Sunday, October 6, 2013

Evidence of Houdini's first suspended straitjacket escape

Back in February I posted a photo of Houdini being prepared for a suspended straitjacket escape and posed the question of when Houdini first performed his most famous and iconic outdoor escape. If you go back and read the comments on that post, turns out this was not an easy question to answer, even by the most prestigious Houdini historians.

While there's agreement that the first escape happened in September 1915, it's not at all clear in what city and on what day Houdini first put on the block and tackle. The two candidates are Kansas City on September 8 (sourced to a mention by the notoriously unreliable Will Goldston in the October 1915 The Magazine of Magic), or Minneapolis on September 29 (sourced to a newspaper in the Stanley Palm collection and referenced in Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss -- aka "My Bible" -- as the first).

Now our good friend Joe Notaro, who normally confines himself to research on The Grim Game at his terrific blog, Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence, has uncovered a hitherto unreferenced newspaper article from The Kansas City Post that shows Houdini did indeed performed the suspended straitjacket escape in Kansas City on September 8, 1915. Joe queried and received this page from the archives of the Kansas City Public Library. Interestingly, the Post account says Houdini was only raised 20 feet in the air. In Minneapolis he would rise to 45 feet, and in subsequent escapes to over 100 feet.

So Goldston was right and Silverman wrong? Upside-down indeed.

Click on over to 'Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence' to read the Post article in full and to link back to several articles about Joe's efforts to discover Houdini's first.

And to celebrate the solving of this great mystery, here's an unpublished photo of Houdini doing a suspended straitjacket escape from our Hinson Endowment (note the "Houdini" advert above the windows behind him).

Click to enlarge.

Thanks for the hard work, Joe! Another piece of the grand puzzle that is Harry Houdini is now in place.


  1. Brilliant. Nice photo. Well done for the detective work :-)

  2. Great work, Joe! Thanks for sharing, John!

  3. It appears in the photo that Houdini has already escaped and is being lowered. Something is on the roof of that carriage. The jacket itself maybe? Great work from Joe and John!

    Professor Silverman was close enough for me.

    1. NIce catch. I didn't see that. I wonder if it is the jacket.

  4. Thank You for the kind words and for sharing the incredible photo.