894.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 1 November 1926.


DETROIT. Oct. 31.—Houdini's body will rest in a special airtight bronze coffin, which he recently had made to prove his contention that anyone could live without air for over an hour if they did not allow fright to interfere.

It was Houdini's express wish that he be buried in this coffin.

Houdini's body will leave here on the "Detroiter" for New York at 7:10 Monday night in a special car, which will carry his wife and other members of his family.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 1 November 1926.


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