No locks, no chains, no manacles could hold Harry Houdini, the greatest escape
artist of all time. Born as Erich Weiss in 1874, this boy from Wisconsin in the
United States of America, did not take long to make the headlines. His handcuff
act became so famous that he was invited to escape from Scotland Yard, the
Headquarters of the police department in London which houses the most famous
police force in the world. With his arms around a pillar in the building, he was
handcuffed by Melville, the Superintendent. Before Melville could leave the
room, Houdini had freed himself and managed to catch up with him.
could open any lock in the world in a few minutes. Once, on a tour through
Europe, famous locksmiths around the continent presented him with strong locks
which they considered foolproof. Houdini opened the locks so astonishingly fast
that the master mechanics hardly knew what was happening. During the tour, he
escaped from jails in the cities of Liverpool, Amsterdam, Moscow and Hague. He
duplicated his feats, performed during the tour, in almost every large city in
the United States. The plain fact was Houdini could enter or leave virtually any
room, building or cell at will.
His various escape acts fascinated millions all over the world and many began
to believe he possessed supernatural powers.
His denial fell on deaf ears as many could not accept that a human could be
gifted to pull them off. They were convinced of some mysterious force behind
these stunts. It was not until after his death that his notebooks revealed the
secrets behind his acts. Since his early youth, he practiced body control such
that his body became very flexible. His fingers had the strength of pliers; and
his teeth were so strong that they could be used like a can opener. His strength
was so great that he could bend iron bars. He was one of the greatest athletes
that ever lived.
One of his favorite stunts was to have himself bound by the police in a
straitjacket which was normally used on violent criminals so that their hands
are tightly bound to their body. Ropes and gadgets made of iron were also used
before he was left hanging upside down. Then, in full sight of an astounded
audience, the incredible man would wriggle free.
Houdini was not just a great magician as the airplane stunt would reveal
later. At that time, the airplane was a new invention.
It was still subjected to more tests. However, Houdini jumped from
one plane to another while handcuffed. The event took place 3000 feet above
ground. On 26 August, 1908, with a 34-kg iron ball and chain attached to his
body, Houdini, with hands tied behind his back, jumped into the waters of San
Francisco Bay. He soon emerged out of the water, unharmed. A similar stunt was
performed later, but this truly baffled all
the spectators who had witnessed it. He threw himself into the East River in New
York City after being handcuffed inside a box which had ninety kilograms of iron
attacked to it. It took him just two minutes to appear out of the water.
On 5 August, 1926, Houdini proved the ultimate
impossibility, as far as science is concerned. He allowed himself to
be sealed in a coffin which was then lowered into a swimming pool. Before a
number of doctors and newsmen, Houdini remained in the coffin under water for a
full hour and a half ! Immediately upon emerging, he was examined by the
physicians who all agreed that he suffered no
ill-effects. However, the great magician and athlete died soon after
in the same year.