Monday, August 29, 2011

Last week for 'Houdini Art and Magic' at the Skirball

This is the last week to see Houdini Art and Magic at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The exhibition closes on September 4th for its trip to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, where it opens on October 2.

However, know this will be your LAST chance to see the breathtaking John Gaughan reproduction of Houdini's authentic Water Torture Cell (below). This was exclusive to the Skirball and will not be part of the exhibition as it moves on.

© All rights reserved by Skirball Cultural Center. Used with permission.

While Houdini Art and Magic leaves the Skirball on September 4, Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age has been extended to January 8, 2012.

Water Torture Cell
Modern replica
Metal, glass, and wood
Collection of John Gaughan, Los Angeles
Photograph by John Elder


  1. Beautiful. Would the real cell have metal lining?

    Also, on another note, it always struck me that the drawer handles on the casing over the stocks are a bad idea.

    Also, it's not clear to me if the hinged bars are somehow locked into the top.

  2. Yes, I believe the real cell did have metal lining (I'm going to post some pics of the cell in 1990 soon). I like the handles on the stocks, but I've always thought they were closer together on the real cell. And, yes, the brass hinges flip up and lock to the stocks.

  3. I wa lucky to examine the original WTC at the Niagra Falls museum 20 or more years ago. I forget however how were the brass hasps attached to the stocks? Im thinking a key just inserted into the stocks to allow the hasps to be attached and locked?

  4. Yep, that's exactly how it works.

  5. Just to confirm........with the real WTC you would see a key hole, actually 2 key holes on either side of the stock frame. The hasps would be flipped up into place and by inserting a key into each hole and turning this would lock the hasps to the sides of the stock frame. Correct?

  6. Is that piece of metal above the bar the key hole? Also, does turning a key move a bolt? Is that how it locks -- there's a circular opening in the top of the hinged bar, which matches an opening inside the stocks, and then a bolt is run through the openings?

  7. And I assume what Walter Gibson wrote about that locking mechanism is correct?

  8. Eric, yes, that's the key hole above the frame. Not sure I follow the rest of what you posted. All I know is the locking mechanism is all inside the stocks.

    Anon, what did Gibson write?

  9. "Houdinis Fabulous Magic" he gave the only mention of how the "gaff" in the stock frame operates. The act of turning the key to lock the frame to the cell in turn freed the stocks that allowed Houdini to escape.

  10. Thanks for posting this photo, John. I went back to the exhibit today just to stare at the USD for a few more hours, and sketch out a few details on the cell that I noticed. Like everyone else, I wanted to take pictures but couldn't, so I'm glad you posted the photo.

    The black cord passed through all four lifting eyes and tied tight made me smile...

    BTW, the Skirball gift shop had some of the Houdini items at 50% off. Must be because the show is winding down. I picked up the Rapaport hardbound HOUDINI book for $20.

    Ross H.

  11. Eric, this picture at John's other site gives a clearer sense of what the end of the metal hasp looks like. Yes, it has a loop through which a bolt slides.

  12. Anon,

    Did you take any measurements?