Houdini was born Erik Weisz, March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. His family moved to the United States when he was only 4 years old. Harry began his career performing card tricks and other simple slight of hand illusions.
From card tricks and psychic cons he graduated to the acts that would make him famous around the world, illusion and escape. Along with his new wife Bessie they premiered the illusion “Metamorphosis” in which Harry and his assistant Bessie would switch places in a locked cabinet.
It was also around this time that Harry would offer the princely sum of $100 dollars for anyone that could produce a set of handcuffs that he could not escape from. As he toured from town to town he not only never paid out the $100 prize but also escaped from all manners of jail cell and locked room. Harry you see had trained himself extensively as a locksmith and would often secret any number of picks upon himself that remained undetected as he set about his task of escaping. Below is Harry and is wife, Bessie, performing the Metamorphosis.
His future name forever secured as the world’s foremost escape artist, and a cunning illusionist, it was in the early 1920′s after the death of his mother that Houdini began dealing with the charlatans of the spirit world. When he felt the need to try and contact the spirit of his departed mother he contacted a number of mediums who he felt were taking advantage of his grief in order to extract large sums of money from him. Given his extensive knowledge of slight of hand and illusion Houdini quickly saw through their parlour tricks becoming a crusading force in what he saw as “Vultures who prey on the bereaved.“ Below is Harry making hands that would be felt during a seance.
Harry even went so far as to make a pact with his wife that in the event of his passing he would attempt to make contact with her, if possible from the other side, giving her a secret code so that only she could verify the legitimacy of any attempt at contact.
In 1923 Houdini took time away from his stage show touring instead to give lectures against mediums and to promote his new book A Magician Among the Spirits. He also joined a panel formed by American Scientific Magazine which offered a cash reward for anyone who could prove the existence of genuine psychic gifts. Much like Houdini’s handcuff award this prize was never claimed.
Today Houdini’s legacy is carried on in many forms. Magicians continue to debunk the spiritualists. One need only look to Penn and Teller, or The Amazing Randy for a rational and often entertaining look beyond the veil. Winnipeg’s own Dean Gunnarson is a rightful heir to Houdini’s escape crown performing many of the escapes that Houdini himself had performed with a modern twist. These are Harry's living heirs: Dean Gunnarson and James Randi.
So Happy Birthday Harry Houdini and thank you for proving to us that with the right tools, knowledge, and faith anything can be accomplished.
Peace and Joy,