Showing posts with label jail. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jail. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

DC Jail Escape Follow-up.

The 10th Precinct Building

Back in 2014 I wrote an article about Houdini's 1906 jail escape in Washington DC from the 10th precinct. When I first wrote the article I thought  that the jail had been torn down. Later I discovered that in fact, that jail actually was still there and still operational. I finished the article by saying, "Maybe someday I'll head over there and check out to see if Houdini's cell is still there."

As it turned out, last year I received an email from a friend of mine who lives near there. He told me he was planning on going over and check the place out. But then I didn't hear from him. I figured maybe he never made it over. But alas, I ran into him at The Yankee Gathering in November 2016. The mans name is Charles Greene, and he is an excellent magician, speaker and magic historian/collector, and also owner of this site

It turns out that Charles DID visit the 10th Precinct Station and went inside inquiring about a 'Houdini's jail cell'. The cell, was originally in the basement and Charles was told that they'd been removed a long while ago. Still he pressed on and asked to see for himself. Sure enough, there was nothing remaining. The building was still standing but the cell where Houdini did his escape was gone. And thanks to Charles, at least now we know!

Now please don't mistake this for Houdini's other, and more famous jail escape in DC from the Old DC Jail. That would be where Houdini escaped from the cell that once held the assassin to president Garfield. That escape would take place only 5 days later, on Jan 6th, 1906. Below are two views of the prison that may be new to many people. They come from the Library of Congress/Harris&Ewing Collection.

This Old D.C. Jail  was torn down in the early 80s. However, as an interesting side now, the stones used in the building were from the same quarry that supplies stones for the Smithsonian Castle. So some of the jail stones were taken to the Smithsonian to use in repairs of the Castle.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Houdini On New Years Day - 1906

It was 108 years ago today, that Harry Houdini was in Washington D.C.. He visited D.C. many times during his career and enjoyed many successful performances. He was in town performing at Chase's Theatre.  On Jan 1, 1906, he went down to the 10th Precinct Police Station to attempt a jail cell escape. We actually have Houdini's own words to describe this event.

"I took a long chance there. They didn't give me a square deal. I went to them and as I always do in the cities I visit, offered them the chance to lock me in and keep me there if they could. But I made the condition I always insist on that I should see the cell in which they intended placing me and examine the locks to be used. The lieutenant of police at the precinct to which they too me agreed to this, but after the test started, I heard him whisper to one of his men to bring him the locks for another cell.

Naturally I objected to any change and he became most offensive in his manner. He told me his orders were to lock me up and keep me there, and intimated that if I was afraid I could pass the thing up and take the consequences. I remonstrated with him and told him to remember that I was not a criminal. That I had come to him of my own accord and deserved the courtesy due an equal. But he could not see it, and continued his brutal threatening attitude.

Then I lost my head and went ahead recklessly. I know now that I was foolish to do so, for my reputation is well established in every large city in the world, and I did not need the Washington test. Of course, I was endangering my reputation in submitting to a chance of locks, for if they had got me by any means whatever, my standing would have been badly damaged.

I got out in eighteen minutes, to the great surprise of the lieutenant. He had evidently been prepared to be anything that I couldn't do it. Why he would have staked his head on keeping me in. Not that that article is of any value."

Houdini went on to add, "Since my return to the United States I have broken out of stationhouses in New York, Brooklyn, Rochester, Buffalo, Detroit, and Baltimore, but it has remained for Washington to treat me like a common malefactor. The fact that my wife is present prevents me from telling you (a reporter) exactly what I do think of that lieutenant and his assistants. You can probably guess what I would say if she were not in the room."

This interview with Houdini appeared in The Washington Times Newspaper, on Sunday January 7th, 1906. It is interesting to note that this particular escape often gets forgotten because on January 6th, 1906, Houdini escaped from the Jail Cell of the assassin on President Garfield at the Old D.C. Jail.

Let's look at some additional details of this New Years Day escape at the 10th Precinct. The chief of
D.C. Police Chief Richard Sylvester (Library of Congress)
Police in Washington D.C. Major Richard Sylvester had his office there so he was probably  the one pulling the strings at this event. The lieutenant of the police precinct was Lieut. H. B. Elliot. The Lieutenant would later claim to have found a 'needle' in the jail cell that was not there prior to Houdini's escape, hinting that perhaps this had something to do with his escape.

A couple sources mention that Houdini was locked into an 'invisible bracelet' used by the Secret Service, but I do not know what type of restraint this was. In the book, Houdini, Tarzan and The Perfect Man by John Kasson, he mentions the invisible bracelet and also gives more detail of the Jail Cell. Houdini was locked in cell number 3. "Then the police shut the heavy barred door with a bar lock that is first set to lock three times. A lever throws another lock, and a Yale padlock completes the quintet of locks. A wire network around the padlock prevents a hand from being thrust from inside the cell."Yet despite all of these conditions and being treated like a common criminal, Houdini succeeded in escaping in 18 minutes, his 62nd Jail escape.

