Friday, June 28, 2019

Houdini (Himself) in Nashville

The historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville has posted to their official website a list of 5 Surprising Events That Have Happened at Ryman Auditorium. One those surprising events was an appearance by Houdini (Himself).

The last word you might use to describe Harry Houdini, one of history’s best-known magicians, is “skeptic.” But sure enough, his Ryman appearance on March 11, 1924 featured not only illusions and escape tricks but also a campaign against spiritualism during which Houdini debunked phony mediums and Tennessee’s own Bell Witch legend. The show closed with Houdini’s “Milk Can Escape.” Newspapers originally advertised that Houdini would perform his infamous “Chinese Water Torture Cell” escape trick, in which he would’ve been submerged upside down, his feet locked in stocks. However, it was scrapped from the evening’s program, likely due to the weight of the tank. Surprisingly, the show didn’t sell well. It was reported that Houdini could have done “… almost everything with his black magic but warm up the big old auditorium, which was insufficiently heated.”

This was near the start of Houdini's 1924 spiritualism lecture tour when he still included magic and escapes. (How I'd love to see a photo of this older Houdini doing the Milk Can.) But notice how the Ryman ad doesn't mention a lecture. This kind of advertising led to audience confusion, as expressed in some early reviews. Although Houdini's bigger challenge this evening seems to have been the lack of heating.

Below is the Ryman Auditorium today, still going strong, and now heated!



  1. These 1924 magic, escapes, and anti fraud spiritualism lecture shows appear to be Harry's warm up for his 3 in 1 touring shows. The stage of the Ryman may not have been able to support the USD tank, but I'm betting HH wanted less headaches to transport, and the Milk Can was easier to lug around.

  2. I love the copy in some of these old ads (e.g., a 1924 ad saying "He laughs at handcuffs!") After reading this, I did a search for "Bell Witch legend" and it was said to inspire films like "The Blair Witch Project." I wonder if audiences appreciated or resented Houdini debunking local legends.