Friday, August 11, 2023

Heroics and hijinks in Atlantic City

I admit I always cringe when I hear someone call Houdini "the first superhero." It just feels too much like a pander to Hollywood's current obsession with superhero movies, etc. But, gosh darn-it, there are times when it appears people really did think of Houdini as a superhero! This is a case in point.

The below comes from when Houdini was playing Keith's Garden Pier Theater in Atlantic City during the week of July 26, 1915. For context, the U.S. had not yet entered the war in Europe, but there was plenty of news about German U-boats lurking in the Atlantic. So in this environment of war nerves, I'll let these two stories speak for themselves.

Atlantic City Review, July 27, 1915.

You gotta love that the frightened vacationers thought Houdini might be the only man who could get the bottom of this. And as it turns out, that's exactly what happened! Check out the follow-up story below. (Sorry this one's a little hard to read.)

Atlantic City Daily Press, July 30, 1915.

So was Houdini a dupe or part of this publicity stunt? It's hard to tell from the story. But we can imagine what would have happened had this turned out to be a real German sub!

Houdini clocked a lot of stunt time on the Garden Pier. He did an overboard box escape during this same engagement in 1915 (post on that coming soon); a suspended straitjacket escape from the pier tower in 1916; and a manacled leap in 1917. No wonder he was seen as [*cringe*] a superhero.


  1. Wow. Very fascinating story. I'd never heared about that. Thanks John.
    Whitt Smith.

    1. Yeah, this one was all new to me too, Whitt. Glad you enjoyed!

  2. Thanks for an amazing post, John! It's a revealing slice of history. Houdini's German ancestry is made public in this newspaper article. I wonder if Harry cringed about that after the U.S. entered the war. The bloke who made the pay phone? call to the lighthouse is interesting. We're there pay phones in 1915, and did it really cost a nickel? HH was a kind of Indiana Jones for that time. Remember he was imprisoned by the pharaohs.

  3. At one point, phone booths, with a door that opened/closed, were operated in establishments where you paid the clerk a nickel or ____ to use the phone in the booth. Later came the pay phones that you put your coins in so you didn't have to pay someone in person to use it.
    Yes, phone calls, (like a cup of coffee or a hamburger) did at one time cost a nickel. New Orleans was the last city where a pay phone's local call was still a nickel by the mid-1970s....most everywhere else was a dime by then, with Miami a quarter. Inflation by the late 1970s raised the prices on pay phones and everything else.