President Garfield at the D.C. Jail. He was no stranger to pulling out all the stops when he came to the Nation's Capital.
In fact, also in 1906 Houdini accepted a challenge to escape from a man sized Paper Bag. He also took on the challenge to escape from a zinc lined Knabe piano case. If that wasn't enough both Saks & Company (they would later become Saks Fifth Avenue Dept Store) and S. Kann Sons & Company (The first D.C. area Department store) challenged Houdini to get out of a packing crates that they built. These challenges took place at the Chase Theatre which was previously known as The Grand Opera House and was located at 1424 Pennsylvania Ave NW, directly across the street from the Willard Hotel.
The First Outdoor Straight Jacket Escape in D.C.
|The Munsey Building in Wash D.C.|
When I first read about this escape I searched and searched for the Munsey building and came up with nothing. And then one day I found it, and I was rather surprised at where it was. The Munsey building was directly next door to the National Theatre on Pennsylvania Ave. The day before his straight jacket stunt he gave an interview to the Washington Times. It's an interesting interview because he says that he's been escaping for 'thirty years' and so far has never been stuck. But eventually someone will come along and trap him so he's about ready to hang it up. He also mentions he'll continue to perform but presenting things that are not quite as spectacular. Well first, thirty years from the date of the newspaper would have made Houdini 12 years old, so I'm not sure that's quite accurate. Secondly, this is 1916, and six years from when this article came out, he does another upside down straight jacket escape promoting his appearance at Keith's Vaudeville Theatre that I mentioned above. The problem was, Houdini wasn't Houdini unless he was doing spectacular things.
Houdini and Politicians
Were there more? You bet there were. But I'm actually still gathering data on all of it. You see something that I never considered before was that when Houdini was appearing somewhere, part of his deal was that he would accept challenges daily. So in a two week span of time he could have 14 different challenges.
Apparently Houdini made quite an impression on other politicians in town as well. The same day that President Wilson attended a performance of Houdini's at Keith's theatre, Houdini later went to the Visitors Gallery at the Capital Building and was spotted by Vice President Marshall. The Vice President waved to Houdini and slowly and gradually others did as well. The Washington Times said "in show business terms, Houdini stopped the show!" Vice President Marshall sent a note to Houdini who was then taken to the V.P's office. Several other Senators showed up and Houdini did an impromptu performance for the members of congress right there in the Vice President's Office. Houdini was quoted as saying "it was the proudest moment of his life". This quote was in regards to having Wilson see him at Keith's and then later sharing the afternoon with members of congress.
There is much more to Houdini in D.C. but most of that deals with his fight against Spiritualism which I'll save for another time.