I originally wrote about this event on this blog in an article I did on Houdini's D.C. Challenges. At the time I thought that the 10th Precinct had been torn down. But I recently discovered that it is still very much in existence so I posted a photo. Perhaps one day, I'll see if they will allow me to take a photo of Jail Cell #3.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I'm amazed at the number of newspaper articles which have used Houdini's name in the headline referring to some criminal. Usually, it refers to someone who got away from the police. In February of 1907, in the Pawtucket Times Newspaper, an article appeared that at first glance I assumed was this same sort of thing. But I went back and read it and to my surprise, it was about Houdini being arrested.

Claims Handcuff King Assaulted Him After Challenge
Providence. Feb 11-Houdini, the handcuff king was arrested Saturday afternoon on a charge of assault brought by a local hotel clerk. The clerk alleges that he challenged Houdini to a test of skill and that he was assaulted by the great attraction at Keith's. Bonds were placed at $3000, which were furnished by Manager Lovenberg of the theatre.

This is a frustrating piece of news. Not because Houdini was arrested, but because I could find no newspaper report which gave a follow-up. It also looks like it happened at the end of his run in Rhode Island and on the day when Houdini was about to travel to Boston for a weeks worth of shows. There is no mention of it anywhere that I can locate. Perhaps, the charges were dropped, who knows? The arrest didn't stop Houdini from performing in Providence as he was back in 1911 at Keith's.

Anyone with details of what happened following the arrest, please let me know so I can add it to the story.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Houdini's Boston Jail Escape

Houdini at the 'Boston Tombs'
The original article has been moved and updated. New information has been discovered since this article first appeared in 2011. Here is a link to the new article

The Escape
The date was March 19, 1906 and the Superintendent of Police William Pierce had agreed to lock up Houdini in their jail. He was first taken to cell number 77 on the ground floor where Houdini removes his clothes and was checked for keys and picks. Nothing was found and Houdini's clothes are then locked into this cell while he himself is taken to the second floor. He steps into cell number 60 and is secured in handcuffs and leg irons. Then the Superintendent locks Houdini inside Cell #60 and he and the other police officials leave Houdini and head for the main office. They were confident that Houdini could not escape.

Sixteen minutes later Houdini was scaling the outer wall of the jail and running down the road towards Keith's Theatre. Houdini called William Pierce from the theater to let him know he had escaped! Shock set in. Superintendent Pierce asks Houdini to return so that the photographers can get a photo of him going over the wall (see photo at top of page). According to the Kalush Biography, the Superintendent told Houdini he expected him to show up in the jail office if he got out. He shook Houdini's hand and seemed happy with the results. Though Houdini's book "Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist" paints a different picture. Houdini claims that Pierce's only response was "I have nothing to say".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Houdini in Wash D.C. Jail

It was January 6,1906 when Houdini was invited try his hand at escaping from the Old D.C. Jail. Located on the Southeast Corner of East Capital Street and 19th St SE, the Old D.C. Jail was famous for holding Charles Guiteau the assassin of President Garfield. He was kept in Cell No. 2 of the South Wing of the Jail, also known as Murderer’s Row. Houdini, would be stripped naked and placed into the cell that once held Guiteau and currently held another prisoner named Hamilton who was waiting to be hung for the murder of his wife. The prisoner was so scared of Houdini that he hid in a corner of the cell while Houdini began his escape. Two minutes later, Houdini was out.

But that was not the end of his stunt. He went to several other cells and opened the doors and had the prisoners change cells with one another. Then after he had switched them around, Houdini broke into the cell which held his clothes. He got dressed and walked out to the shock of the prison officials. All of this in twenty one minutes.

The D.C. Jail was built in 1872. It stopped being used in the late 70s. I keep finding conflicting dates on when it was torn down.  It was located several blocks behind the Capital Building.

That was not Houdini’s only jail escape in D.C.. On January 1, 1906, five days before the Old DC Jail Escape Houdini was brought down to the Police Station in the 10th Precinct and he escaped from a jail cell there. I am not sure but that may be the current Metropolitan DC Police Station on 300 Indiana Avenue NW. At the time Police Chief Richard Sylvester had his office in that building and the current police chief has her office in this building. So it could be the same place.

I found a note online that the parking lot for the Old DC Jail buts up against the parking lot for RFK Stadium and the Old DC Jail lot is still there though the building is long gone.