Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rare photo shows Houdini staked out

Here's a fantastic unpublished photograph from the collection of Jon Oliver -- the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed and also holds Bessie's hair -- of Houdini being tied to a stake by what appear to be two Indian braves in traditional feathered headdresses.

This is almost certainly the infamous burning stake challenge that went wrong for Houdini. The terrain and Houdini's clothes appear to match the one published photo from that event. However, accounts say that was a challenge issued by the Boy Scouts of America and nothing about the involvement of Native Americans. But photos don't lie.

This was one of the unpublished photos I shared during my presentation at the 2012 Official Houdini Seance (although this one went by a little quick). I think this is a quintessential photo of Houdini being challenged, and I'm thrilled to be able to share it here now.

Thank you, Jon.

UPDATE: This newspaper clipping from the Des Moines Register Nov. 23, 1924 shows that this migt have been an entirely different "bonfire" challenge than the Boy Scout challenge, which the caption says occurred in San Francisco.

Click to enlarge.


  1. Wow! Thanks John. You're spoiling us. I also thought it was the Boy Scouts of America that tied him to that stake. Maybe they were in costume?

    1. My pleasure, Leo. I knew you Houdinites would dig this photo as much as I do.

      I would think the point of Boy Scouts challenging Houdini would have been to have had...Boy Scouts challenging Houdini! It's a real mystery what's going on here.

  2. I was impressed the first time I saw that photo at Jon Oliver’s website, the second time I saw it at the Official Houdini Séance and now on this incredible blog. Thanks for sharing it with everyone. It is a great find.

    1. Thanks Joe. It went by really fast at the seance. I'm so happy Jon is okay with me sharing it here. His scanner was broken, so he had to go to some trouble to make a copy for me in time for the seance.

  3. Perhaps there was more than one? Boyscouts and Indians?

  4. FYI, the Boy Scouts challenge took place in the spring of 1923 at the Civic Center in San Fran.

    Source: "Houdini Is Manaced By Boy Scout Knots," The Palm Beach Post, May 1, 1923, p. 3

    Houdini Is Manaced By Boy Scout Knots

    When Harry Houdini, the Handcuff King, recently won the challenge of the San Francisco Boy Scouts by escaping from the knots with which they had tied him to a stake in the Civic Center, surrounded by a ring of flames, the scene was pronounced a thriller—a case of "the securely-knotted cords of the American Indians' fashioning as against the skill and cunning of the 'escape artist'."
    An ambulance, in fact, was ready to carry the victim to the hospital in case an accident might occur, for Boy Scouts' knowledge of knots is not to be reckoned with lightly.
    The master artist at the climax of the ordeal was reported by a recording newspaper, as "sinking exhausted to the ground after he had forced his way free from the ropes in the ring of leaping flames."

    (Note: The term "manace" is an obsolete form of "menace." Tom)