One of the most beloved entertainers ever to walk to the earth is none other than Harry Houdini, the great escapologist and illusionist. Famous for his escape tricks and magic stunts that featured his fast hands and sharp mind, the illusionist had a strong following and a magical—pun intended—career. To learn more about the legendary performer, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the great Harry Houdini:
Fact 1: The master escapologist and illusionist was born on March 24, 1874, in Budapest, Hungary. Named Erich Weisz, he was one of seven children born of Jewish ancestry; his father was a rabbi.
Fact 2: Before he rose to fame escaping from handcuffs, chains, chairs, and even jail cells, Houdini first had to escape poverty. At the age of 13, he and his father left for New York to seek employment. After a long string of odd jobs, this is where he sparked his interest in trapeze arts.
Fact 3: By 1894, he launched his career as a professional magician and took “Harry Houdini” as his name. The first name Harry is taken from his childhood name “Ehrie,” while the last name Houdini is homage to the legendary French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Aside from Houdini, other nicknames and stage names included “Prince of Air,” as well as “Eric the Great” and the “King of Cards.”
Fact 4: He fell in love with a fellow performer by the name of Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner. They wed, and she served alongside him as his assistant under the new name Beatrice “Bess” Houdini. It was an instant connection, because the two got married just two weeks after they met! They lovingly called each other “Mr. Houdini” and “Mrs. Houdini” and would write what seemed to be an endless string of love letters to one another. They had no children, but had a pretend child they fondly referred to as Mayer Samuel Houdini, named after Harry Houdini’s own father.
Fact 5: Even as a young boy, Harry Houdini’s love for the thrill and theatrics of magic was evident. His first-ever trick was when he was nine years old, and he’d pick up pins with his eyelashes while hanging upside down! And if you thought that was something out of this world, you’re in for another treat: another trick he did was called The Wild Man. For this trick, he would wear a loincloth and lock himself inside a cage while eating raw meat. The handsome fee for being able to watch the show? All you needed was 35 cents!
Fact 6: There is a book entitled The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. Written by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, the book claims that Harry Houdini had worked as a spy for the British and American governments for years. His fluency in English and German certainly proved to help him quite a bit. And oh, yes, there was the matter of his being a mastermind of sorts. It was said that he had spied on royalty and political leaders in Europe.
Fact 7: Harry Houdini was tight with the author of the beloved Sherlock Holmes novels, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! And although they were quite close, Houdini didn’t share the same beliefs as Doyle did. The novelist was a firm spiritual believer, whereas Houdini thought the business of séances and mediums and the like were fake.
Fact 8: He was so invested in his craft that he would often spend days in jail cells working on his stunts. He even had a huge bath tub fit into his home so he could practice holding his breath under the water! His record? Three minutes.
Fact 9: He passed away on Halloween. The great magician died from peritonitis on October 31, 1926. Although rumors have gone around saying Houdini had died from a punch to the gut by a Canadian student who wished to challenge the magician’s famed abdominal strength (Harry Houdini forgot to tighten his core at the last minute), it isn’t the cause of death, although he suffered a hell of a lot of pain from it.
Fact 10: He loved to fly, too. In fact, Harry Houdini was the third person to soar across Australia piloting his own Voisin biplane. Above all things, he thought his legacy would be his contribution to the passion and art of flying.