146: Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini prepares for his submerged crate stunt in 1912. (Photo by Bain News Service via U.S. Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons)

Harry Houdini prepares for his submerged crate stunt in 1912. (Photo by Bain News Service via U.S. Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1926, escape artist Harry Houdini performed what might have been his greatest feat, surviving 90 minutes in a sealed coffin submerged in a swimming pool.

Here are a few things you may not have known about Houdini.

First, Houdini was born Erick Weisz on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. In 1878, his family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as a Rabbi. At nine-years-old, Houdini mad his performing debut as a trapeze artist. He began his magic career with card tricks, before eventually moving on to escape acts.

Second, by 1900 Houdini was a top vaudeville act and toured Europe, where he became known as the “Handcuff King” for his ability to escape the shackles. In 1908 Houdini changed his act from escaping handcuffs to escaping a locked and water-filled milk can. As part of the act, he asked the audience to hold their breath while he was locked in the can to build tension. Other escapes included the “Water Torture Cell,” the “Overboard Box” and the buried-alive coffin stunts.

Third, part of his reason for performing the buried-alive stunts were to disprove others who said they used supernatural powers to survive. Houdini made it his mission to debunk psychics, mediums and spiritualists. Harry Houdini died of peritonitis as a result of a ruptured appendix on Halloween 1926 in Detroit, Michigan.

Our question: What author broke off his friendship with Houdini because of a disagreement over whether spiritualism was real?

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