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Harry Houdini Essay, Research Paper
What comes to mind when one thinks of Harry Houdini? There are many things one could say, magic, escapes, perseverance, hard work, determination, fame, etc. Houdini was a master magician as well as a superb escape artist. (Harry 1) Houdini was one of the most determined men in history. He was so obsessed with achieving his goal that no matter what got in his way he pushed it aside. Even if it were his parents he would ignore them. Many things got in his way but he was so focused that he ignored them. This is the story of the greatest Magician that ever lived.
On April 6th, 1874 Ehrich Weiss (Harry Houdini) was born to Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss and his wife Cecelia on March 24 in Budapest, Hungary. (Timeline 1874 1) After Erich was born, his father had many problems in Hungary and came to Wisconsin. The Weiss family joined Rabbi Weiss in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he led a small Reform congregation. At age nine, Ehrich and some neighborhood friends establish a five-cent circus. Wearing red
woolen stockings, he bills himself as “Ehrich, The Prince of the Air.” (Timeline 1874 1) Harry Houdini lived a very rough childhood. His father had failure after failure. Since Weiss couldn’t survive in Wisconsin, he brought Erich with him to New York City. In the city, they lived in a boardinghouse on East Seventy-ninth Street. Ehrich works a variety of jobs to help support the family.
In 1891, Ehrich teamed up with Jacob Hyman, a friend from his job at neckwear cutting firm. They form a magic act called “The Brothers Houdini.” (Timeline 1874 1) All his life Ehrich loved magic. One magician he especially admired was Robert-Eugene Houdin. Ehrich started calling himself “Harry Houdini.” The next year Eric experienced a grave tragedy. His father died on October 5, 1892 at the age of 63. (Timeline 1874 1) Ehrich was seventeen years old. He had experienced such a hard life that he just kept on going. Many people said that his childhood was the reason that he was so mentally strong and determined. Meanwhile “Harry” as he called himself now was performing on the Midway at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Later that same year, Jacob Hyman left The Brothers Houdini and was replaced by Harry’s brother Theodore, or Dash as he liked to be called. That
summer, Harry met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner. After three weeks of getting to know each other, they were married. Bess replaced Dash, and the act became known as “The Houdinis.” (Timeline 1874 1) The Houdinis achieved some success with their signature number, “The Metamorphosis,” in which they traded places in a locked trunk. Harry also began experimenting with public handcuff escapes, including exhibitions for police and reporters.
In 1898, Harry and Bess returned to New York to live with his mother. By the end of the year, Houdini was so frustrated that he considered leaving show business. Harry then mailed out a sixteen-page catalog for “Harry Houdini’s School of Magic.” (Timeline 1874 1) The next year was a big one for Harry. After struggling for six years, he finally caught his big break. A theater manager Martin Beck saw his handcuff act in St. Paul. He told him he could open Omaha March 26th for sixty dollars. Mr. Beck said he would watch to see if he wanted Harry permanently. Within a few months, Beck had Houdini in demand at top vaudeville houses across the country.
In 1900, Harry, know known as “The King of Handcuffs” set sail for England, hoping to meet with as much success in Europe as he had enjoyed in America. He spent the next five years overseas, becoming a truly
international star. In September, Houdini was stripped naked before three hundred German policemen in Berlin and escaped in six minutes. (Timeline 1899 1) After the police saw him, they gave him an Imperial certificate.
In 1904, Houdini performed his legendary “Mirror Cuff” escape at the London Hippodrome. It had taken a Birmingham blacksmith five years to build the cuffs, which featured an impossible-to-pick set of nesting Bramah locks. (Timeline 1899 1) The challenge was big news in the press for weeks. After an hour-long struggle, Houdini emerged free from the cuffs and was carried away in triumph by the adoring crowd.
