Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Uncovering Houdini’s SECOND underwater test

We all know about Houdini’s famous underwater test in the pool of Hotel Shelton in New York on August 5, 1926, in which he remained sealed in an airtight casket containing only five minutes of air for an hour and a half. This is generally considered to be Houdini’s last major public stunt.

However, did you know Houdini repeated the underwater test in the pool of the Worcester YMCA in Massachusetts on September 28, 1926?

Photo of Houdini's second test at the Worcester YMCA on Sept. 28, 1926

This forgotten test was first alluded to in William Lindsay Gresham’s Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls. On page 280 Gresham says Houdini carried a new bronze casket to Worcester and “used it in a publicity stunt.” The precise nature of this “stunt” was first revealed (as far as I know) in the addendum book The Secret Life of Houdini Laid Bare. On page 301 there is a photo of an invitation to the event from the collection of Joe Holland, but there are no details about the test in the book itself.

But now Houdini expert Patrick Culliton has uncovered a newspaper clipping of this forgotten second test, complete with photograph (above).

According to the article, Houdini performed this test for an audience consisting “largely of physicians and scientific men” and that Houdini remained submerged for one hour and eleven minutes.

It should be noted that the casket used in this test was a new one. According to James Randi (Houdini His Life and Art) the Shelton casket, after being hacked open, remained poolside for some 20 years advertised as “the casket Houdini was buried alive in.”

With the discovery of this article it appears likely that Houdini was going to use the underwater test as a regular publicity stunt, much as he performed the overboard box escape and suspended straight jacket in his younger days. However, a mere five weeks after this test Houdini would be dead, and the casket used on this day would be used to ship Houdini’s body back to New York.

With thanks to Patrick Culliton aka Houdini’s Ghost.

UPDATE: Uncovering Houdini's THIRD air-tight container test and death casket

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