Harry Houdini biography


Harry Houdini biography
Harry Houdini
Imagine if a man was tied and locked in a packing case that was bound with steel tape and dropped into the harbour off the Battery in New York City. What does one suppose would happen to such a man? Surely, he would meet his end. But this is exactly what did not happen to Harry Houdini the famous magician of the late nineteen and early twentieth century. He emerged free on the water surface within sixty seconds. Houdini was the man no lock could hold.

Houdini was born in 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. He wasthe fifth of the eight children of a poor Rabbi. His Jewish name was Ehrich Weiss. His family migrated to the United States when Houdini was still an infant. They settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. To contribute to his family Houdini worked as a newspaper boy and as a shoeshine boy. Houdini’s fascination with locks started early. It was in a luggage shop that he worked in that Houdini discovered this. When he was 16 years old on reading the autobiography of the famous French magician JEAN Eugene Robert-Houdin, Ehrich decided to be a magician. Modifying the surname of the great man Erich Weiss came professionally to be called Houdini. He started his career in 1882 as a trapeze performer. This led him to later achieve astounding feats in the world of magic. He could extricate himself from any kind of shackles that anyone chose to impose on him. Handcuffs, ropes, locked trunks of any sort were no hindrance to him. When still a boy of 17, Houdini took to performing his art in front of any audience he could get. He did this on a part time basis. For during the day he worked as an apprentice cutter in a tie factory, only the evenings afforded him time to perform. Whenever someone would hire him for an evening or a week end show Houdini would put up a spectacular show. A quick switch trunk escape was one of his favorite performances.
Surprisingly, in the early years New York still had not acknowledged this great man's art. Disillusioned with the lack of response he set out to London to make a mark. But on reaching the famous Alabama Theater in London Houdini was unable to impress the manager with his portfolio of tricks. The manager mocking the young magician asked him to go down to Scotland Yard and "if", he said, “you can get out of their handcuffs | might give you a try." It was the famous Scotland Yard that really was responsible of putting Houdini on the road to success. At “The Yard”, Houdini persuaded a young superintendent lo handcuff him. Houdini was likewise handcuffed to a pillar. The superintendent then in a jocular fashion said that he would come to free him only after lunch. To the astonishment of the policeman Houdini replied “Wait a second. I'll go with you!"Saying this he handed the handcuff to the stupefied policeman. Houdini became an instant rage. All of England acknowledged his talent. He was the man whom no locks, no fetter, no restraint could hold. By 1905 he was a celebrity in Europe and America.
Houdini was a short man of about 1.65 meters in height. Not a great conversationalist, on meeting him one would hardly think that he would be able to capture for hours the attention of a mesmerized audience. His incorrect diction and far from perfect use of the language made him the most unlikely candidate for a performing art. But only on adorning the magician’s mantle did he turn into the most spectacular snowman the world had ever seen. On stage he underwent a complete metamorphosis. Robust and confident, his speech became every orator's envy and sitting in front was the most enchanted audience.
Houdini’s mastery of craft was outstanding. But throughout his life he maintained that magic was nothing but a set of tricks that could be scientifically proven. On psychological principles of misdirection, suggestion, imitation and concealment the magician's victory is based. Sleight of hand that is deception of manual dexterity is one of the methods that magicians use to outwit the audience Mechanical methods involving the use of camouflaged apparatus that the audience sees but does not comprehend and of apparatus that is not seen are some of the jugglery secrets that the magicians use to perfection. Houdini practiced this art with utter seriousness. He improved many folds on the art of his Egyptian ancestor Dedi who is recorded to be the first magician in the history of mankind. He flourished in 2700BC.
Between 1895 and 1926 Houdini was a phenomenon. An escape artist, a magician, inventor, film star, aviator, showman and an author of more than 40 books, Houdini’s was a sensational story. In Moscow on one occasion he challenged Moscow’s secret police chief that he could free himself from The Caret-a two meter square, steel-sheathed cube that was used to transport dangerous criminals to Siberia. It had only two openings-a tiny 20 centimeter barred window and a steel door. This door once locked could only be opened by a second key kept by the Prison governor in Siberia, 3000 kilometers away. Houdini was stripped naked and checked thoroughly for any concealed tools or pins of any kind. He was then chained and handcuffed. The great steel door was vaulted and The Caret was moved against the wall of the prison so that the door of the vault was against the prison wall. The Moscow Police left no stone unturned to ensure a fool proof vault that could now only be opened in Siberia. With Houdini locked inside they were satisfied only to be completely thrown off balance when they saw a sweaty Houdini emerging from behind the Cell. The seal of the door was still intact. The Chains thatheld Houdini were also locked. But Houdini was free! How hemanaged to do this still remains a mystery.
