It is commonly acknowledged that the magician and escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) set the standard for all performing magicians to come. Many people are also aware of the fact that he died on October 31st (on Halloween), 1926.
What many people do not know is that Houdini’s real name was really Ehrich Weisz, and he was the son of a Hungarian rabbi who brought his family to America when Ehrich was a baby. Ehrich became Harry, and he took the stage name Houdini to honor his idol, the French magician Robert Houdin.
Houdini’s interest and passion for magic began when he was in his early teens. By the time he was 20, he was performing throughout New York. One of the frequent ways in which Houdini gained fame was by escaping from police handcuffs and jails, encouraging the police in cities across America and in Europe to test his skill. Harry mastered every type of escape act, from straight jackets to water chambers, at the same time that he became the master of all illusion.
In addition to his magic, Houdini starred in several motion pictures (featuring excellent action and not-such-good acting), two of which he produced in his own studio. He was also fascinated by aviation and was the first person to fly over Australia. He was an avid book collector and authored a book of his own, “A Magician Among the Spirits,” which chronicled his investigation and debunking of “spiritualism” (mediums connecting to the world of spirits).
In October 1926, while on tour in Montreal, Houdini allowed a young man to punch him in the abdomen to prove his boast that he could withstand any blow to his body above the waist. Unfortunately, what Houdini did not know was that his appendix was infected. Due to the blow, his appendix burst, and Houdini died several days later of peritonitis.
Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.