Saturday, May 7, 2016

When Houdini played human fly

Newcastle's The Chronicle online has an interesting article about Houdini's visit to the city during his last UK tour in 1920, showing a full page story about how Houdini performed acrobatic stunts on parapets of at Newcastle Castle.

This was an very uncharacteristic outdoor stunt for Houdini to perform. At this time, the suspended straitjacket escape was his outdoor stunt of choice. But "Human Flys" were all the rage in the 1920s, and this was a time Houdini was promoting himself as a silent movie action hero. So this Douglas Fairbanksian display makes sense when viewed through that lens.

What's also intresting is the stunt didn't seem to draw a crowd. "A man was doing remarkable feats on the castle parapets yesterday afternoon, and yet not one of the hundreds of passers-by seemed to notice him," the paper recorded. But I expect this was because this wasn't an advertised stunt. It may have been an impromptu performance while visiting the castle, or a demonstration for photographers. There are several photos of Houdini on rooftops and staging movie-like action on landmarks during this time.

However, news of Houdini's stunt seems to have cast a spell over the populace of Newcastle. A few days later a large crowd gathered below St Nicholas’ Cathedral, having heard Houdini planned to climb the Cathedral's spire at 5:15pm. But Houdini was in his dressing room at the Hippodrome and unaware of the rumors. The crowd remained in place for over an hour. The next day the Chronicle reported they were "probably still there."

Read the full article, With Houdini and Doyle on TV now, we recall when Houdini came to Newcastle, at The Chronicle.



  1. This type of attention getting stunt is very risky. If your hands slip off, it's all over. I remember a fellow who climbed one of the World Trade Center buildings back in the late 1970s. He was a toy maker and manufactured his own special climbing equipment.

    The N.Y.P.D. took him away afterwards and the judge fined him $1.10--ten cents for each floor of the building. He had a methodical way of scaling the Trade Center by hooking the straps one floor at a time and then unhooking and reattaching to the next floor.

    1. So true! More dangerous than his bridge jumps or suspended straitjacket escapes. Who knows how strong that old parapet is? Could have broken off. That would be my fear.

  2. These types of dangerous climbing stunts are a reminder to those dead souls inching along on the L.A. Freeway in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive.

  3. Thank You for sharing this.
    WRT the crowd and rumors at the St Nicholas’ Cathedral, Houdini The British Tours by Derek Tait mentions: “An article in the Illustrated Chronicle told of a reporter who had noticed a large crowd by St. Nicholas Cathedral at 12pm. Everyone was looking up at the spire of the cathedral and he asked a girl nearby what everyone was looking at. She told him that Houdini was due to be put in a box and thrown off. At 5pm, the reporter was again passing the cathedral and there were even more people there. An old man said that Houdini was due to appear at any minute…”

    1. Great stuff. Hoping Derek might have more on this in his updated edition.

  4. For anyone who is curious, here is the story of George Willig's climb of the Trade Center as told by him:

  5. I have been examining countless photos of this castle on the internet trying to find the spot where Houdini is photographed above. I cannot find anything that looks like that ledge he is hanging from. Can someone ask for a better photo of that newspaper so we can read more details? I find it amazing that Houdini would risk falling from a great height as it looks like he is doing. Perry.


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