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Ian Dunn
122860.  Sat Dec 02, 2006 10:35 am Reply with quote

Harri Houdini, who's real name was Ehrich Weiss, apart from being an escapologist, was an investigator into the paranormal. Scientific American offered a cash prize to any medium who proved that really had supernatural abilities, but thanks to a committee that Houdini was part of, no-one collected the prize. The other committee members where William McDougall, professor of psychology at Harvard University, Walter Franklin Prince, an American psychical researcher, Dr. Daniel Fisk Comstock, who introduced technicolor to film and Hereward Carrington, an amateur conjurer and author.

He even went to séances in disguise, along with a reporter and police officer, and proved that these medium's where false. The most famous medium he debunked was Mina "Margery" Crandon. The only member of the committee who believed Margery was Carrington. According to the book The Secret Life of Houdini, Margery's husband, a surgeon called Dr. Le Roi Goddard Crandon, may have been in a plot to kill Houdini in a revenge attack.

This pracitce of debunking mediums cost Houdini his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. According to the same book, it meantions a plot by a Spiritualist minister to ruin Houdini's reputation after he died.

wikipedia wrote:
The book does document Doyle's campaign to hijack Houdini's legacy when a Spiritualist minister protege of Doyle, Rev. Arthur Ford, seduced Houdini's widow and convinced her to conspire with him to bring Houdini back from the grave in a seance that would further the Spiritualist's agenda. Houdini's wife felt so guilty in defaming his legacy that she actually tried to commit suicide on the eve of the seance, according to "The Secret Life of Houdini."

Wikipedia entry on Houdini

122872.  Sat Dec 02, 2006 10:59 am Reply with quote

The irritating thing about Houdini from our point of view is that the one thing that everybody knows about him (how he died) appears to be true.

The wiki article slightly questions the exact cause-and-effect (by saying that a punch could not have caused peritonitis, though it may have aggravated it), but the account is substantially what people tell you down the pub.

Anyone know better - please?

gerontius grumpus
122875.  Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:05 am Reply with quote

A very hard punch to a relaxed abdomen could cause a perforation wich, before the discovery of antibiotics, would inevitably have led to peritonitis.

123405.  Mon Dec 04, 2006 6:20 am Reply with quote

According to snopes there seems to be some suggestion that Houdini had agreed to be punched, but had later claimed he was unable to prepare himself in time in order to explain away the pain he was feeling, although accounts of the punching incident seem to vary somewhat.

The article goes on to say that doctors feel it likely that he was already suffering from appendicitis but that ascribing the pain to the punching prevented him from realising he was suffering a serious medical complaint which went on to his refusing medical treatment until much too late.

Mr Grue
124071.  Tue Dec 05, 2006 11:40 pm Reply with quote

Harry Houdini sited the Davenport Brothers as the forefathers of his own act, which is somewhat ironic considering their presentation of escapology.

The Davenport Brothers act was presented entirely within the context of spiritual mediumship. The brothers would be tied to chairs in a three-berth cabinet, in which were hung musical instruments. The doors of the cabinet would be closed and instantly the musical instruments would be played. On re-opening the cabinet doors, the brothers would be revealed to be still tied up. It is entertaining to note that, judging by contemporaneous newspaper accounts of the act, the spirits' musical repertoire seemed to grow the longer the act was on the road.

A further part of the act suggested the materialisation of spirit arms which would be poked through a curtain in the middle door of the cabinet, touching members of the committee invited out of the audience.

Each show would be started with a brief address never made by the brothers themselves, suggesting that the act showed genuine spiritual activity.

The act would routinely cause controversy, both in the United States and when touring Europe. The show led to small riots in towns in the North of England, and when the brothers slipped the knots of a French engineer in Paris, the engineer claimed that the brothers were, in some way, mocking the French. Touring Europe during the American Civil War also made it more difficult for British audiences to warm to them.

The younger of the brothers, William Davenport, died while they were on tour in America in 1877. The surviving brother, Ira, only toured the act a few times afterwards.

Houdini met Ira in 1910, a year before the old man died, to discuss the act and, above all else, to pay homage. Houdini thought highly enough of the Davenports to have William's grave renovated. Ira revealed to Houdini the secret of the act, a rope escape that came to be known as the Kellar escape, named after Harry Kellar, who had undoubtedly learnt the escape from the brothers while working as their tour manager.

Everything from the advertisements, to the act itself, and even Ira's own personal beliefs, suggested that the act was meant to be a demonstration of the reality of the spiritual plane. However, in the book in which Houdini debunked many of the great figures of spiritualism, A Magician Amongst The Spirits, he exonerates the brothers entirely, echoing Ira's claim made on that summer's day of 1910, that the brothers had never made any claim that their act was proof of anything.

