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Mr Grue
131951.  Sun Jan 07, 2007 4:47 am Reply with quote

Welcome, Burrell!

Didn't Houdini often get into trouble with management because he wanted to tour with his films, but the theatre managers felt that they were getting a bum deal?

Although Houdini's skills were doubtless, some of his techniques were of a lesser ability. He was forced to admit in court that on occasion he would effect an escape from cuffs by sawing through them with a file held between his knees, only to emerge holding a second, unfiled set of cuffs.

Houdini built into the marketing of his act during the early days of his success a series of naked jail escapes. These would consist of him being locked into the local jail in the nip, yet still managing to escape. He was accused of hiding a set of tools in the only pocket he had left on him (hem hem), an accusation that Houdini said was highly offensive. However, following his death, a small metal egg-shaped box was found among his possessions, which would fit in with such a theory.

Houdini had a tendency to annoy those around him, and although often hugely generous to the conjurers he looked up to, such as the Davenports and Harry Kellar, he would also feud with those he felt had somehow betrayed him. This, and his move from escapology to a more illusion-focused act, led to one of my favourite pieces of barbed criticism. Houdini created an illusion at the New York Hippodrome where he vanished an elephant inside a raised cabinet. Contemporaneous critics assumed that the elephant didn't go anywhere (though a few suspected that the elephant was somehow dropped into the swimming pool that lay beneath the stage) so the joke of the time ran that three men wheeled the cabinet onto the stage, and twenty wheeled it off again.

[all cribbed and poorly recalled from Hiding The Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, and Houdini!!! by Kenneth Silverman]

132010.  Sun Jan 07, 2007 11:03 am Reply with quote

Thank you for the kind words Mr Grue.

Houdini did have trouble with local Law Enforcement, especially in Germany, where the local police let it be known that they felt Houdini was ‘cheating’ and using equipment which had been altered to allow escape to be made easier. Houdini was able to demonstrate his skills in a Slander trial which he won (1) and his thoughts are recorded in the book “Houdini on Magic” which was published posthumously. (2)

There was also a case, reported in “The Secrets of Harry Houdini” (3) where he escaped from being handcuffed to a lamppost in London. This escape was covered by one (3a) of the record holding Essex Escape Artists in “The Handcuff Annual 2006” in which the story was recreated and the associated problems were discussed. (4) Also discussed in the Annual are his famous Mirror Cuff escape, where the Daily Mirror produced a specialist handcuff to challenge him with as well as the French Letter Cuff Escape featured in both “The Secrets of Harry Houdini” and “The Life and Death of Harry Houdini.” (5)

Of course the latest theory about Harry Houdini is that he was in fact a Master Spy (6)

Houdini was, amongst the many things already listed, a wonderful manipulator of the media.

With regard to the Cell Escape, there are many theories as to how Houdini conducted the escape, however when DeVal researched the escapes, he was able to recreate the ‘naturist’ escape but was searched in all areas, including the pocket mentioned previously. (7)

On the subject of name changes which was quickly covered earlier. I have found a link which confirms my earlier, unpublished, suspicions in that a Deed poll is not the only option. (8)

3a (If you want to contact him, Please PM me)

<edited by Jenny to shorten the links>

132155.  Sun Jan 07, 2007 9:11 pm Reply with quote

Welcome Burrell, and thank you for the fascinating Houdini information :-)

132413.  Mon Jan 08, 2007 3:45 pm Reply with quote

Thank you for the kind words Jenny.

As previously indicated the world of Escapology is in very good health and did not end with the passing of Harry Houdini.

A prime example of this is the fact that, in the last 48 hours the Florida based Escape Artist Cindini has just set a new world record (1) for escaping from a straitjacket whilst being buried alive.

1. (her exploits can be found at the bottom of the list)

134059.  Fri Jan 12, 2007 11:16 am Reply with quote

In today's Daily Telegraph, there's a review of a new book about Houdini, for those interested:

134197.  Fri Jan 12, 2007 6:53 pm Reply with quote

Thank you for the kind link.

I have this book on order and will post my own review of it, if this will assist the discussion.

It is easy to focus onto Houdini when talking about Escapology however there are other Escape Artists that have put pen to paper.

Bill Shirk (1), the man that set a Guinness World Record for a Straitjacket escape which is still talked about to this day. (1a)

James Randi (2) also has contributed, not only as an escape artist but also into the debunking of the occult (3).


1a If someone wants details on this then please contact me in private.



<Edited by Jenny to shorten the links - please use tinyurl to avoid stretching the page width and making it awkward to read. Thanks.>

136745.  Sat Jan 20, 2007 9:24 am Reply with quote

It is interesting that Escapology has made its way into the News section (1) regretfully not all of the information provided is 100% accurate. I looked for a ‘Klaxon’ link but alas I could not find one.

