Saturday, January 19, 2019

Houdini's Berlin bridge jump footage described


On September 5, 1908, Houdini jumped manacled from Friedrichs Bridge (Friedrichsbrücke) in Berlin, Germany. Like other bridge jumps, it was filmed. Like other films, it has been lost.

The Friedrichs Bridge jump is not one of Houdini better documented escapes. There are no photos or news clippings that I'm aware. That's what makes the below so special. This is an advertisement from a German film magazine, Der Kinematograph, placed by the company that filmed the escape. In it they provide a description of exactly what the footage shows.

"The world-famous breakout king and escape artist Houdini, who performa his amazing tricks, was cinematographically recorded by us with colossal success at Circus Busch in Berlin. This unique recording shows Houdini as he is carefully tied up before representatives of the Berlin press, supervised by the a special committee, then— laden with chains—running from the Circus Busch into the street and plunging from the parapet of nearby Friedrich’s Bridge, in the presence of a large crowd of spectators, into the River Spree. He dives under and appears again after barely a minute, completely unbound, on the surface, where a boat picks him up."

Thanks to David Byron of Baroque Potion for providing the above translation. Now if we could only find the film!

Below is Friedrichs Bridge today.


UPDATE: Our friend Perry from New Jersey sends over the below photo which shows the Circus Busch (the rounded domed building) and its relation to Friedrichs Bridge. A long run in shackles!


Related:

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for the share and translation.
    According to an article I have, “Daring Exploits of Houdini” by Walter B. Gibson, found in Tales of Magic and Mystery February 1928, Volume One Number 3:
    “…on other occasions he leaped from a bridge while heavily manacled. He did this in Berlin Germany, from the Fredrichstrasse Bridge, on the fifth of September, 1908.”

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  2. The two support columns under the bridge appear to have been removed. That's incredible!

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    1. I suspect that entire portion of the bridge is rebuilt.

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    2. Back in the 1970s an engineering professor told his class: If you design a bridge and it collapses, you don't get partial credit.

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  3. This is great, and thank you. What caught my attention was the phrase "then—laden with chains—running from the Circus Busch into the street and plunging from the parapet of nearby Friedrich’s Bridge." I would assume the Circus Busch was housed in that huge building behind the bridge, or nearby. I'm intrigued by the whole context and transition to the bridge jump - being bound before the press at the Circus Busch, and then high-tailing it out to the bridge. I wonder if he ever did such an elaborately staged bridge jump elsewhere? Very interesting.

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    1. The running is strange. But I can't help but be reminded of his Paris movie in which he runs handcuffed from the police station to his jump site at the Paris morgue. Maybe he and the filmmakers were cooking up some kind of similar scenario?

      I've updated with a photo showing the distance between the Circus Busch and the bridge.

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    2. That's an interesting thought, John. Certainly conceivable - and it would have to be tested in "the real world." And running to the bridge would of course heighten the drama and is ideal for a chase scene. I appreciate the photo you added - one can envision how it all might have played out.

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    3. What I love about this pic is it shows exactly where the Circus Busch sat, so how exciting to visit both locations today. If I'm ever in Berlin...

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  4. It is a shame no copies of the film can be found. With the film business "heating up" at this time, I wonder what other interesting events this German company filmed.... It was only 4 more years before Houdini presented The Water Torture Cell for the very first time as a public performance. He did so at this same Circus Busch in 1912. It kind of makes me wonder if anybody ever set up and filmed a Houdini performance, in whole or in part. What a find that would be! I know we have his movies but I for one would like to see his show. We have heard Houdini practicing, from a wax cylinder copy, the introduction to the USD. Something that spectacular that he did for so long would seem to beg for the performance to be filmed. I know I would have! Thanks for sharing, John.

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    Replies
    1. There's a gentleman on Kevin Connolly's excellent "Conjuring History" Facebook group who says he has a large collection of German film from this time and might have this! He's checking.

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