       During his lifetime Houdini was a subject of much debate and speculation. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Homes accused him of having supernatural powers. A German reporter once wrote of him that Houdini had the ability to dematerialize his body and pass it through the walls. At the Washington federal penitentiary Houdini escaped from a maximum security cell and also moved 18 other prisoners into different cells in 27 minutes. As always Houdini claimed that all could be explained scientifically. In an interesting instance he once set out to demolition a yogi’s claim to supernatural powers that enabled him to be buried alive. After a lot of practice to stay without food Houdini climbed into a coffin, with hands on his breast and allowed himself to be sealed inside with thelimited amount of oxygen. After an hour and a half on his release he told the reporters that this too was just a trick. By training himself not to eat or drink 24 hours beforehand and by remaining still he trains himself to use less of oxygen, so he can survive. This was the excruciating length into which that Houdini could go to train himself. Behind the story of his success is the secret of a lot of hardwork.
The last years of Houdini’s life were devoted to relentless campaign against fraudulent mediums. His thorough knowledge of deceptive techniques enabled him to expose them. Houdini challenged Margery the Boston queen of mediums. Her act guaranteed a direct Contact with the world of beyond. The Scientific American was ready to pay her 2500$ for a genuine contact with the other world. Houdini hearing this took up the challenge of exposing her. He was ready to pay 10000$ to anyone who could convincingly put him in touch with the world of spirits. He was sure that his art of necromancy could duplicate any trick that Margery could play. Cancelling his scheduled performance he traveled to Boston with the aim of breaking the Margery myth. His only condition was that he be allowed to sit next to Margery during the session. Before going for the session he desensitized his leg that was to be pressed against Margery’s leg during the' session, this would lead to exposure of her trick. As Houdini expected Margery at an opportune moment during the session made an almost imperceptible gesture to press a button with her the movement was at once caught by Houdini whose leg extremely tender due to his intelligent tying of a band below his knee. Houdini caught Margery red handed. He proclaimed Margery a fraud!
The last years of Houdini's life were spent in debunking the myth of the ‘Great Beyond’ perpetuated by mediums all over the world. At the age of 50 he was at the peak of his popularity. But ironically it was at this time that the premonition of death began haunting Houdini. He knew his time was up. Just before setting out on a tour to Montreal, Houdini rang up the famous magician John Dunningner requested him on a rainy night in October 1926 to help him cart some boxes to a storage place at the other end of the city. As they were driving away, Houdini asked Dunningner to turn back. Houdini then got out of the car in the rain and stood before the house in silence for a few seconds. Then getting back in the car he said, "I just wanted one last look, I’ll never see it alive again.”After an exhaustive tour at Montreal on the day of his last performing as Houdini was resting in his dressing room a group of young boys came to see him. They were very much intrigued by Houdini’s confident denouncing the working of any of any kind of spiritual medium. One of the boys was infuriated at Houdini’s rigid stance and without a warning punched Houdini in the stomach several times. The youth wanted to puncture the myth that Houdini was invincible and that the reality was that he could be hurt. Houdini was badly wounded and after a few days was admitted in the hospital for appendix and peritonitis. He died a few days later.
As in life, he remained a icon even after his death. Fake spiritualists taking advantage of his popularity began proclaiming that Houdini had contacted them and was sending messages to the world. It became a joke when the American wit Will Rogers said, "If Houdini keeps this message stuff up, and he’s going to put the Western Union (a telegraph company) out of business."
Today too, Houdini’s grave is visited by earnest magicians year after year in the hope that the mystery man whom no lock could hold would send them some formula to make that greatest escape from the very clutches of Death.

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