Friday, March 7, 2014

Never-before-shown film of Houdini

Here's a great way to end the week. This is never-before-shown film footage of Houdini doing a suspended straitjacket escape, courtesy of our good friend Jon Oliver. I don't recall having ever seen even a small fragment of this in any documentary, etc. Best of all, it is almost completely unedited, showing the escape start to finish. So get clicking and get an eyeful of Houdini that you've never seen before.

Unfortunately, I don't know the date nor location of this particular escape. [See update.] It's also unconventional in that Houdini isn't being suspended from a building on a city street. It looks like this is taking place at a fairground or some kind of open arena like a racetrack or airfield. And are those police officers or soldiers putting Houdini into the jacket? Also interesting is the fact that, having seen dozens of different suspended jackets escapes, the jacket here slips off somewhat prematurely.

The photo below, which comes from a 20th Century Fox press-kit for The Truth About Houdini documentary, appears to be from this same escape. This is the only image I'd seen of this stunt before seeing this rare film footage.

A monumental thanks to Jon Oliver for this one.

UPDATE: This appears to be the New York Police Department's "Field Days" relief fund event at Gravesend Race Track in Brooklyn on either August 21, 1920 or September 10, 1921 (Houdini did the escape on both dates). Below is an account of the 1920 escape from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.


  1. Wow! Amazing! You really get a good sense of his body control and internal connectedness. Thanks to both Johns - great post!

  2. Oops. I guess I should have said to John & Jon.

  3. Fantastic. Many thanks both for the share.

  4. Thank you John and Jon. That was great! I like the bow Houdini takes at the very end. This definitely looks like some kind of military base or airfield. Not too many spectators here, just military men.

    Houdini looks a bit heavy and older. Perhaps this was filmed somewhere in Europe in the early 1920s?

  5. John Cox would you please contact me? I have some interesting history to add that I would like to talk to you about. Chickie Lee a protoge of Houdini's that performed the straight jacket escape act October 1935 at the Palace Theater. I'm reaching out on Facebook. Hope to talk to you soon as we might help one another in adding some more history to your Houdini files. ~Lore aka Love Rich

  6. Houdini performed at the Police Field Day Games at the Gravesend Race Track in 1920 and 1921. Based on an original clipping and other resources I've seen (see below), the exact dates are Aug. 22 and 29 (1920) and Sept. 10 and 17 (1921). The 1920 dates were Sundays, and the 1921 dates were Saturdays.


    • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 22, 1920, p. 4
    • Photo of Houdini, The New York Times, Aug. 29, 1920
    • New York Tribune, Sept. 10, 1921, p. 9
    • National Police Journal, Oct. 1921, Vol. 8, No. 5, p. 30