Telegraph Journal in which local Saint John historian, Harold Wright, challenges the wildly accepted story that Houdini got the idea for his straitjacket escape after visiting Saint John's Provincial Lunatic Asylum in New Brunswick at the invitation of Dr. James Steeves, the director of the facility.
While Write acknowledges that Houdini was in Saint John in 1896, he says "no proof exists that Houdini ever knew Steeves or that he ever visited the asylum." Wright says Houdini invented the story about the birth of his straitjacket routine "around 1908" as a way "to create a myth around his show while distinguishing himself from the countless other magicians and illusionists that were touring North America at the time."
I've never heard anyone suggest that this story was a myth, but Wright might be on to something here. Kalush and Sloman give a vivid account of this Saint John Asylum discovery in The Secret Life of Houdini (which is quoted in the Telegraph article), but their only referenced source is Houdini's own account in his Conjurers Monthly Magazine in January 1908, and, as we all know, Houdini is not the best source for the truth.
Kenneth Silverman puts the story in what I think is the proper perspective in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. He cites Houdini's first documented straitjacket escape as taking place in San Francisco in 1899, and then briefly mentions the Saint John story as Houdini's "later account" of its origin (his source being Handcuff Secrets, 1910). Bruce MacNab's authoritative article about Houdini's first Canadian tour in The Beaver, June 2009 ("Hard Times in the Maritimes"), does not mention the Saint John/straitjacket story at all -- maybe because of the lack a reliable source?
But what's this about Houdini being in Saint John only "as a stagehand for his wife Bess"? I wish Wright would have elaborated on this. While this at first sounds absurd, know that this was during the hectic days of the Marco Company when Harry and Bess took on many different roles in the ill-fated travelling magic show.
Click to read 'Escape artist: Historian says illusionist created myth, which had Saint John link' at the Telegraph Journal.