From the Archives: Magician, Harry Houdini, Succumbs


Harry Houdini, the magician, died today.

The noted escape artist, whose adeptness at freeing himself from straitjackets, chains and cells mystified audiences in all parts of the world, died after a second surgical attempt had been made to save his life from the effects of peritonitis.

Houdini was operated on last Monday for appendicitis.

Although it was known the magician was ill when he arrived here eight days ago, the seriousness of his condition was not learned until he collapsed at the end of his opening performance.

Houdini was born in Hungary in 1874, the son of Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss. His theatrical name was early acquired through legal procedure.


As one of the outstanding personages of the American stage, his popularity lasted for a quarter-century. Beginning his stage career as a trapeze performer, he toured the world. It was during his journey through Asia that he became interested in mysticism and shifted his role to that of magician.

Houdini counted among his audiences the royalty of Europe and Asia. He wrote numerous treatises intended to expose spiritualism as a fraud. His book, “A Magician Among the Spirits,” created a furor among professional spiritualists by its assertions that the practice was “bunk.”

One of his public challenges of long standing that he could duplicate or expose any seemingly magic feat was accepted by Ramen Bey, Egyptian mystifier, in August. The Egyptian has created a sensation by remaining in a sealed coffin under water for nineteen minutes. “Short breaths and conservation of oxygen did it,” said Houdini, who entered the coffin and stayed there ninety minutes.



NEW YORK, Oct. 31. (AP)—Harry Houdini, the world-famous magician who died in Detroit today, was born in Budapest, Hungary, March 24, 1874, son of Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss.

Houdini came before the American public as an exposer of frauds perpetrated by so-called spirit mediums. He held that the phenomena produced by professed mediums of various kinds, hypnotics, mesmerists and fakirs all were spurious. He exposed hundreds of professional mediums and offered $10,000 to any medium who could produce phenomena which he could not reproduce by relying solely upon his muscular strength and agility, his physical endurance and his knowledge of mechanics. He never was called upon to pay the reward.



He kept an untiring attack on spiritualist. He wrote a book to expose “Margery,” the medium who won the award of the Scientific American, charging that the committee which made the award did not take proper precautions. He aided the police of New York City in putting a number of mediums out of business and gave a course at the Police Academy here on the discovery of frauds.

His first appearance as a public entertainer was at the age of 8, when he performed on the high trapeze with a circus troupe. Because of his mother’s objections he was brought back home and apprenticed to a locksmith. Almost at once he turned his attention to the business of opening locks without keys.

A handcuffed prisoner brought into Appleton by a Sheriff who had lost the keys to the handcuffs was the occasion for the discovery of the trick opening of handcuffs which Houdini said was known only to him, his wife and the prisoner.


After an unsuccessful attempt to appear in vaudeville, Houdini, scraped together enough money to to to Europe, where he made his reputation. When he returned he was able to command fifty times the price he first asked for his act. Besides performing various so-called magical tricks, Houdini was adept in releasing himself from almost any kind of confinement that could be devised.


He freed himself after being manacled and shut up in a box. He escaped from straitjackets. He freed himself while hung from a derrick in manacles and a straitjacket. He suffered himself to be confined in a coffin under water. Although he challenged any man to perform these feats of escape, no man ever duplicated one of them.

Houdini’s library here is said to be the most complete library on magic in the world. He was the author of a number of books on magic and nine times was elected president of the Society of American Magicians.

Houdini leaves his widow, who was Beatrice Rahner of Brooklyn. They were married in 1894.