I would expect very few people to know of Eric Weisz, or more precisely, Harry Houdini. The chances of coming across him are bleak because his life has been a jeopardy ever since his existence.
Harry Houdini was an Austro-Hungarian stunt performer and magician who died on a Halloween night. People actually believe in the fact that he will return as he had vowed to do so one day. I have never indulged myself in these types of unscrupulous conversations but nevertheless, one cannot deny the imprints that he has left in the early 20th century. He is frequently termed as an escapologist; his bizarre and out-of-the-world abilities led to an enduring reputation as that of being one of the most phenomenal magicians of all time.
Houdini was born as Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, on March 24, 1874. He later changed his name to ‘Houdini’ as a tribute to Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, the most famous magician of that era. Houdini was a petite man, merely 5’5″ with murky, curvy hair, shadowy gray eyes and a high-pitched accent. Like several people in his day, Houdini too was poorly educated. He was, however, exceedingly athletic and greatly enthused to succeed. His destiny took him to the United Stated where he elected to choose several jobs – he performed at circuses and made his debut as a nine-year-old trapeze artist.
In order to pursue his interests, he started trying out magic tricks as a young boy, inspired by Dr. Lyn (a travelling magician). He made this as an alternative to the factory work he was doing at the age of seventeen. Meanwhile, after several replacements of his partners to form ‘Houdini Brothers’ he ended with Bess Rahner, the woman who became his partner both in his acts and in his life.
His career was not as fruitful initially as one would have expected. The initial five years, he tried every sort of magic, from card manipulations to chimera and run-of-the-mill box escapes. In 1896, ready to give up, he actually ran a newspaper ad presenting to sell all of his magic and secrets for $20. There were no takers. But this determined man also had something else in mind. By 1898, Houdini came up with the Challenge Act – the act that would make him a prodigy. In this act, as the ‘Handcuff King’, Houdini would flee from any pair of handcuffs produced by the audience. These kind of tricks were received well by the audience.
Houdini transcended his Challenge Act into being able to escape from any suggested location as well. He escaped from jail cells, handcuffed bridge jumps, padlocked crates thrown into rivers and he even came out of a gigantic paper bag without making a single tear in it. Until the success of the Challenge Act, Houdini had even resorted to posing as a ‘spirit medium’, gathering information from graveyards and town clerks before shows to make his ‘messages’ more convincing.
After this, came the turning point of his life, where the spectacular escapes he made turned him into a legend. After the death of Houdini’s mother, his focus shifted on the thriving business of ‘spirit medium ship’, or ‘contacting of the dead’. Houdini spent the last thriteen years of his life in a vastly publicized battle with various spiritualists. Using his facts of illusion, Houdini was able to replicate ethereal spectres, noises and mystifying levitations. His exposures were massively admired by his audiences.
In 1926 Houdini died as an outcome of a ruptured appendix, after tormenting a blow to the abdomen. He declined to seek medical help and continued to travel, eventually succumbing to peritonitis on October 24, 1926 at the age of fifty-two.
The word ‘Houdini’ still contains the meaning of magic. It is only his remarkable showmanship and his distinctive style that people remember him even today. His houses are also supposed to be haunted but then, the spirit of his magic needs to be felt somewhere, right?