Showing posts with label Challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Challenge. Show all posts

Friday, October 27, 2017

Houdini's Money Was Always Safe!!!!

One of Houdini's unique strategies to get people interested in his escapes was to offer a money challenge. He'd offer a certain dollar amount as a reward to someone who could find, discover, or uncover something related to his escapes. A perfect example is the poster above for the Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery. Look closely at the wording at the lower part of the poster (see below)
100 pounds Will Be Paid To Anyone Finding Traps, Panels, Or False Doors In the Cell. And I'm sure there were none, otherwise he would not have risked a financial loss.

The flyer to the left is interesting. It actually contains two monetary challenges. But it's also different from most of Houdini's offers of this kind. In this poster, his first offer is $100 to anyone who can release themselves from all the cuffs that he carries, and from which he releases himself. This is pretty bold and like many of his challenges covers himself fairly well. He points out that he allows the key holes to be stamped and sealed and will bring out all the cuffs interlocked, proving he does not slip the cuffs of his wrists without unlocking them.

He further ads, he carries a very rare curious and costly collection of torture, antique and modern handcuffs. This line is likely to deter any would be takers. Finally, at the end Houdini offers a second challenge of $50 to anyone who can escape from the Bean Giant cuff with those cuffs strapped behind the person's back. This challenge is not quite as safe as the previous, so the reward is less.

One of his most unique money offers was with the Water Torture Cell. The exact wording on the poster, "...Reward To Anyone Proving That It Is Possible To Obtain Air In The UP-SIDE-DOWN Position In Which Houdini Releases Himself From This Water-Filled Torture Cell"

In England the reward was 200 pounds. In Germany, the reward was 5000 marks, In the United States it was $1000.  And the truth was, he could have offered any amount of money as the money was never in any danger of being lost. The reward doesn't say to prove it's possible to obtain air while inside the cell, it says prove its possible to obtain air IN THE UPSIDE DOWN Position. That's the key phrase and it's the one that keeps his money safe!

The allure of winning money is a very power motivator for people. Look at all the people who buy lottery tickets. Well, Houdini wasn't gambling with his money. He clearly worded things very carefully to keep his money safe.

Houdini didn't restrict his Money Challenges to his act. Below is an ad for his movie, The Grim Game where he offers yet another reward. This time, it's a $1000 reward to anyone who can prove that the airplane accident in the movie didn't take place.

Later in life, he did step it up a bit. When he launched his campaign to fight fraudulent spirit mediums the offer became $10,000 to any Medium who could produce any Physical Phenomena that he cannot reproduce or explain by Natural means. Houdini's wife Bess kept this $10,000 challenge going after Houdini's death. According to Joseph Rinn, friend of Houdini's and fellow paranormal skeptic, Bess Houdini offered the reward to any medium able to prove, to her satisfaction, the survival of her husband in the spirit world. It looked like in 1928 Arthur Ford might have won the reward after revealing the Houdini code. Even Bess came out and said it was genuine. But days later, after the media fire storm, they began to debunk it, along with Dunninger and others, Bess finally recanted saying there were ways Ford could have discovered the code. She continued doing her Seances to reach Houdini until the Final Houdini Seance in 1936. After that, fans and friends of Houdini have picked up the ball, and though no reward is offered, Houdini has yet to show up.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why The Challenge Escape Act Was Pure Houdini Genius

Of all the various escapes that Houdini performed in his life, I personally think his Challenge Escape concept was the best. Houdini was mainly a Vaudeville performer, which meant he was on the bill with quite a few other acts. The majority of the acts, did the same material over and over and over and over. Sure they might have had a small collection of different routines they could do, but most just did the same act or some form of it.

Along comes Harry Houdini who is making a name for himself as an escape artist. Yes, pushed along by Martin Beck, but still Houdini was the one with the abilities. He starts with a fairly general style escape act, and soon it's being copied and ripped off.  So he adds the idea of being challenged with anyone's handcuffs. This works well for a while and establishes the whole Handcuff King idea in the minds of the audience. But then it too is copied.

Houdini then comes out with the Challenge Escape Act. Let's say he is booked for a week at a theatre. Most acts are doing the same material. Houdini can offer a different act every night. And often something never before seen. At the time, I'm sure every 'challenge' seemed unique, but history shows that often these challenges were duplicated in different cities. One example is escaping from a metal can filled with water, then in another city, a iron drum filled with milk, and still another city, a giant metal keg filled with beer. Same escape, different liquid inside. But for each town it was new to them. Plus, it wasn't like you could turn on the TV and watch Houdini. If you wanted to see him face these challenges, you had a go see him in person.

In a given week you might see Houdini escape from a packing case, then another night, escape after being tied up by Sailors, then another night escape from some unusual contraption like an oversize Paper Bag, and on and on it would go. He could also put his regular material in there as well. If I have a chance to see Houdini face a different challenge every night, I'M GOING! It's a sure fire draw.

