Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Undina affair

In 1912 a female escape artist calling herself "Miss Undina" started performing an imitation of Houdini's Water Torture Cell in Germany. The USD was only a few months old at the time, and Houdini took legal action to stop her. He announced his injunction with a full page ad in the German showbiz journal, Das Programm (No. 557).

Now mega collector Arthur Moses provides us with a look at that very ad. As you can see, Houdini published the statement in English, French, German and Russian. It's interesting that Houdini seems more roiled about Miss Undina's advertising (which appeared in Das Programm No. 551) than the act itself. It's also interesting that Houdini characterizes the USD as an "escape from a foot pillory under water".

Click to enlarge

Ironically, Miss Undina's advertising, which Houdini took such pains to surpress, survives to this day. As you can see, it does indeed borrow from Houdini's own USD posters of the time.

Thank you Arthur. Undina poster image from Houdini's Fabulous Magic by Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young.

UPDATE: Miss Undina in color.


  1. FYI, Undine was the name of a female water spirit in a well-known early 19th century German novel.

    1. Very interesting. Thanks Eric. I'd never heard this before.

  2. Man, what would it take to have someone make a short movie about Miss Undina's exploits?

  3. Wonder where is Undina's torture cell today? Packed away in some dark basement in Germany perhaps? What a find if it's ever uncovered!

    1. Her cell probably wasn't all that impressive. One thing I didn't put in the above is that Houdini created his own female escapist, Miss Trixy, and set her up with a cell. THAT'S the cell I'd like to find today as it was Houdini made.

  4. John, Houdini's use of the term "foot pillory" in this context is an English translation of the term she used on her poster: "Fussfolter", not necessarily his characterization of his own effect (though it does fit!).


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