Our friend Joe Fox, Assistant Librarian at the Magic Castle, recently made an intriguing discovery in the January 25, 1911 issue of The Magical World, a British weekly publication. In a column by editor Max Sterling is following item:
Harry Houdini, of handcuff and other fame, who has been appearing at the Nottingham Empire with huge success, has been confiding with a correspondent of the "Encore" that he "has another big surprise to spring up on the public." He avers that his tank act will be a "pup" to his new show, and I believe him. Clad in a diving suit––the helmet will contain an air enough to last him 10 minutes––he proposes with the aid of a glass box, to allow himself to be frozen solid. The freezing plant will be on the stage in full view of the audience. The squares of glass, brass fitted and jointed, constitute the box, and when the wily one is thoroughly frozen, the entire outfit is placed in his cabinet, and he does the rest by releasing himself, yet leaving the ice intact. How it is going to be done Houdini himself only knows, but he has tried it and accomplished the seeming impossible, I presume there will be no "frost" as far as he is concerned. The above show he proposes springing upon London in five or six weeks' time.
I always believed Frozen in Ice was a concept Houdini was working on near the end of his career. But here it is in 1911! While Houdini never did "spring" this upon London (as far as I know), this is still an exciting find as it offers the first and most detailed description of any frozen in ice escape that I'm aware of.
The use of a diving suit is entirely new. I also can't help but wonder if the glass box, "brass fitted and jointed", is the Water Torture Cell. The debut of the USD was still a year away (the "tank act" referred to here is the Milk Can), but the cell was likely in construction at this time. Could Houdini have been considering a very different use for the cell? Or could this all be a ruse to conceal the actual escape Houdini had in mind?
Houdini's Escapes by Walter Gibson contains a chapter on a "Frozen in a Block if Ice" escape. But that is a very different concept and Gibson offers no history behind it. The version that finally did make it to the stage was performed by Bess in 1927 but, again, a very different concept.
|Gibson illustration (left) and Bess version (right).|
Thank you Joe!
UPDATE: Joe Notaro of Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has found another description in the January 15, 1911 "The Umpire" that provides a few more performance details:
The performer, having dressed for the part, will take his place in the water in a glass tank, the sides of which fit into brass sides, and the freezing process will be effected in sight of the audience by means of a special plant installed on the stage. When the refrigerator has got in its fine work, the glass slides will be removed, and the block of ice, with Houdini inside, will be placed under the canopy. A few seconds later the performer will reveal himself in kind friends in front, and the iceberg will be shown intact.
Fred Pittella of Houdini and Escapes Museum sends over a detailed look at how Bess's 1927 freezing effect operated. This sounds very similar to the "plant" as described in the 1911 clippings. I'm wondering if it was the same apparatuses?
|Science and Invention, September, 1928.|
Thanks Joe and Fred!