We know today that Houdini arranged a lot of the challenges. Flyers and small posters like the one below would advertise the coming feat and usually the daily newspaper would include the challenge in the drama/theatre section. It's pure brilliance. Houdini, the little guy, is challenged, usually by some authority or business, and faces the possibility of failing in front of the live audience. In the minds of the audience Houdini is the Underdog. But the truth is, he is an expert at this stuff. He knows this world better than anyone alive and is actually the driving force behind many of the challenges. It's exciting and dramatic and it makes for great theatre!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Houdini: A Sharks Tale

Turns out the story of Houdini catching the coins in his mouth with sharks around was not the only shark story for Harry. During his trip to Australia in 1910, Houdini was an invited guest of the Navy on-board one of their ships. While there, he accepted a challenge from the sailors to be shackled and tossed overboard. Certainly, not the kind of thing you and I would want to do, but this is Houdini and it's just average afternoon for him.

The sailors shackled up the escape artist securely and Houdini jumped into the awaiting ocean. I could just imagine countless sailors leaning over the side of their ship watching as Houdini hit the water and sank below. They all probably were trying to get a view of what he was doing. As soon as he hit the ocean floor, some thirty feet down, he began to free himself from his confinement. This is where the story takes a turn. The moment Houdini raised his head away from his shackles and got a glimpse of the area around him, he discovered that he dropped right into the midst of a large school of sharks.  I'd venture to say there is a good chance a Great White Shark could have been among the creatures as they are known to swim & breed in the waters off the Australian coast.

He was underwater for three minutes working feverishly to extricate himself from the shackles. According to Houdini, "I never worked so fast in all my life!" Then he did something that is very out of character, he left the shackles behind on the ocean floor. His only thought was being able to push himself up off the ocean floor with enough force as to bypass all the sharks and not get attacked. That is just what he did, with all his strength he pushed off from the sandy bottom and shot past the sharks. As be burst forth out of the water, sailors standing by in a lifeboat grabbed him, apparently just as a shark was coming up out of the water after Houdini. The newspaper article says "he was pulled aboard just in time to miss the snapping jaws of the predatory sea bandits."

This story came from the January 7th,1912 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Houdini Challenge & Endorsment

I've only ever seen one company that Houdini did a product endorsement for, Zam-buk. I often wondered if there were others and recently I came upon an advertisement using Houdini's image and name. It must have been part of the terms of a Challenge, to allow the company to use Houdini's name in an advertisement.

This is the James Henley Brewery of Providence RI. They were in business from 1861 till the late 1950s. On March 1, 1915, on stage at the Keith's Theatre in Providence Rhode Island, Houdini accepted a challenge from the Henley Brewers to lock him up in a barrel full of beer. The following evening on March 2, 1915, Houdini presented his usual act of The Needles, Water Torture Cell and The Challenge. I'm not sure what order, he may have done the challenge first. In any event, on March 3rd, The Pawtucket Times recorded the following:
Houdini had been submerged for three minutes in a barrel of ale which then had four padlocks placed on it... He appeared smiling in three minutes, remarking that the ale "did not even stagger him".
The ad below appeared in the March 8th, 1915 edition of the Pawtucket Times.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mystery Houdini Handcuff

I came across this article dated May 7, 1908 in which the photo above appears. I can't exactly recall seeing this particular cuff before. I've scoured the Houdini books and searched through a number of handcuff related sites and I've come up empty.

The handcuffs were a special creation specifically designed to challenge Houdini. They were designed by Captain Edward Bean, the original creator of the Bean Giant Handcuffs. This is the name given in the article, but at least two of the Houdini biographies say the creator of the Bean Giants was Captain Charles Bean. I'm settling with Captain Edward Bean because has the name as Captain E. Bean and those guys know their stuff.

According to the newspaper account, "the new cuffs look like an oxen yoke, are a foot long and weight ten pounds, and were designed to succeed the 'giants' as the best made handcuff...There is a separate key for each side, with the locks particularly inaccessible to the persons reach who has them on."  The newspaper refers to them as 'Trick Handcuffs' in the title, but there is no indication that they were actually 'tricked or gaffed' rather they were made to 'trick' Houdini.

Unfortunately for history, this seems to be Houdini's final night of a run in Boston. I can't locate a newspaper account for the following day which describes the nights challenge. Though, we can assume that Houdini freed himself or that surely would have been written up in a lot of newspapers. The next newspaper which carries news on Houdini is three days later and he is in Pennsylvania at that time.

The Bean Giants Handcuffs were once thought to be the toughest handcuff out there. Captain Bean offered an award to anyone who could get out of the handcuffs. Houdini took on the challenge and won, to the amazement of Captain Bean.

