Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A close call in the Water Torture Cell

Houdini breaking his ankle in the Water Torture Cell in 1926 is his only known accident while performing the famous escape. But Houdini did the escape for 14 years, so we can assume there must have been other mishaps or close calls. Now I've found one!

The below occurred while Houdini was performing at the Palace Theatre in New York in December 1916 (reported in 1917).

The New York Clipper, Jan. 3, 1917.

While this doesn't raise to the level of a true accident, it does shows the dangers of doing any water escape. And unlike modern Water Torture Cells--which are quickly locked by padlocks--Houdini's cell required his upward folding hasps to be perfectly slotted into the locks which then required a full turn of a key. So I can see how this happened. Good thing Houdini could hold his breath for over three minutes!

Below are links to a few other close calls.

UPDATE: Jim Criswell reminds me of this quote from an interview with Dorothy Young:

"And, then the very, very exciting thing was Water Torture Cell. [...] I stood with Mrs. H. often, and she said only once in their life, did he have to give the signal to be taken out."



  1. Fascinating find John. I wonder what caused the other incident Dorothy Young spoke of?


  2. Last weekend, I watched a real-time milk can escape on Youtube from start to finish without cuts, and as the minutes dragged on, it was, indeed, daunting and uncomfortable to watch, so I can imagine how nail-biting WTC must've been to witness on stage. I also recall hearing a WTC escape artist describe the physical ordeal of the pressure of the water as well as occasional broken blood vessels in the eye, which I would think Harry also experienced.