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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.

Houdini 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.

   
Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1. What was particularly amazing about Houdini's performance at Scotland Yard ?
  2. Why were the European locksmiths astonished at the feat ?
  3. Explain what Houdini did in almost every large city in the United States.
  4. Why did many 'believe he possessed supernatural powers' (paragraph 3) ? Explain your answer clearly.
  5. How do you think Houdini was able to pen the locks and also escape from a jail cell ?
  6. How do you think Houdini was able to do the 'straitjacket' act considering the state of his body ?
  7. 'It was still subjected to more tests.' (paragraph 5) What does this sentence suggest about the airplane ?
  8. What do you think the airplane stunt revealed about Houdini's character trait according to paragraph 5 ?
  9. Why did the stunt in the East River 'baffle' (paragraph 5) the spectators ?
  10. Why was it the 'ultimate impossibility' for science when Houdini' suffered no ill-effects' (last paragraph) after the coffin stunt ?
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Answers
 

1.

Houdini had managed to get out of the handcuffs so fast that he could join the Superintendent before he had even left the room.
 

2.

Houdini had managed to free himself very fast from the locks that the locksmiths considered foolproof.
 

3.

He opened the locks made by mater mechanics and he escaped from jails in all these cities.
 

4.

They could not accept that a human being can be gifted to do all these feats/stunts easily without some mysterious force.
 

5.

He probably used his strong fingers as pliers to open the locks and his strength to bend the iron bars of the jail cell to escape from it.
  6. His body was so flexible that he was able to wriggle out of the straitjacket.
  7. It suggests that the airplane was still not safe enough to travel in.
  8. The stunt revealed that Houdini was a very fearless/brave/daring/bold man.
  9. He  emerged out of the water within two minutes.
  10. It was not possible for anyone to survive in a coffin under water without oxygen (air) for one and a half hours. / Any human would faint or suffocate if left in a coffin underwater for one and a half hours. / Any human being can easily die without air if he is left in a coffin underwater for one and a half hours.
 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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