Thursday, April 23, 2015

In search of Houdini in Rochester

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has a nice article by Justin Murphy about Houdini's jump from the Weighlock Bridge in Rochester on May 7, 1907 (Mystery surrounding Houdini in Rochester). This is reportedly the jump we see in the famous film footage on the Kino DVD set, which is currently the earliest known film footage of Houdini.

The article also reproduces the famous photo of Houdini kissing his mother in "Rochester 1908" and have asked their readers to offer ideas of where the photo might have been taken. So far theories have suggested: Fitzhugh Street between Broad and Main streets, by the old City Hall; on South Clinton Avenue near Main Street, in front of the Universalist Church and East Side Savings Bank; or farther down West Main Street, near the current site of Nick Tahoe's.

The site has layers of aggressive pop-up ads (so many I gave up on my first attempt), but if you can navigate through, it's well worth the read. CLICK HERE.


  1. Coverage of the Bridge Jump:
    *********************************quote starts******************************
    Rochester Democrat and Chronicle May 8, 1907 p 12.

    Crowd of Ten Thousand Sees Houdini
    Risk His Life.
    With a moving picture machine to photograph him as he plunged into the canal and a crowd to cheer or tell of his death, Houdini dived from a truss of the Weighlock bridge at noon yesterday, handcuffed. Two pairs of police bracelets were fastened about his wrists when he made the leap.

    Fifteen seconds from the time that the cold wafer closed over him, Houdini appeared above the surface with one pair of the handcuffs dangling from his right wrist. He sank again, but came to the surface almost immediately afterward with both hands free and waving the handcuffs above his head. His wife and mother were among those who saw him go into the water.

    A moderate estimate of the crowd present placed it at ten thousand. The spectators occupied every available bit of space from which a view of the jump could he obtained and had much difficulty in getting to the street afterward.

    Houdini took a preliminary leap into the canal Monday afternoon. He found the bottom coated with four or five feet of mud. Because of that condition the idea of leaping into the canal with a sack tied about him and with his legs shackled was given up.

    *********************************quote ends******************************
    As the ad above shows (and as other ads before the event do), it was originally intended for Houdini to be sewn in a cloth sack before he went into the water.

    1. I'm really not sure what that "sewn in a sack" reference means. I'm not sure it's literal. I think it Houdini being bound and cuffed is "like Monte Cristo sewn in a sack." It's a poetic touch to the ad.

  2. Coverage of his preliminary jump:

    ************quote starts *****************

    Rochester Democrat and Chronicle May 7 1907

    Houdini Gets His Bearings for His Feat To-day

    Five o'clock yesterday afternoon, after his stage performance at the Cook Opera House, Harry Houdini paid a visit to the weighlock bridge, from the top of which structure he is scheduled to jump into the canal this noon at 12:30. Houdini stripped to a bathing suit and made the dive. He didn't wear handcuffs. He made the plunge to test the temperature of the water and to find out what sort of a bottom the canal had at that point. He got plenty of information about the bottom. When he climbed out he was covered with mud up to his knees.

    "I don't see any obstacle in the successful accomplishment of the jump," said Houdini. "The water is about the right depth, and I can negotiate the height. The water is pretty cold. I may have to stay under for a considerable time while getting rid of my handcuffs, and it will be pretty chilly work. I hardly think I shall be able to use a sack, as the deep mud would make it almost impossible to extricate myself from it. I don't know just what I will do about the point."

    For the past week Houdini has been at his home in New York. His brother who is a physician, also lives there. Under his brother's direction, Houdini has been undergoing a rigid training preparatory to his leap.

    Houdini's mother was greatly concerned at the prospect of her son's hazardous performance. She worried so that she decided to come to Rochester with him, and she will be on the scene when he jumps from the bridge.

    Moving pictures of Houdini's leap into the water are to be made by the Eastman Kodak Company. A photographer will set his camera in operation some time before the jump is made, so that the preliminary doings will be recorded. The leap itself and Houdini's struggles in the water will be photographed. The pictures will be exhibited in the theater to-morrow – which will mean speedy work on the part of the Kodak people.

    ************quote ends *****************

    With respect to the sack, the ad in the May 5 Democrat Chronicle (Sunday; the jump was on Tuesday the 7th) says "HOUDINI Extraordinary Appearance of This World-Famous Perfomer of Impossible Things. As a result of a $1,000 wager with Al C. Buckenberger, manager of the Rochester Baseball Club, Houdini comes to Rochester expressly to perform this unheard-of feat: On Tuesday, at 12:30 O'Clock Noon, He Will be Heavily Handcuffed and Will Jump Off the Top of the Weighlock Bridge Into the Canal. He Will Escape from His Manacles While Under Water. LIKE MONTE CRISTO HE WILL BE SEWN IN A SACK. This will be the Most Extraordinary Feat This Wonderful Chap Has Ever Attempted."

    May 6 Democrat Chronicle (day before the jump) says "Tomorrow at 12:30 noon, Houdini will jump from the Weighlock Bridge, handcuffed and tied in a sack, into the canal, and will escape from his manacles under water."

    I think his original intention was to be as the ads said -- to be sewn (or possibly tied) into a cloth bag, as is often done with Metamorphosis. But when he was able to examine the conditions, he decided not to do it that way.

    I would bet that the picture of Houdini and his mother was taken on one of roads immediately adjacent to the Weighlock Bridge, since she attended the jump.

    And Wednesday's ad for Houdini's show at Cook's said that the footage would be shown as part of the show. The really did process it right away.

  3. I've now taken a deep dive into this stunt HERE.