The next year Houdini bought a seven-acre farm in Stamford, Connecticut and an elegant brownstone in fashionable Harlem. His mother, sister, and two brothers moved into the brownstone, which would serve as Houdini’s home base for years. In 1906, Houdini made a splash with his widely publicized escape from the Washington D.C. jail that once held Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President James A. Garfield. (Timeline 1899 1)
In 1907, the first of Houdini’s “manacled bridge jumps” was captured on film in Rochester, New York. After the jump, Houdini proudly wrote in his diary, “Ma saw me jump!” Afterwards, Houdini began performing his
celebrated milk can escape. As the master showman, he reminded the audience in his ads that “Failure Means a Drowning Death.” That same year Houdini published his controversial book, “The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin.” Two years later, Houdini made the first “real” flight on the continent of Australia, piloting his Voison on a sustained flight of three and a half minutes. (Timeline 1899 1)
In 1912, Houdini performed his underwater box escape in New York’s East River before a huge crowd. “Scientific American” magazine pronounced it “one of the most remarkable tricks ever performed.” In September, Houdini debuted his famous Chinese Water Torture Cell escape at the Circus Busch in Berlin. In 1913 Houdini legally changed his name from Ehrich Weiss to Harry Houdini. On July 17, Cecilia Weiss died. Houdini fainted upon receiving the news after a performance for the royal family in Sweden. (Timeline 1912 1)
Sailing back to America, Houdini amazed former President Theodore Roosevelt with a spiritualist trick on board ship. (Timeline 1912) In 1915, at a performance at the Los Angeles Orpheum, Houdini argued with celebrated world heavyweight boxing champ Jess Willard, who had refused his invitation to join the committee on stage. After Willard insulted him,
Houdini won the crowd with his comeback, “I will be Harry Houdini when you are not the heavyweight champion of the world.”
In 1917, Houdini lured master magician Harry Kellar out of retirement to perform in a benefit at the New York Hippodrome for the families of the men killed when a German U-boat sank the transport “Antilles.” In the longest run of his career Houdini stared in the patriotic extravaganza “Cheer Up” at the New York Hippodrome. The highlights of his act were the vanishing elephant trick and an indoor version of his underwater box escape. (Timeline 1912)
Houdini made his first movie “The Master Mystery.” Although he was a horrible actor, audiences were thrilled by his stunts and he became an even bigger international star. The next year, a dictionary released the word houdinize, which means to vanish or escape. (Timeline 1912) A while later, Houdini formed his own production company, the Houdini Picture Corporation. Houdini started writing “The Man from Beyond,” which would premiere in 1922.
In 1926, after a long time out of the spotlight, Houdini creates a play, which was shown on Broadway at the end of the year. The name of the play “Houdini” was the longest show he had ever done. On August 5th, Houdini
outdid the Egyptian fakir Rahman Bey by staying submerged in an airtight bronze coffin for one hour and thirty minutes. Houdini responded to charges that the coffin was rigged by saying, “there is no invention to it, there is no trick, there is no fake; you simply lie down in a coffin and breathe quietly.” (Timeline 1912 1)
Later that year, the legacy of Harry Houdini ended as he died in Detroit on Halloween, from complications of appendicitis. Several days earlier, a student had struck him in the stomach in his dressing room, even though he was hurt, he refused to cancel his shows until it was too late. His death triggered mourning and tributes around the world. Houdini’s funeral was held on November 4th at the Elks Clubhouse on West Forty-third Street in New York. As many as two thousand mourners packed the ballroom, and the event was widely covered. (Timeline 1912 1)
In conclusion, I feel that Harry Houdini was the greatest Magician that ever lived. He was so talented that he was able to do more than just magic. He amazed people for years and was probably 100 years ahead of his time. Harry Houdini will never be forgotten for his achievements.
Harry Houdini, Master Magician: A study of a master’s childhood and how it affected his adulthood. December 13,2000
Timeline of Harry Houdini’s Life, 1874-1898 December 15, 2000
Timeline of Harry Houdini’s Life, 1899-1910 . December 15, 2000
Timeline of Harry Houdini’s Life, 1912-1926 December 15, 2000
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