Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Houdini Milk Can returns to stage for one-time only performance

Today I have news of the next big Houdini event of 2015. Houdini's famous Milk Can escape will be performed by escapologist Joseph Patire (a.k.a. Hatari) at the upcoming Midwest Magic History Weekend in Marshall, Michigan. But here's the historic twist. Joseph will be using the original Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can from the collection the American Museum of Magic, and the escape will take place 70 years to the day that Hardeen last performed the escape in public.

This will be the first and absolutely last time the can will filled with water, and will be an incredible feat to witness (I will be among the onstage committee members). Here is the full press release:


The final performance of Houdini’s legendary Milk Can Escape – using the original apparatus – will be presented by escapologist Joseph Patire on Saturday evening, May 30th as a part of the Midwest Magic History Weekend, held in cooperation with the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan, the owners of the Milk Can.

“This is an unbelievable turn of events,” said David Charvet, Producer of the History Weekend. “I have been negotiating with the Museum board for months. They are rightfully very protective of the apparatus, which has not be filled with water in 70 years.”

Houdini debuted the escape at the Columbia Theater in St. Louis on January 27, 1908 after the manager of the theater told the Handcuff King that his manacle escapes were becoming old hat. The galvanized steel can, resembling an oversized milk can, was examined by a committee from the audience and filled with water. Houdini folded himself into the tight confines of the can and ducked his head below the water as the lid was quickly slammed in place and secured with six padlocks.
The can – with Houdini submerged inside – was surrounded by a cloth cabinet as the seconds ticked by. After three minutes a gasping, dripping Houdini appeared from the enclosure, revealing the can still securely locked with no indication of how he had made his escape.
The feat became the feature of Houdini’s act through 1911 when he developed his famous “Water Torture Cell” that he performed up until his death in 1926.

For years the Milk Can was stored in the basement of Houdini’s home in New York. Following his death, all of his props were willed to his brother, Theo Hardeen, who began performing the Milk Can in his vaudeville act because he was too large to fit inside of the Water Torture Cell.

For the next 18 years Hardeen presented the Milk Can as the closing feature of his show, actually performing it more times than Houdini. He had several close calls where he had to be released from the can before he made his escape.

Hardeen’s final performance was on May 30th, 1945 at the RKO Madison Theater in Brooklyn. He featured the Milk Can in that last show. 13 days later, on June 12, 1945, Theo Hardeen died at age 69.

Following Hardeen’s passing the Milk Can was acquired from his estate by magician, Martin Sunshine. He revered Houdini and never performed the escape. The can was stored in a warehouse in Three Lakes, Wisconsin for thirty years until it was purchased by Robert Lund, founder of the American Museum of Magic, where it became the centerpiece of the museum from its opening in 1978.
The performance on May 30th marks the 70th anniversary – to the day – of Hardeen’s final show in 1945. The can has not been filled with water since that day. “Bob Lund allowed several people to attempt the escape over the years, but the can was never filled with water,” said Charvet. “There is a real element of danger presenting a water escape with equipment this old. The museum has assured me that they will never allow the Milk Can to be performed again after this show on May 30th.”
Chosen for the honor of the final performance is magician and escape artist, Joseph Patire. No stranger to water escapes, he has presented variations of the Milk Can in the past. “But to perform it with the original Houdini-Hardeen can – and knowing I will be the last person ever to do so - is a real honor,” Patire said.
The escape attempt will be the climax of the Magic History Weekend, a three-day gathering of magic historians and collectors from around the world. The show will be held at the Franke Center for the Arts, 214 E. Mansion Street in Marshall, Michigan on Saturday, May 30th at 7:30pm. Limited tickets are available to the public by contacting Susan Collins at the American Museum of Magic: 269-781-7570. Details about the Magic History Weekend are at:

This certainly promises to be a spectacular closing event! The weekend will also kick off with a Houdini event -- I will be giving my "Houdini in Hollywood" talk on Thursday, May 28 at 7:30pm. Hope to see you there!

Clarification: The Milk Can in the collection of the American Museum of Magic is one of several used by Hardeen and possibly Houdini. The can Hardeen used in his final performance on May 30, 1945 is currently housed in the collection of Dr. Timothy Moore.

UPDATEREPORT: Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can reappears on stage.



  1. I don't know as though I like this. To me, any apparatus of another great, past master of our art, is like sacred territory, & should be respected as such. I'm sad to now read that Mr. Lund didn't feel likewise. I didn't know he'd allowed people to try it out. I mean, what is this going to accomplish or prove to anyone? I'm a BIG lover of the history of this wonderful art, & it saddens me that other magic history lovers are looking forward to someone using one of the BIG time past master's equipment, & possibly damaging it somehow {though not intentionally of course} . Just my one & two tenths cents & opinion.

    1. That's a point worth making. And if this was the one and only Water Torture Cell, I might feel the same way. But this is one of several Milk Cans. One that is still sea-worthy, so to speak. The people involved with this are all top flight magic people with experience. This isn't in amateur hands. I think this is a really intriguing way to pay tribute to this prop, this effect, and Hardeen on what is a very special anniversary. And, for me, I think it's a great way to experience and learn what the Milk Can escape was really all about. Some things belong under glass. But not everything. Not yet at least. Let this prop tell its story to magic historians while it still can. The opportunity is irresistible.

  2. If this guy gets in trouble and has to be hacked out with an ax -damaging the can- i will be seriously heartbroken.

  3. Mr. Lund allowed a select few to crouch into the can to see what it was like. I'm sure the can was not filled with water, nor did it sustain any damage. It is not unlike snapping a pair of vintage handcuffs that were owned by HH on your wrists. Pedagogically speaking, it is a way for the magic historian to understand the past through a tangible experience instead of staring at an object behind glass.

  4. I thought Jon Oliver would perform the Milk Can Escape, wow I am shocked.