Top 10 Fascinating Facts About Houdini

by Thomas Humphries via

Reflecting on many aspects of Houdini’s life from beginning to end, this list will reveal that not only was he the greatest showman ever, but one of the most remarkable personalities the world has ever known too. “It is still an open question, however, as to what extent exposure really injures a performer.” -Harry Houdini.

10 – The Man with Many Names

Houdini was born Erik Weisz in 1874 in Budapest, Hungary, to Jewish parents. One of six children, the Weisz family moved to America in 1878. He changed his name to Ehrich and his friends called him Ehrie, which inspired his Americanized first name ‘Harry.’ He later changed his surname to Houdini because his partner, Jake Hyman, said it would mean ‘like Houdin’ in honour of the magician Robert-Houdin. His other stage names include, ‘Eric the Great,’ ‘The King of Cards,’ and ‘Eric, Prince of the Air.’

9 – Early Performances

Fascinated with magic from an early age, his first performance was at age 9; he picked up pins with his eyelashes whilst hanging upside down (he was paid thirty-five cents). He was also a trapeze artist and later devised an act called The Wild Man, locked in a cage wearing a loincloth and eating raw meat. Before gaining fame, he worked for free as a locksmith in order to gain a thorough knowledge of lock mechanisms. When he gained fame as an escapologist, one of his early stunts was to escape from the belly of a whale.

8 – Macabre Connections

Houdini was interested in anything to do with death; he bought the first electric chair, Edgar Allan Poe’s desk, and performed many of his stunts on Death Row. He also developed an interest in murderers, especially John Wilkes Booth. After the death of his beloved mother, Houdini gained an interest in spiritualism but later took it upon himself to expose all mediums as conmen (he attended séances in disguise, wearing a false beard and hat and revealed himself at key moments). Friend and creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was convinced Houdini could communicate with the dead without knowing it.

7 – Mrs. Houdini

Always referring to each other as ‘Mr. Houdini’ and ‘Mrs. Houdini,’ Houdini married Wilhelmina Beatrice ‘Bess’ Rahner only two weeks after meeting her. He wrote her hundreds of love letters during their thirty-year marriage, often when they were in the same room. She was always his onstage assistant. Whenever they argued, Houdini would leave the house and take a short walk. On his return, he would throw his hat into the room; if she threw it back out, she was still angry. She was distraught at his death and attended many séances, despite him exposing many mediums as frauds.

6 – Mayer Samuel Houdini

Houdini and Bess never had children and many speculated on the reason why. One speculation was that Houdini was x-rayed many times by his brother Leopold (New York’s first x-ray specialist) and the radiation made him sterile. To make up for this, he simply invented an imaginary child. He was called Mayer Samuel Houdini who was named after Houdini’s own father. Over the following years, Houdini wrote many letters to Bess on Mayer’s progress but they stopped after their ‘son’ became President of the United States.

5 – Pilot Extraordinaire

In 1909, six years after the Wright brothers proved human aviation possible, Houdini became extremely interested in airplanes. He once told a friend that the only reason he learned to drive was to get to the airport quicker. He learned to fly in Germany, the condition being that he taught German pilots once he was qualified. He regretted it afterwards, furious that he had taught the enemy pilots in War World I. He was the third person to fly across Australia (he claimed to be the first) and never flew again after that.

Keep Reading: Top 10 Fascinating Facts About Houdini.

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