American magician Harry Houdini.

Harry Houdini

(1874 - 1926)

Born Erik Weisz in Hungary in 1874, Harry Houdini lived in Wisconsin as a child, joined a circus as a trapeze artist, and moved in 1882 to New York City, where he found work in vaudeville shows. Around the turn of the century, he became known for his daring feats of escape—in one, sealed in a box which was then submerged in water, he freed himself from a series of locked chains. Seeking to outpace the growing cadre of his escape-artist imitators, Houdini devised even more difficult stunts, escaping from a liquid-filled milk can in 1908 and from a straitjacket while suspended from a skyscraper in 1916; in 1926 he remained submerged in an iron casket for ninety minutes. A critic of spiritualism, mediums, and bunk magic, he published a book on the subject, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, in 1920.

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In 1891 Erik Weisz began using the stage name Harry Houdini—the first name deriving from his nickname “Ehrie” and the surname from the great French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, who himself had taken the surname from his wife, Josephe Cecile Eglantine Houdin, in order, he wrote, “to distinguish me from my numerous homonyms.”

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