Harry Houdini is known throughout the world as the greatest escape artist of all time. Like many celebrities, his life was filled with personal struggle. While his performance earnings eventually provided a generous income for his family, Houdini never seemed to be satisfied with his accomplishments. Let us peruse the private life of the world renowned Houdini.
THE IMPOSING HARRY HOUDINI - FAMOUS ESCAPE ARTIST
As a child, Houdini lived in the shadow of his father, Rabbi Mayer Weiss, and his 4 brothers. The family had come to America so that Rabbi Weiss could lead the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation in Appleton, Wisconsin. Unfortunately Rabbi Weiss was too traditional and was asked to leave. As a result, the family moved around quite a bit before settling in New York City.
Although Harry Houdini had been born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary in 1874 and had immigrated to the US as a young child, he publicly proclaimed that he had been born in America to gain acceptance from Americans. When the family arrived in the United States, their name was changed from the Hungarian Weisz to the German Weiss. He legally became Harry Houdini in 1913.
THE FEARLESS ESCAPE ARTIST IN SHACKLES - THE MAGNIFIFENT HARRY HOUDINI
There were many jobs for performers in New York at the turn of the century. After his father’s death, Houdini helped to support his family doing contortionist and trapeze artist acts in the circus. Houdini performed magic tricks with his brother ‘Dash’ until he met Beatrice Rahner who was also a performer. Just a few short weeks after meeting Bess, the two were married. For many years they performed magic tricks together as The Houdinis. Their most memorable illusion was called Metamorphosis where they would change places in a trunk in a mere 3 seconds.
HARRY HOUDINI WITH HIS TWO FAVORITE LADIES - CECELIA WEISS AND BESS HOUDINI
The Houdinis spent many years working long hours and barely earned enough to survive. It was not until Houdini began his famous handcuff escapes that they began their rise to stardom. A Vaudeville talent scout saw Houdini’s act and sent him on tour in London and then Europe, where he gained international attention as The King of Handcuffs.
FROM THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION - FRAMED POSTER OF HARRY HOUDINI WITH ONE OF HIS VERY OWN ESCAPE KEYS
Seeking a change from the handcuff escapes, Houdini offered a prize to anyone who could produce any type of contraption that would evade his escape. The successful challenger would be awarded $1,000 which, in 1908 would have the same purchasing power as $50,000 today. While this challenge brought forth immense attention, it also resulted in countless injuries including broken bones, sprains, a ruptured kidney.
POSTER ADVERTISING HARRY HOUDINI ESCAPING FROM GALVANIZED MILK CAN
Most people would avoid the pain that Houdini endured. Revealing a clear taste for masochism, Houdini had a collection of grotesque photographs that included decapitated heads from an Asian massacre. Houdini once visited a burned schoolhouse to view the young victims’ remains. One of his tricks, the escape from a straitjacket, was inspired by a visit to an insane asylum. In-fact, many of the Great Houdin's escapes toyed with death.
HERE HE GOES AGAIN - WRAPPED IN CHAINS AND READY TO JUMP - THE GREAT HARRY HOUDINI
Since his childhood, Houdini was profound in his adoration for his mother. It seemed as if pleasing her was his highest priority. After succeeding in his numerous challenges, he would mention that his mother saw him perform the stunt. Houdini was performing in Germany when he learned of his mother’s death. The devastation of this loss left him paralyzed. He cancelled his tour and spent the next several weeks visiting his mother’s grave. He had her letters bound into a book to preserve them. It seemed that his own life had ended. Eventually he recovered and returned to the stage.
NOT AGAIN - YES, & READY TO BE SUBMERGED IN CHAINS HARRY HOUDINI
The level of fame that Harry Houdini achieved has been difficult to surpass. Having grown up as a minority in the streets of New York with no formal education he was able to make a life for himself and his wife. Although they were not able to have children, the Houdini legacy was well preserved by Bess Houdini, his wife, and Marie Blood his niece. There are many more layers of detail to be explored in the fascinating life of Harry Houdini.
The final struggle Harry Houdini faced began on October 22, 1926 when two university students came to visit him in his dressing room. They challenged the claim that he could withstand any blow to the abdomen. After allowing one of the young men to deliver four solid punches to his abdomen to prove his strength, Houdini was in constant pain for several days. He ignored his physician’s advice to undergo immediate surgery to remove his appendix. The show must go on! Houdini later collapsed with a high fever during a show. It was later determined that his appendix had burst, causing Harry Houdini's death on October 31, 1926.
HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX - A DAY OF RESEARCH AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Raleigh DeGeer Amyx is a world-renowned collector of fine artifacts. For more than 25 years he has dedicated his life to acquiring, trading and selling museum-quality items of historical significance. One of his most prized items is a key from the collection Harry Houdini used in his performances. The key itself is encased in a frame with a photograph of Harry Houdini in handcuffs and a poster boasting about his ability to escape anything. The frame also includes an inscription stipulating its authenticity. If you would be interested in engaging in a serious discussion about museum-quality historical artifacts, please contact Mr. Amyx through the form below.