5 Surprising Facts You Didn't Know About Houdini

On March 24, 1874, Erich Weiss, better known as Harry Houdini, was born in Hungary. He went on to become one of the greatest illusionist and showmen of all time. Here are five things you didn't know about Houdini...

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Houdini Copyrighted His Most Famous Trick Houdini’s terrifying trick, the Chinese water torture cell, caused him to be lowered into a tank filled with water upside down with his feet locked, so he might have drowned before escaping. Houdini had the trick copyrighted when he included it in his play “Houdini Upside Down!” That way, no other magician could perform it. The first time Houdini performed the escape, he played to an audience of only one person, but he continued to perform it until his death in 1926.

Houdini Séances Are Held Every Halloween Houdini vowed to his wife Bess that he would try to contact her from beyond the grave. Houdini died on October 31, 1926, and every year on Halloween, his widow, Bess, conducted a séance, hoping to receive a pre-arranged coded message from Houdini. Bess spent a decade trying to contact her husband before giving up, supposedly saying, “ten years is long enough to wait for any man.” Others continued the search, however, and since the 1930s, fans have held Houdini séances every Halloween to attempt to communicate with the magician’s ghost.

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He Was An Aviation Pioneer Houdini developed a passion for aviation in 1909, and bought a French-made biplane and learned to fly. He crashed during his first flight, but he stuck with it, and during a tour of Australia in March of 1910, he became the first person to successfully pilot a plane in Australia, making three successful flights near Melbourne, each only a couple of minutes long. He apparently had plans to make a transatlantic flight in 1920, years before Lindbergh. However, the flight never happened.

He Named Himself After Another Magician Houdini was born Erik Weisz, but his name was altered to Ehrich Weiss after his family emigrated from Hungary to Wisconsin when he was 4 years old. Young Ehrich—nicknamed “Ehrie” or “Harry”—had a fascination with magic, particularly the work of the famed French conjurer Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. When he began his own magic career in the 1890s, he paid homage to his hero by adding an “i” to the name “Houdin” to create the stage moniker “Harry Houdini.” 

The Cause Of His Death Is Still Debated Houdini died on Halloween 1926 at the age of 52, just days after struggling through a final performance in Detroit. The official cause of his death was peritonitis brought on by a ruptured appendix, but several legends continue to swirl around his last days. Once incident occurred after a performance in Montreal when Houdini was approached in his dressing room  by a university student who inquired about a rumor that he could withstand heavy punches to his abdominal muscles. When Houdini boasted about his physical strength, the young man walloped him in the stomach without warning, leaving him doubled over in pain. Houdini complained of stomach pains for the rest of the day, leading many to conclude that the unexpected punch somehow triggered his appendicitis. Others, meanwhile, allege that the magician was poisoned by Spiritualists, who had previously issued several death threats against him weeks earlier.