Part Two TONIGHT at 9/8c on HISTORY

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Hippodrome rises

The famous London Hippodrome Theater has undergone a massive restoration and has now re-opened as a casino, dining, and entertainment venue. Of course, Houdini performed at the Hippodrome many times during his career, including his most famous appearance in 1904 when he escaped from the Mirror Handcuffs on the Hippodrome stage.


Click to visit the official Hippodrome website, which mentions Houdini in their History section and also in this promotional video.

Thank you to Andrew Beer, our man in London, for the news and pic.

19 comments:

  1. I have several questions.....is there any other photos of this event other than this one? I don't believe I've ever seen any other. Secondly the newspaper description of this escape mentions Houdini kneeling inside of his "ghost house" to make his escape in private. I always assumed Houdini used a typical curtain cabinet to make his handcuff escapes but this sounds like a very small enclosure. At one stage Houdini asks for a pillow because his knees hurt. Do we know exactly what Houdini used for privacy during his handcuff escapes during this time? Any pictures of his "ghost house".

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    1. No other pics. The Mirror had drawings.

      You can actually see the ghost house in this pic! Just move left from the Mirror rep and it is sitting just in front of the third man. It's about waist high. BTW, it looks black, but I've heard that the curtains were actually red.

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    2. Now how do you like that! 40 years looking at that pic and I never noticed! Now please explain to me or better describe to me how this all happened...Houdini would be handcuffed and he would get on his knees and crawl into this small curtained canbinet? I visualize an awkward scene. Why such a small cabinet? I assume to show he is getting no outside help?

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    3. It took me many years to see that too! :)

      You pretty much have it. I think he would kneel and the cabinet would be brought around him. For some of the time the audience could see his head and shoulders as he worked on the cuffs. I'm sure he played it up, going up and down. And, yes, the point was to show that he was getting no outside help.

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    4. Wow. You know, after 40 years have a totally different visualization of Houdini's performances. It might be a good idea assuming this info is available, to publish on your web site what it was like to watch Houdini perform. I know some of this has been written about within the various books. Is there any other source, first hand accounts that have been passed down through the years that better describes in detail Houdini's handcuff act on stage or how in detail he presented the WTC etc.

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  2. I visited London 15 years ago and walked by the Hippodrome. It was a dance club at that time. Wanted to walk in and see the stage if it were still there but it was mid week and it did not open until Friday. Did they remove the stage during this renovation? If so its very sad that another Houdini landmark is really no more. I pass the site of the NY Hippodrome all the time. Its a parking deck now but it still retains the Hippodrome name.

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    1. Sounds like the stage is still there as the website advertises live performances. I actually think it's been restored back closer to what it was in Houdini's day.

      Shame the NY Hippodrome is no more.

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  3. Another thing is the clarity of the picture of Houdini being handcuffed on stage. Never have seen it so clear before. If you note how Houdini is having his hands manacled with the keyhole up and his hands crossed. He could only use his mouth for the most part to manipulate the lock. Just seeing this picture and knowing the complexity of the lock in that handcuff its hard to imagine Houdini being able to get out without the key. Has a second key ever been discovered or is it still the assumption that Houdini in the end got hold of the original key?

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    1. Seems like every decade we get a new explanation of how Houdini really escaped from the Mirror Cuff. Bill Kalush is currently spearheading the idea that the Mirror was Houdini's creation and that he had his own key. There is some evidence to support this.

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  4. Yes I've heard about this and the mark on the silver replicas that show they were made prior to the event. However if this is the case there should be more than one key unless the cuff was gaffed?

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    1. The cuffs are not gaffed. I have heard tales of a second key, but I've never seen it with my own eyes.

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  5. So did the stage have a big apron extending into the audience? Is that what they're standing on? Was the stage usually carpeted? That must be the proscenium in the background with a backdrop right near it.

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    1. Interesting. It does look like the stage has a large carpet pulled over it. Never really noticed that. Maybe to ensure no trap doors?

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  6. With a little googling, I understand it better. It was built in 1900 literally as a hippodrome (for circus animal acts) and had both a proscenium stage and an arena that sank into a huge water tank. The carpeted area is over the arena, I think.
    http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Archive/August2003/FrontPage.htm

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  7. I have another question related to the small cabinet. It has curtains all around obviously so noone could spy on HOudini as he was making escapes. Of course there must have been a curtain on top to prevent those from peering in from above. So....the question is....how did Houdini see what he was doing inside of that dark cabinet?

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    1. It had no top. His assistants probably kept the committee back far enough so they couldn't peer in.

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  8. I don't think there was a top to the small enclosure. I don't have the reference in front of me, but I remember a biography saying that he switched from the large curtained enclosure to the small one, in which he kneeled, so that audiences could see his shoulders and head and have some sense of his struggle. Even if audience members were on stage, they would not have been close enough to the enclosure to peer in.

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  9. This has totally changed my perception of his handcuff act. After 40 years I learn something new.

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  10. Magicians like to say that the magic takes place in the spectators' minds. They also like to point out that the strongest convictions are those we arrive at ourselves.

    One of the strengths of Houdini's act was precisely that so much of it occurred out of sight. The audience was forced to imagine what was happening. The escape took place in their minds.

    Of course, Houdini also offered some visible effects such as the straitjacket or rope ties or the needles trick.

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