Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Is this a lost Houdini escape device?


Let's kick off the New Year with a fresh Houdini mystery. Over the holidays I was contacted by a gentleman who believes he might have inherited an authentic and hitherto unknown piece of Houdini escape apparatus. Here's what he wrote:

My name is Michael Kahle. My father was Brian Kahle of AM Buffalo fame as well as established and respected local magician. He recently passed but before he died, he mentioned that he had an old Harry Houdini escape illusion in storage with his other magic illusions. He said he had seen its sister prop sold at auction for over $40,000 and that there were only two known to be in existence, his apparently being the other.

After his passing I found the item as he mentioned along with his props. The problem is, I can't verify the item and cant find any other information on it. All I know is that he acquired the item to be used as a display item in his magic themed restaurant, The Magic Parlor, in Jamestown which is now closed.

I wondered if you could take a look at the photos and let me know what you think or if you have seen anything like it in your travels.

Below are a selection of photos that Michael sent me. To my eye, this appears to be a gibbet or Iron Maiden-like device that only encompasses the head and outstretched arms (crucifixion style). A "sister" Houdini Iron Maiden did indeed sell in The Great Houdini Auction of 2004 for $65,000 and now resides in David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. However, that Iron Maiden has the benefit of a photo of Houdini with the device to authenticate it.





So what do we think? Is this a long lost Houdini prop? I admit I've never heard of a second Iron Maiden, and neither had a handful of Houdini experts that I shared this with. Perhaps the welds and rivets could be compared to the device in the Copperfield collection?

If you have any insight into this, please share in the comments below. Or if you'd like to discuss this with the owner himself, you can contact Michael Kahle via email HERE.

UPDATE: Steve M. in the comments reminded me of "The Cylindrical Cross Escape" which appears on page 287 of Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter B. Gibson. There are some striking similarities in appearance and in the description of that escape to what we have here. Interesting.

The Cylindrical Cross Escape (click to enlarge).

13 comments:

  1. Here's a question. Do we know if Houdini made the Copperfield Iron Maiden or whether it was a real Iron Maiden that HH was challenged with in 1909 and then kept? It certainly looks to be authentic. This one appears to be an attempt at a "modern" design. I'm also wondering if this one had a lower attachment of some kind that was lost.

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  2. There are store bought hinges welded on it, it's modern.

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    1. Can you tell how modern the hinges are? Post 1926?

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    2. I'm now looking at the chains. They appear to be linked via twist tie. Were those around before 1926?

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  3. Modern electric welding was not something very common in Harry's day. Neither this nor the "Gibbet" Houdini was allegedly challenged to escape from in Scotland are "Iron Maidens." The "Iron Maiden" was a fictional torture/execution instrument dreamt up in the 1800's by a director of a torture exhibition in Nuremburg, Germany. For further info on the hoax that was "The Iron Maiden" please see my book, "The Catalog of Cruelty." Cheers, Steve Santini

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    1. Ah, thanks for the correction, Steve. I've always called the Scotland device an "Iron Maiden" because that's what people call it today, but I see that gibbet is correct term for both that and what we have here.

      Good point about the welding.

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    2. Thanks for pointing that out, Steve ("gibbet irons," rather than "Eiserne Jungfrau"). If you had not, I would have.
      Interesting gadget, though; a bit similar in concept to Houdini's sketches for a "tubular cross" escape.

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    3. You know, the "Cylindrical Cross" came to my mind as well, Steve. (Houdini's Escapes and Magic, page 287.) There are striking similarities. Maybe I should have mentioned this.

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    4. Updated with the Cylindrical Cross illustrations.

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  4. Hi John, Thanks for sharing the link on HC,org, Steve's correct about the welds. While electric resistance welding was indeed around in the very early 1900's, it wasn't something widespread in use by the average craftsperson/tradesman/fabricator until sometime after WWII. The chains are certainly of a style that would have been around in his day, in fact they were used on padlocks as a "keeper" chain and as hanger chain. If it means anything, that style chain can support in excess of 200lbs even though it is only folded over on itself to make the links. The hinges welded on are of a style typically used for bi-fold closet doors, bookcase doors, or doors to lighter weight furniture enclosures. I can't tell you when those type of hinges were first used, but put it this way, I have never seen them on anything older than circa 1950's. Hope this helps some!
    ***AWESOME WEBSITE by the way***
    o--o Vince

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    1. Fantastic. Thank you very much, Vince. This is very helpful info.

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  5. I wonder if Michael has located any paper work on this escape. Perhaps his father left behind a bill of sale, and instructions for it. A paper trail might be able to provide answers.

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    1. He's looking. Hasn't found anything yet.

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