Captain Edward Bean invented the Bean Giants (1887), Bean Patrolman Cuffs(1882), Bean Prison Cuffs (1882) and a variant of the Bean design known as the Bean-Cobb was invented by Lyman Cobb in 1899.

The photo to the left shows Houdini with a number of different handcuffs on. The pair closest to his body are Bean-Cobbs, a popular handcuff with Houdini. I can't quite make it out but I think there might be a pair of Bean Patrolman cuffs in that mix as well, or it could just be another pair of Bean-Cobbs.

The famous Houdini handcuff poster below has Houdini wearing all sorts of interesting cuffs. He has on one pair of Bean Giant cuffs and  a pair of the Bean-Cobbs. The Bean Giants are on the right hand column at the top, the Bean-Cobbs are in the center image in the same location as the photo, closest to his body.

If anyone has information on the Mystery Bean Cuff shown at the top of the page, please let me know either in the remarks below or by email

UPDATE: The cuffs were being discussed over at Bruce Thomson said "Is it just me, or do they seem to look like the cuffs in the poster for the Russian carette, which look like two huge cans of soup under the bow arms. Closest image I can find." They sure resemble the cuffs in that picture except that challenge was 1904, and these unusual Bean cuffs were introduced in 1908. 

Next Steve Santini offered this "Contain a "Scandinavian" padlock type mechanism comprised of rotating discs. In fact, they are actually scaled up padlocks with solid cast lock bodies and connector. Currently, they reside in David Copperfield's collection." And then he added "I think it highly unlikely Bean made these. They were more likely made by one of makers of the Scandinavian padlocks like Star or Climax or even perhaps Romer." 

I'm only going by what the newspaper article says "They were designed and made by Capt Edward Bean, formerly of the Chelsea Police force and a captain in the Civil War. He is 70 years old and has the distinction of inventing the original 'giant handcuffs' of which Houdini says 'The 'giant handcuffs are acknowledged the best made and hardest cuffs to get out of in the world.'"

That being said, it's still very possible that they were made by someone else as Steve suggests and the whole challenge orchestrated by Houdini. It would not be the first time he orchestrated a challenge! 
I greatly appreciate the help and knowledge offered by Steve Santini in locating and giving more information on this very strange looking handcuff.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Houdini D.C. Challenges

The photograph of Houdini hanging upside down in a straight jacket with the Washington Monument in the distance and the Treasury Building across the street is quite famous. Although in the photo to the left the monument is not visible.  I always assumed that this was the only time he did an out door stunt in D.C.. However, I was mistaken. That escape took place in front of the Keith's Vaudeville Theatre on January 12, 1922 (today). It just so happens that the National Press Club had their offices in the same building as the theatre at the time, which I'm sure had something to do with the iconic photo that was taken. But there were earlier publicity escapes and challenges that took place in Washington D.C..

Early Challenges
Let's begin in January of 1906.  New Years Day 1906 he escaped from a jail cell at the 10th Precinct  625 Park Road NW in D.C. (Turns out the building IS still there, though I had originally reported that it wasn't. ). A few days later on January 6th Houdini escapes from the Jail Cell that once held the assassin of 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.

Following Houdini's departure from D.C., a local athletic teacher Maurice Joyce said he would expose how Houdini did his escapes. He did this at the Columbia Theatre. Please remember this name as later in the year I'm going to do a piece on the Columbia Theatre in D.C.. Mr. Joyce claimed the boxes and cases were all made per Houdini's instructions and were faked by the builders. All of the challengers said Mr. Joyce was a liar, more than likely he just didn't know and this was good a chance as any to gain some personal fame for himself.

The First Outdoor Straight Jacket Escape in D.C.

The Munsey Building in Wash D.C.
Then years later on April 19, 1916, Houdini is back and this time he is hung upside down 100 ft in the air outside of the Munsey Building. It took him two minutes and thirty seconds to free himself from the straight jacket! The police claimed that over 100,000 people watched Houdini's escape. They also said it was the single biggest crowd next to an Inaugural Event in the city's history. At least that is what the Kalush biography states. The Washington Times reported 15,000 and then the following day corrected that up to 20,000. Clearly they couldn't count any better in 1916 than they do counting crowds in DC today! One more note about the Munsey Building Straightjacket escape, and I didn't realize this when I first posted the article. Apparently, the Washington Times Newspapers Offices are located IN the Munsey Building. Well Done Houdini!

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

While at Keith's President Woodrow Wilson took his wife to see Houdini perform the Water Torture Cell. Keith's was actually President Wilson's favorite theatre and he attended performances there often. According the the Silverman biography, following the show Wilson said to Houdini that he envied his ability to get out of tight situations. Although for facts sake, the Kalush Biography says this exchange actually happened in Dec 1914 (two years previous) when Houdini received a private invitation to visit the President at the White House. Who cares it's still a pretty big compliment from the President of the United States!

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.