Thursday, January 15, 2015

Guest Blog: Houdini Vacation

Handcuff collector Mark Lyons recently took a "Houdini Vacation" across Europe. Stops included Budapest, Cologne, and London. Below is Mark's account of his travels with photos. This originally appeared at Handcuffs.Org, and is shared here with Mark's kind permission. Enjoy.

In planning my trip to Munster Germany for the Handcuff Convention, I decided to book an 8 day scenic river cruise on the Danube River in Austria. The trip, which turned out to be very wonderful, started out in Budapest, Hungary.

The trip had several options and was finalized early in the summer. Several days elapsed since I signed the paperwork when I awoke in the middle of the night when it occurred to me that I was about to travel to Houdini's birthplace.

I'd never seen a picture or recalled any kind of tribute to Houdini, so I mailed the tourism board in Budapest to see if there was a statue, plaque, or marker anywhere in the city. They replied that unfortunately there was none. I wondered how could the greatest showman of all time not have anything honoring him. They offered no help.

A quick look at John Cox's Wild About Houdini turned up a copy of a birth certificate which lists the address of Houdini's first home. This certificate was obtained from records in Budapest.

It is interesting to see the name "Erik" on the certificate instead of "Ehrich" as he usually spelled it. Another interesting fact and perhaps Houdini's biggest secret is his birthday. He normally told people that he was born in Appleton, WI on April 6, 1874. The paperwork from 1939 shows that he was indeed born in Pest on March 24, 1874.

Budapest used to be 2 different cities, Buda and Pest, each on its side of the Danube. Houdini and his family resided on the poorer Pest side.

In locating more info about the address listed on the birth certificate, I read that Wild About Harry contributor Botund Kelle, who lives nearby, was able to search records and discovered that the street name had changed and the new name of the street made it possible to find the original place where young Houdini lived during his first 4 years. A quick email to Botund produced excelled results when he asked me to write to his friend David Merlini, an escape artist of amazing talent. He holds the worlds record for holding his breath underwater. His new record now stands at 21 minutes, 29 seconds. He also performed an escape from a concrete block lowered into the Danube river.

Who could have guessed that this random email would lead to this wonderful day where I got to meet these fine folks. David had previously worked on the new Houdini movie as Technical Advisor and had access to the props used in the movie. A visit to the warehouse was a fantastic way to spend my first day in Budapest. He was a great host and took me by limousine to the HH birthplace and Royal Hotel where HH promised and delivered the "Finest Meal in all of Budapest". The movie was filmed in the city and David pointed out many of the film locations.

As a simple tourist of Budapest, I was blown away by the hospitality of Botund and David. My other shipmates were out buying paprika and ordering goulash while I was having this amazing tour. Time was short as my ship was about to head out to Vienna. The Houdini Connection made my trip unbelievable and certainly unforgettable. There just wasn't enough time to learn more about them in person. I hope we will be reunited another time. I promised not to spill the beans about some future happenings, but I will tell you to expect some very great things along these lines in the near future.

We are not sure if this apartment house was where HH lived. This apartment house may have replaced an older structure. This used to be 2 stories tall but 2 more floors got added in the last 10 - 15 years.

This is the address where the birth certificate indicates. A street name change occurred sometime in the past several years.

A Weiss resides in this unit. Perhaps an heir to the Houdini fortune?

Did HH come out of these doors to play with the neighbor kids?

As a tenant went in through the door, we were able to sneak a peak inside. Just a few botanical specimens and balconies in this courtyard.

The Royal Hotel. It looks almost the same as when HH dined here. When HH's father was dying, he promised him that he would take good care of his mother. He promised her the best meal in the city. She was very disbelieving that he would ever be able to afford this luxury. He also took other family members to this feast and later said that this was his proudest moment.

Queen Victoria died before she could wear this dress. HH snapped it up and it proved to be good enough for his mom.

Koln or Cologne. HH has to go to court to see if he is tricking the citizens of the city. Claims of this was what the police charged him with. He wins his day in court and tries the policeman for slander of his good name. Three trials later, the good name of Houdini is restored and the police have to print an apology in the newspaper....a big one!

Not 100% sure this is the exact court house but a great deal of probability exists that it is.

Opening locks and handcuffs in front of the judge is very rare now, but financial crimes are the typical cases being heard these days.

The London Hippodrome. A handcuff 5 years in the making was a big enough challenge to make headlines in 1904. The London Daily Mirror newspaper challenged HH to escape from the "Mirror Cuffs" that locksmith Nathaniel Hart made which took him 5 years to construct. Is this fact or is it fiction? Exactly 110 years later, we are still discovering and contemplating, How did he do it?

The stage where HH performed is a bit lower than the stage flooring of today.

The Hippodrome is now a Vegas style casino. 4,000 people were said to be in attendance 110 years ago. An hour later, Houdini was free.

Hope you enjoyed.



  1. Interesting journey, thanks. The London Hippodrome is still impressive.

    1. They renovated and restored it a few years back so the interior is now very recognizable. Dying to go there!

  2. It should be noted that Mick Hanzlik drove me to the Hippodrome and showed me around London.
    We went to his home (with a million Houdini books) his lock shop across the street, the Beatles Abbey Road crossing, Trafalgar Square, Master Locksmith Association headquarters, and a locksmith meeting at an old pub....all in a day.
    I never would have guessed that this generous man was ill and I would never see him again.