Buried Alive

Houdini was fascinated with the idea of doing a stunt in which he would escape being buried alive. But he had trouble developing the idea into a practical feat.

His first attempt was an elaborate stage escape that would see him strapped in a straitjacket, sealed in a casket, and buried under "tons of sand" inside a large locked vault. Houdini said he first performed the effect in 1908 in Berlin. While he created a colorful poster advertising the escape in 1914 (right), it's unclear if he ever performed it at this time.

In 1918, Houdini planned to bring a new version of Buried Alive to the New York Hippodrome revue show Everything. But an injury he sustained while making a movie that year prevented him from performing it.

In 1919, Houdini submitted to an outdoor test in California where he was manacled and buried in a "grave" six feet deep. As he struggled to free himself, he became exhausted and called for help. But he could not be heard. He struggled on, and when his hand finally broke the surface, he was pulled unconscious from the grave by his assistants. Houdini recorded in his notes: "I tried out 'Buried Alive' in Hollywood and nearly (?) did it. Very dangerous; the weight of the earth is killing."

In 1926, Houdini performed a buried alive endurance test to expose Rahman Bey, a mystic who claimed to use supernatural powers to remain in a sealed casket for an hour. Houdini bettered Bey by remaining in a casket submerged in the swimming pool of New York's Hotel Shelton for 91 minutes. He repeated the feat at the Worcester YMCA on September 28, 1926. He did a third test out of water at Summerfield's Furniture Co. in Worcester on September 30, 1926.

Riding the success and publicity generated by the Shelton test, Houdini decided to revive his stage-bound version of the Buried Alive ("Egyptian Fakirs Outdone!"). Many sources say Houdini never performed the stunt, but this is untrue. Houdini performed his Buried Alive at the Majestic Theater in Boston and Worcester in late September 1926.

It's likely the Buried Alive would have become a regular feature of Houdini's "3 Shows in One" during its 1926-27 Coast to Coast tour. But Houdini died in October of 1926. His body was reportedly buried in the casket he used for his Buried Alive escape.