Monday, January 27, 2020

Four photos from Houdini's Worcester YMCA test

Here's an exciting followup on yesterday's anniversary flashback post about Houdini's little known underwater test at the Worcester YMCA on September 28, 1926. Reader Jay Hunter has generously provided four remarkable photos of this stunt from his collection. Until now, we've only had is a single poor quality newspaper image of this stunt. Now, thanks to Jay, we finally see it all!

I'm especially excited by this first image that shows Houdini being examined by a doctor before the test. Not only is this a great photo from the stunt, but it instantly joins an elite group of pics that are the last ever taken of the magician. He looks fit, healthy, and fantastic in this shot. In fact, he looks better here than in many of the Shelton pool test pics. It's heartbreaking to think he's only a month away from death.

The other photos show the test in progress. Note Jim Collins poolside.

Here is an article from the Worcester Daily Telegram describing the YMCA test.

Houdini Defies Suffocation in Y Stunt

Sealed in a small casket, Houdini, wizard extraordinary, remained at the bottom of the Y.M.C.A. tank one hour, 11 minutes, Tuesday morning, proving to an audience composed largely of physicians in scientific men that the seemingly impossible feat could be done. While Yogis of India claim to be able to stay buried indefinitely and come up alive by means of spiritual power, the great American performer accomplished his stunt, he asserts, by simple natural means.

Houdini was placed in the iron casket, measuring about 6 feet and containing not more than 10 cubic feet of space. The lid was then soldered on and the casket submerged and held down by weights and sight men sitting on it. While thus imprisoned the master wizard communicated with the outside by means of the telephone and electric bell.

Houdini was examined before entering the casket by Drs. Samuel C. Gwynne, F.L. Maguire and Clarence Usher.

The secret of the stunt, Houdini claims, was in banishing fear and in taking shallow breaths. By remaining quiet he was able to control in a measure the consumption of air.

The original impetus for the Worcester test was so Houdini could answer critics who claimed his telephone system somehow provided him with air during the Shelton test. Papers reported that Houdini would do this test in new glass topped casket which would not require communication. However, we can see in these photos that the casket Houdini used is almost identical to the one he used at Shelton. A few hours after this test he received his new glass topped casket from the Boyertown Casket Co. of New York which he used for a third (non submerged) test at the Summerfield's Furniture store in Worcester on September 30.

With these three stunts we can see that Houdini was clearly moving in the direction of endurance tests being his primary "outdoor" publicity stunts. Very much the kind of thing that David Blaine performs today. It's another reason I find photos like these so exciting. We're catching a glimpse of Houdini's final career metamorphosis.

A monumental thanks to Jay Hunter for sharing these gems from his collection.



  1. HH wearing knee high socks? Thanks to Mr. Hunter and John for these great photos!

  2. Wow! Such great pictures! Thank you John and Jay for sharing!

  3. These photos are marvelous (thanks Jay and John) as is your commentary, John. I love seeing Harry in those high socks (as Leo noted)- I'm assuming this was to keep his feet and calves warm before going into the pool. Dancers do the same kinds of things to keep muscles warm before classes and performances; it makes perfect sense that Harry would "warm up" in the same way. So in that sense, I see the top pic as also a rare glimpse into Houdini's preparation for stunts.

  4. Interesting point about the socks, Tom. That sounds feasible. This was new as far as I know. No socks in the Shelton pics. Maybe he learned from that.

  5. Those may be compression socks. Those socks are designed to increase circulation and blood flow in your legs. A lot of older people use them to reduce swelling and prevent blood from pooling in the legs and feet. Just an idea.

  6. How did I miss this?! He DOES look good in this photo compared to all the others (before AND after). And those socks are one of those odd little things you don't see often that make the photo even better!

    1. Lisa--you owe it to yourself to visit WAH on a daily basis. You never know what John will post. That's the fun!

      HH was in the middle of his 3 in 1 show tour and had clearly dyed his hair. It makes him look younger in the photo.

    2. I try my best to come here daily and enjoy every second of it for sure!

      It's a shame he felt he had to dye his hair cos he looked more intense with the gray, natural look. Haha, that would've been a nice effect for an underwater performance. Dive into a lake with dark hair, stay down there for a few minutes, pop back up with gray hair and everyone says "Wow! He was under there so long his hair went gray!" Hehe!