Harry Houdini – Magician Among the Spirits

Day 90 of Colourisation Project – August 5

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

On this day, August 5, 1926, International magician Harry Houdini performed his last and greatest feat, spending 91 minutes underwater in a sealed coffin submerged in the swimming pool of the Hotel Shelton in New York, before making his miraculous escape. Houdini’s grand illusions and daring, spectacular escape acts made him one of the most famous magicians of all time.

Born Ehrich Weisz in Budapest, March 24, 1874 Houdini and his family migrated to Appleton, Wisconsin, when Houdini was 4 years old. Houdini went from working as newspaper boy and shoe shiner to support his family, to becoming the world’s greatest magician and escapologist.

Harry Houdini

Photographer unknown – Harry Houdini  1918 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

He was also a keen aviator and in 1910 purchased a Voisin biplane in Germany which he dismantled and shipped to Australia for an extended tour. His plane was the first controlled-power plane flown in Australia, and on March 10, 1910 he became the first person to ever fly over Australian soil.

Houdini’s greatest inspiration was Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) a French magician widely considered the father of the modern style of conjuring. He was a hero and a role model for the young Houdini who at the age of 15 discovered the magician’s book, Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, Ambassador, Author, and Conjurer, Written by Himself.

Houdini soon became a huge sensation as ‘Harry Handcuff Houdini’ whilst on a tour of Europe, repeatedly escaping from police handcuffs and jails.  Before long his repertoire extended to straitjackets under water, holding his breath inside a sealed milk can, hanging from skyscrapers, and other extreme acts of illusion and trickery. Falling under the banner of  American vaudeville he soon became its highest-paid performer.

In 1919, he became a film producer setting up his own film production company, Houdini Pictures Corporation, appearing and performing his own stunts in such films as The Grim Game, Terror Island, The Master of Mystery, The Man From Beyond, and Haldane of the Secret Service. He also started his own film laboratory called The Film Development Corporation. Years later, Houdini would receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Keen to uphold professional standards and expose fraudulent artists, Houdini became President of the Society of American Magicians. He was also quick to sue anyone who pirated his escape stunts. This led to his growing interest in the occult and debunking mediums and psychics. Where many notable scientists and academics failed, Houdini’s knowledge of magic helped him to expose the chicanery of these frauds. His book, published in 1924, A Magician Among the Spirits, chronicles his experiences in this area and is a fascinating account of superstition and gullibility.

His work in this area led to a public split with his former friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a firm believer in Spiritualism. The introduction to his book ends with the words: “Up to the present time everything that I have investigated has been the result of deluded brains.”

In 1926 Houdini died as a result of a ruptured appendix. He refused to seek medical help eventually succumbing to peritonitis on October 24, 1926 at the age of 52.


“No performer should attempt to bite off red-hot iron unless he has a good set of teeth.” – —Harry Houdini

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7 Responses to Harry Houdini – Magician Among the Spirits

  1. moorezart says:

    What a wonderful blog! Count me a follower!


  2. SPFischer says:

    I remember as a young child watching the movie “Houdini” starring Tony Curtis. Fantastic movie, but the last scene depicted him dying after being unable to escape a straight jacket while submerged in a water-filled glass box. I can’t remember if the movie alluded to his ruptured appendix, bur I do remember the scene spooked me for many, many years, especially his dying utterance to his wife, “I will come back.”

    All that being said, I read the history you put together with great interest and really enjoyed it, as well as your treatment of the photo. I really do love the idea behind your resurrected blog!!


  3. Loredana Isabella Crupi says:

    Don’t you just love Hollywood?…..’give the audience an ending they’ll remember and don’t worry about the truth’

    Actually poor old Harry suffered several blows to his abdomen days earlier from punches delivered by a University student who wanted to see if it was true that punches didn’t hurt Harry.

    Well of course Harry was in pain for two days before seeing a doctor who recommended surgery for acute appendicitis. Harry ignored this advice and went ahead with a scheduled show, during which he passed out. He was revived and hospitalised. But alas it was too late. He died several days later….He should have listened to his body!

    There is a funny story to his ‘coming back.’ He was a skeptic but as an experiment had decided with his wife on a code word to be in seances after his death. For ten years his wife conducted regular seances where she tried to get in touch with him. She kept a candle literally burning for ten years after which she puffed it out, saying, “10 years is long enough to wait for any man”


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