Monday, December 10, 2018

When things went wrong

Houdini cultivated good relationships with both police and the press, which certainly helped in his escapes from jails and the subsequent news coverage. But here's a case where it all appears to have gone wrong. The resulting coverage is unflattering (and a bit bizarre), but it does give us a different picture of what sometimes occurred during a Houdini jail break.

Click to enlarge.

This seems to have been of a pattern. For for many years Houdini was not able to win over the New York City police and press. He received similar snarky coverage in The Times for his Boudini underwater challenge in 1905 (I wondering if this might be by the same reporter), and police repeatedly stepped in and shut down some of his outdooor stunts, forcing him to sometimes perform them unannounced.

Thanks to Harry Houdini.



  1. It does appear that the NYPD were not as cooperative as other jurisdictions. It also appears that there were limits to Harry's ability to hide the tools. He had to rely on several spots that were normally overlooked in a search.

  2. This was not one of Houdini's finer moments. I wonder if the press agent was called in order to give him something to replace what he swallowed?

    Why would he choose to live in NY if the NYPD and press were so against him? You would think he'd rather live in a city where he had good relationships.

    1. Oh, I don't think it was anything so serious as to not live there. New York's a tough town. Reporters aren't so willing to be manipulated and serve up free publicity and the police aren't so willing to let him snarl traffic, etc. It took Houdini a while to win them over.

      The mention of the press agent makes me think this might be the same reporter as the Boudini account, which also mentions a press agent throughout.

  3. Sounds like a real New York story, and the tone of the piece actually sounds similar to a theatre review I read yesterday in the Times! Still, it's a lot of space for a stunt gone wrong; it would've been more damning if they had only condescended to give him a 3-inch filler. In any case, Harry always found ways to turn negatives into positives, and I'm sure he quickly saw what he was up against in New York and chose to find a way to get the better of them.

  4. Hey John,
    I had a similar situation years ago in Texas. I had a good group of detectives along with newspaper folks all covering a private demonstration in advance of my show. I started doing magic tricks and when ready for the handcuffing I was thoroughly searched (I was fully clothed) and verified nothing on me. They locked me up very well with maybe a dozen cuffs including the new at the time hinged Peerless cuffs and had me bent over and locked to a couple sets of leg irons, one Peerless and one American Munitions.
    I started to get out, no problems, then the last half of the American Munitions leg iron which was double locked simply would not open no matter what I tried.

    It would be devastating to not make the escape when I was promoting my Escape Artist skills lol. so to remedy the still attached leg iron to one leg, I simply locked the open half back around my ankle above the stuck cuff and put the chain up in my sock and pulled my pants down over the stuck leg irons and walked out of the room making sure I carried the huge pile of chains all swinging a bit to create distraction and the illusion of a huge mass of chains defeated.

    I quickly answered questions along with my manager (he knew by my look something was wrong) and got out of there.

    Back at the hotel I finally figured out the problem. My pick I always had in my pocket had spent so many years there that it had gathered lint and compacted in the shaft of the key preventing the deeper reach that day on the American Munitions.

    I have since learned to de-lint and only keep belly button lint for a potential sweater LOl...

    Anyway stuff happens in the field and you gotta magically capitalize on it.

    Michael Griffin .

    1. That's a great story, Michael. Thanks for sharing. And what a clever solution!

    2. Love this story from Michael Griffin!