Recently reader Brittany Hart reached out to see if I has any information on a stunt Houdini is said to have performed in her hometown of New Britain, Connecticut. While she could find no information in the local newspaper archives, she points out there's a plaque on the historic Andrews Building commemorating the feat. She was kind enough to send over this image.
It certainly sounds like what Houdini did here was a suspended straitjacket escape. However, I can find no record of an outdoor stunt in New Britain. In fact, the only appearance I have for Houdini in New Britain is a two day stint with the American Gaiety Girls in early March 1896. This was long before Houdini was famous and well before his suspended straitjacket days (not to mention before the Andrews was built). But he did do a handcuff escape at the local New Britain police station.
Houdini performed in nearby Hartford in 1906 and 1926. He also gave charity performances in Westport in 1917 and Southport in 1924. But it doesn't make much sense for him to promote these appearance in New Britain.
However, I did discover that Houdini's The Master Mystery played at the Lyceum Theater in New Britain in December of 1918. This was among the first theaters to show the serial and this was during a time Houdini was on the road making personal appearances. Is it possible he promoted the movie with a suspended straitjacket escape from New Britain's famous 5-story landmark?
|Hartford Courant, Dec. 22, 1918|
I'm afraid this one has me stumped, so I'm throwing it out there. Can anyone help crack the case of Houdini and the New Britain mystery stunt?
UPDATE: Thanks to our friends Jim Klodzen and Joe Fox, it appears the mystery may be solved, and it's not good news for New Britain nor the Andrews Building.
In February, Luther appeared at the Lyceum Theater in New Britain, which had just played The Master Mystery. On February 23, 1919, he performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the New Britain National Bank Building at 272 Main Street. This is not the same as the Andrews Building which stands at 132 Main Street. But they are on the same block with the Lyceum between them, and as Luther seemed to be doing all he could to be confused with Houdini, it not hard to believe that over time Luther became Houdini in the minds of the citizens of New Britain. At least I think this is the best explanation that we have so far.
Thanks to Brittany Hart for bringing this to our attention in the first place!