124112.  Wed Dec 06, 2006 5:26 am Reply with quote

The only other fact I've heard about him was that he was the first person to fly solo in Australia

124151.  Wed Dec 06, 2006 6:59 am Reply with quote

grimwig wrote:
The only other fact I've heard about him was that he was the first person to fly solo in Australia

I think we've already had this factoid and it probably isn't true. I'll see if I can find the postings.

<A few minutes later>

Here it is.

124175.  Wed Dec 06, 2006 8:07 am Reply with quote

Drat and Double drat

Foiled again

Mr Grue
124453.  Wed Dec 06, 2006 5:51 pm Reply with quote

It's true in the sense that he was the first to make a controlled and sustained motorised flight.

124456.  Wed Dec 06, 2006 5:53 pm Reply with quote

Rap: People talking when they ought to be singing. Opera: People singing when they ought to be talking.

Mime: People breathing when they should be hanged.

125313.  Sat Dec 09, 2006 2:30 pm Reply with quote


Mime: People breathing when they should be hanged.


131740.  Sat Jan 06, 2007 7:11 am Reply with quote

This is my first post so I hope it works…

…Whilst Harry Houdini is still possibly the most famous Escape Artist as a result of his exploits, he was not always successful. He was famous for challenge escapes however there are at least three occasions, two are noted in the book “The Secrets of Harry Houdini” pages 25 – 29, ISBN 0486229130 where he either failed to escape or declined a challenge in the first place.

The occasion where Houdini declined the challenge was from the UK and was in the form of ‘the Fenton Lock’, although Houdini never formally declined, he just never responded to the request.

The website covers the story in the first two paragraphs found on link (1) at the bottom of this post.

The lock itself was eventually defeated by two UK based Escape Artists.

Kondini, a multiple Guinness World Record Holder (2) and by the late David DeVal, who conducted extensive research into Jail Cell escapes conducted by Houdini and was able to recreate them.

The noted Australian Lock Smith Ian McColl (3) made a replica of the Fenton Lock and presented it as a challenge at the Escape Artists Convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. The only person to escape from it was James Peters of Essex, England. (4)

Mr. Peters also still holds the record for the most escapes from a Posey Straitjacket (5) in 8 hours (6)

In fact from the late 1980’s until 2002, there was only one Guinness World Record for Escapology. This was held by Nick Janson, also of Essex. (7)

This changed in 2002 when another Essex resident was able to set two verified records for escaping from Police Issue Handcuffs (8). One was for the fastest escape; the second was for the most escapes in one hour. He currently holds the record for the most escapes in one hour. According to the Guinness World Records website, the record for the fastest escape is held by Mathew Cassier who also holds the record for the fastest escape underwater (9) although a faster time has been set by Cynthia Morrison (14)

With regard to Straitjacket Escapes, there are several listed with Record Holders Republic (10) including ones held by David Straitjacket (11) for escaping from a straitjacket whilst on stilts and also by Dan Richardson (12) who also set a Guinness World Record for escaping from chains underwater on the 50 Records for 50 Years TV Show.

With regard to ‘debunking’ spiritualists, James Randi has continued in Houdini’s footsteps and his efforts (15)

unlucky for some

131756.  Sat Jan 06, 2007 8:58 am Reply with quote

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...


131792.  Sat Jan 06, 2007 12:59 pm Reply with quote

Well quite, although at least one website in that man's local community alleges that it's very nearly his real name.

He comes from Gatley south of Manchester, and according to a local community website David Straightjacket is his real name:

Sounds a bit unlikely to me, but if anyone from the Manchester area is reading, perhaps they should have a look through the phone book ...

131911.  Sat Jan 06, 2007 6:31 pm Reply with quote

Thank you for the kind words Samivel and Suze.

With regard to David Straitjacket and his name, I am afraid I can not shed much light onto it as I am in Essex however his website is very interesting to read, especially regarding the FAQ section. (1)

On the subject of Harry Houdini, Ehric Weiss created that stage name as a tribute to Houdin, a famous French magician. (2)

It was on a pilgrimage to France that Weiss, before he became famous, met with the family of Houdin. The family were less than welcoming and it was that incident which led to Weiss writing the book “The Unmasking of Robert Houdin” which was published in 1908. This book was controversial at the time. (3)

On the subject of Houdini being the first person to undertake powered flight in Australia, there are some more detailed accounts of his aviation achievements here. (4)

There was even a report that Houdini performed a leap from one aircraft to another aircraft whilst both were in flight however this comes from the latter pages of “The Secrets of Harry Houdini” and the picture printed had been painted over to ‘enhance’ the image.

Houdini was also interested in movies and stared in several (5) including a movie ‘serial’ although some episodes have now, regrettably, been lost (6) but some reports are promising. (7*)


* note that the author of the webpage comments that that the term ‘Robot’ is not used in the film as it had not entered into common usage. The film was produced in 1919 and “Rossum's Universal Robots” was produced in 1921. It is from R.U.R. that the term Robot is thought to come, even though it means drudgery in Czech.


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