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Harry Houdini

He was a Hungarian-born American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts.

The great escape(r)!

In October 1902, Harry Houdini, the famous escapologist made his first visit to Halifax. He took the town by storm as he performed a variety of escapes.

Houdini, born Erich Weiss, was born in Wisconsin in 1874. As a teenager, he spent his time entertaining in the circus, performing on the trapeze and doing conjuring tricks. As his fame began to spread, he changed his name to Harry Houdini.

Harry Houdini

An advert in the Halifax Guardian read as follows:

"People's Palace St. James Road important and very expensive engagement of Houdini - world famous gaol breaker and handcuff king".

Houdini played to a full house each night. He would be handcuffed, placed in a mailbag and fastened in a trunk. The trunk would then be locked and placed behind a curtain. Houdini showed himself before the audience realised he had escaped.

A local basket maker, T M Culpan challenged Houdini to escape from one of their wicker baskets. The challenge was accepted and Houdini freed himself within three minutes! The same week, Houdini was stripped, handcuffed and locked in a police cell but managed to escape in two minutes.

In October, Houdini was back at the Palace. This time Lewis Crossley, manager of T Gaines and Sons, issued Houdini with a challenge to escape from a box. The box had a separate lid, which was nailed down and then tied with ropes. The audience waited with bated breath for Houdini to perform his routine. After a nerve racking 22 minutes, he came out from behind the curtain.

Houdini returned to Halifax in November 1903. It was to be another nine years before local people were able to see him again. His act had changed and now involved releasing himself from shackles whilst under water.

On Monday 29th May 1911, Houdini was to attempt an escape from Whitegate canal lock at Siddal. This was considered the only suitable place with sufficient depth of water. Towards six in the evening, a large crowd gathered on the hillside. Also, the employees of Shaw lodge Mills gazed out of the windows to see Houdini. Once again the audience was astounded by Houdini's escape.

Houdini returned to the United States. Always willing to show his physical strength, in 1926 he allowed a student to punch him in the stomach. The injuries he received led to his death.

If you are a Calderdale library member or using a Calderdale library, find out about other historical figures. Visit: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Simply enter a person's name or a place in the search box. (Note that a search for Halifax is best expressed as Halifax, Yorkshire.) If the 'Library Card Login' box appears, simply enter the word calderdale, followed by your library card number.

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