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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Houdini aquarium revealed on Tanked

Photo by Hocus Pocus Focus. Used by permission of the AMA / Magic Castle.

The Magic Castle's new Houdini Water Torture Cell aquarium was revealed last night on Animal Planet's Tanked. The aquarium sits in the Inner Circle and was made by request of AMA President Neil Patrick Harris for the Magic Castle's 50th Anniversary celebrations next year.

The hour long episode chronicled the process of designing and building the 240 gallon aquarium, along with a lot of "reality" show complications, such as the tank springing a leak and threatening to flood the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library. The episode gave a very nice look inside the Castle.

While they didn't show what the designers used as a photographic reference, the tank is a pretty respectable reproduction of Houdini's real Water Torture Cell. The stocks in particular evoke the real cell, with the front hand grips, properly shaped hinges, and lifting ringlets. I just wish they would have completely framed the glass with riveted "brass" strips instead of leaving it with just two on each side. There even appears to be space for two horizontal strips top and bottom. But that's me being picky.

The Houdini mannequin inside was created by Quantum Creation FX, who worked from a Houdini portrait photo. The vintage style straitjacket the mannequin is wearing was acquired from Houdini's Magic Shop in Las Vegas.

In the show, reproduction Houdini posters flank each side of the tank. But as you can see in the photo above -- which the Magic Castle has given me special permission to post -- original Alexander and Will Rock/Thurston Show posters have replaced the Houdini sheets, which I actually think looks much better. Also notice the addition of a nice handcuff display case in the corner. While this wasn't part of the show, it was added to the Inner Circle along with the tank and is a pretty cool addition in itself. The cuffs come from the collection of Jim Bentley and include reproductions of the French Letter cuff, the Russian manacle, and the Mirror handcuffs.

For those of you who are more interested in what's inside the aquarium, the idea was to fill the tank with "dangerous" fish, including: Sabertooth Barracuda (monster fish from the Amazon with huge teeth); Redtail Barracuda (called "Dogfish" because of their canine-like teeth); Spotted Metynnis (relatives of the piranha); Blue Eye Pleco (extremely rare fish from Columbia that can eat and digest wood); and an Asian Swamp Eel (known to be good escape artists who can survive out of water for several hours).

Neil Patrick Harris was very happy with the final result and gave AMA memberships to hosts Wayde King and Brett Raymer on the spot. He predicted that the Houdini aquarium would become a new "destination" inside the Castle for members and visitors. "I can't believe no one has thought of this idea before," he enthused.

However, someone did think of this before -- Houdini! In his original presentation of the escape, Houdini portrayed it as an aquarium. In a playlet called Challenged or Houdini Upside Down (which Houdini performed only once to copyright his new effect), a "multimillionaire sportsman" named Tim Connor eyeballs his clubhouse aquarium and concocts the idea of locking Houdini inside it upside down.

It's kind of ironic that after 100 years the Water Torture Cell has returned to its original purpose as a private clubhouse aquarium.

The real thing. Kevin Connolly Collection.

This Friday marks the 100th Anniversary of Houdini's first performance of the Water Torture Cell on September 21, 1912. Watch for a special look back the history of cell right here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.

UPDATE: Houdini has escaped!

18 comments:

  1. Now John that looks really nice and what a great idea for all concerned!
    Thanks for the photos. Norm

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    1. My pleasure, Norm. Took a few requests to get permission to post it. No pics inside the Castle as you know! But I'm glad to now be able to show it. And I like that you can see the Bentley cuffs in the pic as well.

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  2. I'm sorry, but I think its tacky. Those beautiful posters show a touch of class, but the fish tank is just crass in comparison.
    Bruce Thomson

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    1. That thought actually did cross my mind as well. But there are several playful things inside the Castle that were created stickily as showy gimmicks, so it's not really all that out of place. But that's why I liked that they put the two original posters back. It offsets it.

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  3. Reading the comments about this episode on the Tanked Facebook page, I'm amazed that there are people out there who believe these shows are 100% real. Several people upset that NPH wouldn't let the hosts inside until they rented tuxedos. Some dim bulbs out there. :s

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  4. I don't know but I am under the impression that a jacket and tie are required at the castle?
    Bruce Thomson

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    1. Yes, after 5:00 during normal evening hours. But you don't need to be dressed formally if it's during the day and you're there on business. And it's not formal on Friday lunch, Sat or Sun brunch, and during the swap meets.

      It was in the middle of the day and clearly a set-up -- a comedic "complication" so the boys had to go to Hollywood Blvd to rent tuxes. Obvious even if you don't know the Castle rules.

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  5. Replies
    1. Do you own the original photo of that Kevin? Sorry, I have a million of these from different sources in my USD folder. I can credit you or remove it. Let me know.

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    2. I've added a credit. Let me know if you'd rather I remove it. I have a dozen low res scans from various books of this shot. I chose this one because the quality was so good. That should have been my first clue. :)

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  6. Very COOL John,

    Thanks for the article,
    Before a career in physical security I was employed at an aquarium for 6 years, I've seen hundreds of tanks (many custom) but nothing like this!

    Brought back some fond memories! On a side note those Pleko things are like EA's - even after you KNOW you've scooped 'em up in a handheld net, lifted the net up, they're *magically* out and back to the bottom of the tank!

    Thanks again,
    --Vince O--O

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    1. Thanks Vince. Next time I'm at the Castle I'm going to have to make sure that fish is still in there! :)

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  7. Saw the episode last night- thanks for the heads up. I think its a fun idea, but not sure about the Houdini likeness-- I'll have to see ti up close and personal!

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    1. I'm not convinced the likeness was modeled from a photo of Houdini. It looks generic to me.

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  8. Did Houdini ever actually use a straight jacket with the Water Torture Cell? I thought his hands were always manacled. Also, I do think they could have made it more "real" looking. I was expecting more for such an historic event. It does seem a bit tacky, sadly.

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    Replies
    1. No, Houdini didn't wear a straitjacket in the USD. In fact, I don't believe he was even manacled. The cell was enough of a challenge.

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  9. I haven't been to the Castle in a while, but I heard the mannequin is not currently in the tank. Did he escape?

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