It’s officially March 24th and in case Google’s themed banner on their homepage didn’t tip you off, today marks the 137th birthday of America’s most legendary and influential magicians of the early 20th century – Harry Houdini. But for all his contributions to stage magic and his immortal legacy, not many people know much about him beyond the fact that he was a master escape artist. Houdini was born Eric Weisz on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary to Jewish parents and was one of seven siblings. Early in his youth, his family traveled to America and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin before ultimately moving to New York.
His career in magic and death-defying stunts began at age nine when he entertained as a boy trapeze artist under the name “Erich, The Prince of the Air.” As he got older, magic tricks became his life’s focus and adopted the stage name “Harry Houdini” as a homage to his idol, French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. His first foray into magic would be considered a failure were it not for the piqued interest of his soon-to-be manager Martin Beck, having been intrigued by his handcuffed escape acts. From there his popularity soared and what started as simple escapes from handcuffs and jails cells transformed into life threatening acts of escaping from watery prisons to buried graves.
When not putting his life on the line for his audiences, Houdini toured the country exposing many self-proclaimed spiritualists and mediums as frauds Ghostbusters-style – even debunking fabricated “spirit photos” which, at the time, many people believed were authentic photos of ghosts. He was also an accomplished actor with quite the film career as well.
Houdini died, eeriely, on October 31, 1926. But even though America lost a true showman, he set the standard for years to come and all other magical performances are mere parlor tricks when compared to his amazing feats.