Part Two TONIGHT at 9/8c on HISTORY

Monday, March 26, 2012

Houdini's close call

Here is the only known photo of Houdini escaping after being tied to a burning stake. This challenge was made by the Boy Scouts of America and went wrong when the overenthusiastic scouts doused the flames with gasoline. By the time he was free, Houdini's clothes were singed. It was the only time he did a fire escape.


Thanks to "Harry Houdini" for the pic (which can also be seen in Patrick Culliton's The Tao of Houdini).

UPDATE: You can now see a second photo from this challenge: Rare photo shows Houdini staked out.

9 comments:

  1. Fantastic photo. I don't recall the BoA challenge, but fire is never anyone's friend.

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  2. It only gets a quick mention in most bios. I searched but I couldn't find the year. This photo is from a "when magic went wrong" article.

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    1. According to Mr. Houdini who provide this pic, the article was called "When Magic Didn't Work" from Collier's, April 18, 1925.

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  3. This web site is just incredible. Best ever. Can you tell me what you think we are seeing here? I read that Houdini is jumping from the flames but was he tied to that tree right beside him? Where are the flames? I certainly see smoke but its behind and away from him. if I am interpreting the photo right looks like his legs may still be bound to the bottom of that tree and he is in process of wriggling free?

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  4. I might be wrong in saying that he's jumping free. It does look like his feet are still bound. This might just be the final stages as he's wiggling free.

    I do think the flames were far from him. What I recall reading was the the scouts made the fire bigger than expected and the wind shifted and blew smoke and flame toward Houdini.

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  5. That sounds like what we are seeing. A strong wind blowing the wrong way could easily cause the flames to shift and burn.

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  6. Some people say that Houdini never did anything really dangerous (for him,) but more and more I'm finding stories of Houdini's 'close shaves'. His first Buried Alive attempt sounded particularly frightening. I can't believe he went on trying to perfect the stunt after that!

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  7. It's amazing to me the level of history distortion going on. Houdini jumped off bridges, hung from skyscrapers, heck how many people in the world would even attempt being hung upside down, locked in a water filled tank with a tight fitting narrow cage encasing your body? Houdini did his USD escape multiple times daily and in of itself is enough for me.

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    1. It's a good point, Anon and Jessika. ALL of Houdini's feats where very dangerous, even if they didn't have a built-in death component -- like the rope would burn through after a minute, etc. Just the act of hanging upsidedown in a locked tank of water is taking your life in your hands. Doug Henning would never do the USD again because it was so clearly dangerous. Also, there is a long list of escape artists who have died doing Houdini stunts like the Milk Can and bridge jumps.

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