Monday, May 31, 2021

Houdini planned to resume the Water Torture Cell in Detroit

Here is a remarkable letter from the collection of Wayne Wissner dated October 19, 1926. Houdini is writing from Montreal to George Atkinson, manager of the Garrick Theater in Detroit, with suggestions on how to heat the water for his Water Torture Cell.

Houdini explains in detail how he's heated the water in the past, which is interesting in itself. (The backstage Bunsen burners sound fantastically dangerous considering the number of theatre fires during this era.) But what I find most exciting is this letter pretty much confirms that Houdini planned to resume doing the Water Torture Cell in Detroit. This would be a mere two weeks after breaking his ankle while doing the escape in Albany.

Houdini's Detroit engagement was to be two weeks, so possibly he planned to resume it during his second week, giving the ankle a little more time to mend. Of course, fate intervened.

Click to enlarge.

Wayne has been sharing his letters on Kevin Connolly's CONJURING HISTORY Facebook Group. He previously published them in a collection called The Houdini Correspondence File.


  1. I think it was uncertain and would have depended on the condition of his left ankle. I'm wondering why the rush to do the USD so soon? He could done the Packing Case escape, or the Milk Can until he mended. Wayne has dropped a bonanza of HH letters on that FB page. I hope he doesn't stop.

  2. I understand the need to heat it, but I'm curious about his insistence that the water be boiling. Was it to make sure that it wouldn't cool too much by the time the tank was filled? To sterilize it?

    1. So it wouldn't cool too much is my guess.Pouring it into the tank must have taken time.

    2. According to Houdini Scene and Prop List for the USD, the cell held 250 gallons of water. 150 of that would be normal water from a stage hose. Then 100 gallons of boiling water added to warm it.

  3. Fascinating letter - thanks, all, for sharing. I can't help but wonder how many Bunsen burners it would take to heat 100 gallons of water to boiling temperature, and for how long. Must've been a tedious and slow process (and as you say, John, very dangerous). As for doing the escape so soon after Albany, that too seems very dangerous, though I suppose it would depend on the exact nature of the break.