I would encourage you also to go visit John Cox's fantabulous website because he has a fact filled article on the history of the Water Torture Cell right up till today, www.WildAboutHoudini.com
I'm also researching a new lead for more information on this topic, so perhaps down the road I'll have some new information to share.
The USD or The Water Torture Cell or Houdini's Original Invention, whatever you call it, this is one of the most unique escape illusions in all of magic. It's also one of the most copied since the time of Houdini. Many performers have built their careers with this effect.
In the Patrick Culliton book 'Houdini-The Key' he mentions that there were two Water Torture Cells. This was something I had never known. But imagine my surprise when I heard recently that there were as many as four. The person I heard this from said he sold the cell in the 1980s and so far the only thing I've turned up has been a fabricated mock-up and not an original cell. Being able to turn up proof of more than two Houdini cells has not worked out so well.
However, let's get back to the two cells that Pat mentioned. I think there is photographic proof of two cells and if you look carefully in the following photos I'll point out why I think we are looking at two different Water Torture Cells.
Now look at the frame around the glass, specifically the rivets along the top. There are seven rivets and the two on the far right and far left are closer together. In every photo of the USD there are seven rivets along the top and bottom of the front framework. However, most of the the other photos of the USD the rivets are equally spaced along the top and bottom. But not here. Also, take note of the width of this USD. It appears wider than those in other photos. I think this is because originally Houdini had a cage placed in the USD and there needed to be a little extra room to move around. Take a good look at the next photo. You'll see the cage inside, I believe this is the same cell as in the first photo. But notice the difference in foot stocks in this photo as compared to the photo above. This cell is the same as the one in the above photo, the distance between the rivets helps to identify it as the same cell (look at the lower rivets as the upper ones are hardly visible in the photo)
Next compare the foot stocks in the photo directly above and the color photo to the right. Specifically look at the space to the left and right of the handles on the stocks. You'll see in the upper photo the space is wider than the photo to the right. More proof the upper cell was a wider cell.
To me it's pretty strong photographic proof of two different cells, but trust me you've really got to stare at these things to see the differences. The two cell photos at the top are of Cell #1, the color cell photo is Cell#2.
Oh, if you are wondering what happened to the cages that went inside the Houdini USD, according to Sidney Radner (via John Cox's Site WildAboutHarry.com) they were lost while in Henry Mueller's possession.
Patrick Culliton says that the second cell deteriorated in the backyard of Bess's sisters house. Though I honestly think the cell that deteriorated was probably 'the first/wider/original'. Sid Radner received a later version of the cell. We know that Hardeen was considering rebuilding the second cell to train Sid but that cell would have to have been slightly larger to accomodate Hardeen. There is a famous photo of Hardeen and Sidney Radner standing next to the USD and they both dwarf this small cell.
But my mind does keep going back to the idea that there might have been more than two cells. I've certainly seen photos of at least three Houdini milk cans. So maybe there is a third Water Torture Cell out there somewhere. The next question is, what on earth does someone do with one of these things if it isn't being used or on display? I know Steve Baker's Water Torture Cell is gone. Who has it? No idea. It too was unique enough that if someone else performed with it it could be identified. Other people have performed the USD over the years with their own cells, are there just dozens of these things sitting in storage units all over the country???
|Third Cell? Not this one, but I'll keep searching|
This WTC is even smaller in height than the others. The hardware on it is clearly modern. IF for some reason it was real, only the lower portion could be as the stocks are also very obviously made of modern plywood. I want to thank my friend Terry Evanswood for his help in searching this out and for taking the pictures.
Still, I'm holding out hope that a third one shows up someday as it would be almost like the holy grail of magic props.
If anyone knows the location of ANY Water Torture cell, original or otherwise, please let me know. If there is a third Houdini cell out there I'd love to find it. I'd also like to find what happened to Steve Baker's WTC. His cell was nearly 7ft tall when the stocks were put on. It was massive compared to Houdini's and I know it's been out of his possession since the early 1990s. And where is Doug Henning's WTC today? I know Brett Daniel's owned it for a time but I don't think he has it any more.
Any leads, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now if you want to read MORE about Houdini's Water Torture Cell, please read this blog about the 'Two Torture Cells' which is different than what I covered. visit http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2007/02/mystery-of-two-torture-cells.html
I have a theory on this too that I may share eventually.