Sunday, May 31, 2015

REPORT: Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can reappears on stage

The Man (Hatari) and the Can.
History was made last night at the Franke Center in Marshall, Michigan, when escape artist "Hatari" (a.k.a. Joseph Patire) freed himself from a genuine Houdini-Hardeen Milk Can on-stage in front of a live audience. The can belongs to the collection of the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, and was part of the International Stars of Magic show that concluded the Midwest Magic History Weekend.

I was honored to be among the committee that locked Hatari into the can. It was a thrill (and a little nerve-wracking) to handle and snap shut a real Houdini-Hardeen padlock. Also on stage was mega-collector Arthur Moses. Among the many magic luminaries in the audience that witnessed the escape were Bill Kalush, author of The Secret Life of Houdini, and legendary illusion maker John Gaughan. The show was emceed by the great Mike Caveney.

Before the escape, a video was played that explained the history of the escape, as well as the history of the Houdini-Hardeen can that was to be used that night. One bit of historical serendipity was that the night happened to be the 70th Anniversary of the last night that Hardeen himself performed the escape. Believe to or not, this was not known by organizer David Charvet when all this was planned! Just another one of those spooky Houdini coincidences.

The theme music from the horror classic Halloween played while the can was concealed by a raised curtain. A large stage-side clock counted down the minutes. A loud screen by Hatari's assistant helped bring the drama to a crescendo. Hatari freed himself in just under two minutes and received a nice ovation.

Now, I need to let you know that the Milk Can was not actually filled with water. The museum decided that would pose just too much risk to this important Houdini artifact. While this wasn't announced to the audience in advance, it also wasn't kept secret. Following the escape, host Mike Caveney quipped, "Not only did Hatari escape, but he was able to blow-dry his hair -- a feat not even accomplished by The Great Houdini!"

I think leaving the can empty was the right call. The performance was staged very effectively, with Hatari clad in a period bathing suit on a stage filled with nice "undersea" lighting effects, and it all worked as beautiful recreation of this historic escape without posing any real danger to the can or Hatari himself.

Immediately after the escape (which occurred mid-show before the intermission), the Milk Can was whisked back to the American Museum of Magic under the constant care of the museum's administrator, Keli Spears Hindeach, who seemed very happy and relieved to have her can back safely "at home."

It was a truly magical night and a wonderful tribute to this classic Houdini-Hardeen escape.

Events at the Franke Center are still going on today with a Potter & Potter auction of rare magic books and memorabilia. You can continue to follow my live tweets from Marshall HERE.

I'll have a full report on the Midwest Magic History Weekend later this week.

UPDATEREPORT: The Midwest Magic History Weekend 2015.



  1. Is the can in such poor shape that the pressure from water being inside of it posed a risk of rupture??????

    1. The can is in very good shape. I just think they didn't want to talk any risk. Understandable.

  2. While it was originally agreed by the museum board several months ago that the can could be filled with water when I proposed the idea to them of re-creating the escape, just a week before the event I was told they had now decided not to allow water to be used. Their concerns were two-fold: First - that the can being an historic artifact, the water might in some way harm it (to which I disagreed, as the can is made of galvanized iron, was built to hold water and shows no signs of deterioration), and Second: the board was concerned for the safety (i.e. liability) of Hatari being locked into the water-filled can. I had purchased a $5,000,000 insurance policy for the event, naming the museum and performance venue as co-insured, and Hatari suggested that he sign a release to absolve the museum of any responsibility. He also asked to perform the escape privately for the board prior to the event, in order to reassure them of his abilities and care of the can during the escape (he has been performing the milk can - and other under water escapes - regularly since 1982.) All of these requests and reassurances fell on deaf ears. But since the escape had been so heavily advertised, it was decided to proceed without the use of water, although it was not mentioned on stage during the performance. As the Producer, this was all a bit frustrating to me as I had promised the audience and attendees something based on my agreement with the board, and then that agreement was changed at the 11th hour. But in the end, due to the generosity of the museum, those in the theater were able to see the milk can back on stage and Hatari gave a masterful performance in the Houdini tradition. I applaud him (as did the audience) for his efforts.
    David Charvet
    Midwest Magic History Weekend

    1. Thanks David. I thought it went over great. The can really didn't need to filled. It was still an exciting and surprisingly tense escape. And the fact that the audience didn't know until the end was a good way to play it. Like I said above, a wonderful tribute! The entire weekend was a blast. Thank you so much.