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!