The fact that states that ‘almost all of them can be opened with the same key’ is not correct although it is true that some do have similar keys and there are also handcuffs that have keys that ‘look’ the same but will not fit into the lock of the handcuff (which has caught out many a would be escapologist) and is evident in the following links (2 - 14)

For example the key on a pair of leg irons, whilst looking the same, may not fit into a pair of handcuffs even though they are made by the same manufacturer. Equally there are more advanced high security locks which will not open for any singular ‘magical’ skeleton key.

As for the process of ‘Rapping’ this will not work on modern ‘swing through’ handcuffs but could do, depending on conditions and surface, on the “Darby”(7) style handcuffs used by the British Police prior to moving onto Chubb and later Hiatt handcuffs. (14)

All of which is a mute point as cable ties are now used in some cases and these have no key holes.

13. Unlucky for some

David Straitjacket
151796.  Mon Feb 26, 2007 11:19 pm Reply with quote

samivel wrote:
Welcome :)

Excellent post. I have to ask, though - David Straitjacket? Who's that supposed to fool? I mean, I've heard of nominative determinism and all that, but come on...


Of course its not my real name. At least, its not the one I was born with! It IS the name on my credit cards though.

That name was given to me, and it stuck. I like it. Harry Houdini is not Erich's real name either, nor are the names of legions of other performers. Its just the way we are :)

I would like to thank Stuart Burrell for his diplomacy. He knows the name my parents left me with, and he gently skirted around the issue. What a guy :)

Take care

David Straitjacket

153264.  Sat Mar 03, 2007 9:11 am Reply with quote

I would like to thank David Straitjacket for his kind words. He is a true gentleman and a great exponent of his art. I would also like to thank him for not pointing out that I still have not posted the review of the Houdini book I got over a month ago.

“The Secret Life of Houdini, The making of America’s First Superhero” was covered in a post earlier but what has impressed me about the work is the detail into the exploits of Houdini away from Escapology. What really impressed me though was the list of contributors who aided the authors in their research. The list itself covers several pages (page 564 to 567) and feature names such as Steve Baker, Norman Bigelow, Mark Cannon, Mick Hanzlik and James Randi amongst others. Whilst they might not be household names here in the United Kingdom, they do know their stuff.

On another interesting point, one of the authors, Larry Sloman also collaborated on the David Blaine memoir Mysterious Stranger.

On the whole, I found the book and the life of Houdini, especially the Escapology, quite interesting.

Finally big thanks to Jenny for the editing of the earlier web links I posted, sorry for any trouble I may have caused.

163397.  Thu Apr 05, 2007 1:02 pm Reply with quote

It is good to see that Escapology / Houdini has made it into the news once more.
also our own QI News has a short article on the new book we have been writing about.

169445.  Tue Apr 24, 2007 4:05 pm Reply with quote

Another quite interesting fact is that the One Hour Handcuff Escape Guinness World Record has just been broken (After almost five years of being held by a UK resident) and it is now on its way over to the USA.

Congratulations to Joe Morotta for a sterling performance.

169847.  Thu Apr 26, 2007 7:20 am Reply with quote

Burrell wrote: well as the French Letter Cuff Escape...

The mind boggles.

169966.  Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:56 pm Reply with quote

I know, it was named back in the age of innocence.

An interesting side story connected with Escapology comes in the form of a restraint developed by Jacob Oliver McKenzie which became known as the McKenzie Mitt. The reason that this can be included in Escapology is because it not only was designed to prevent the prisoner from escaping, and also prevented his/her use of a gun, but also remains one of the very few products in history that have been discontinued for being too effective.

The 'Mitt' was, in effect a metal mitten that restricted the movement of the hand once the device was attached. It prevented the prisoner from holding onto anything. This, when combined with a belly chain, rendered the prisoner incapable of using his/her hands. The belly chain was included as the mitts could have been used to knock the guard unconscious if the prisoner could move his or her arms.

The reason that the ‘Mitts’ as they became known were discontinued was because the prisoner could not eat or use the bathroom in transit such was the restriction in their movement and Guards objected to helping prisoners with such tasks and the US Railroads had strict guidelines on the unshackling of prisoners in transit (the guidelines would seem to have been along the lines of “Don’t”).

Stan Willis, the current Guinness World Record Holder for the largest collection of handcuffs, has written in more detail about the McKenzie Mitts in the 2007 Handcuff Annual. (I thought I would add this in case any Q.I. Elves were curious for more information).

169969.  Thu Apr 26, 2007 2:00 pm Reply with quote

There's a Handcuff Annual? Blimey.

169973.  Thu Apr 26, 2007 2:10 pm Reply with quote

Yes and it is in its second year. It was first published in 2006.

It contains a lot of information, ranging from current Escape Artists talking about their work to information on historical devices (such as the Mitt).

Here is the link.


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