Monday, April 5, 2021

Houdini's return to form

Even though Houdini had announced his retirement from vaudeville to make movies, in December 1921 he went back on the vaudeville circuit for a 10-week tour commencing Christmas week at B.F. Keith's in Boston. To publicize his return, Houdini did a suspended straitjacket escape from the Boston Post building on December 22. The temperature that day was a bone chilling 14 degrees with what was described as a "stinging Northwest gale." The escape benefited the "Santa Claus Fund" and marked Houdini's first such outdoor stunt since 1917.

Over the weekend I discovered a treasure trove of photos from this escape in the Boston Post. These beautifully capture Houdini's 1921 return to form.

Oh, and there's also film! 

While this footage from George Eastman House is not dated, it is identified as being Boston and you can see it's clearly cold outside. You can also see a Christmas wreath in a window and Houdini is using the gigantic megaphone as seen in the above photos. So I'm certain this is December 22, 1921.

If you are wondering what Houdini is yelling to the crowd through that megaphone, the Post quotes him as saying:

"I risk my life for Santa Claus' fund, that Boston's poor children may find no stockings empty Christmas morning. Now you risk your dollars! Give to the fund which will help thousands of children to keep their faith in Santa!"

The Boston Post building stood at 259 Washington Street between Water and Devonshire. Here's the site of Houdini's escape today.

Below are some more notable Houdini suspended straitjackets escapes.



  1. I really like the photograph of Houdini sitting while wearing the strait jacket...
    Apparently, it is strictly a "publicity photographic pose" - as both the applied ropes and the arm "muff" were not utilized in this Boston escape...nor in any other USD jacket escape performed by him (?).

    The fireman's safety net is certainly a surprise...I can't imagine Houdini asking for it to be utilized.

    1. That is a great shot. It first surfaced last year HERE. But this is full image.

      He actually did use a net on occasion. At least I know he did on Los Angeles and Salt Lake City in 1915. I think it was all part of the spectacle. Exciting to see firemen mobilize. He was also very clever in suggesting danger by emphasizing safety precautions. It's the version of the fire axe.

  2. It is also possible the city/police/fire departments wanted/welcomed the net to at least avoid the appearance of liability. Even then, city officials may not want a headline, "Houdini falls to death during stunt with Boston hospital/police staff."

  3. On another note, the conformity of dress in the crowd is striking...yes, it is in the downtown Boston business district in the 1920's, but everyone is wearing the SAME hats, ties, coats...they almost look like they are part of a Busby Berkeley musical. What a contrast to what you would see today downtown.

    1. Look at the size of that megaphone. It's bigger than him.

    2. Haha. That thing is great. Megaphones came in all kinds of sizes, didn't they? Ever see the little cup sized ones crooners like Rudy Vallee would use? I'd love to see a megaphone collection.

    3. Somebody out there has a megaphone collection. The electronic bullhorn didn't arrive until the 1960s.

  4. HH embarked on this tour cuz, as Silverman noted, he needed the $25,000.