Halloween isn’t just a fun excuse for magicians to mess with people, it’s also the anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, and conjurers and magic historians of all stripes take time to honor the life and legend of one of magic’s most prolific artists. At the Wild About Harry blog today, Houdini expert John Cox has revealed a breathtaking bit of lost history: the previously untold story of a suspended straitjacket escape attempt in Times Square.
While Houdini performed suspended straitjacket escapes across the world for years, November 5, 1917 was largely considered to be his only attempt in New York City. According to the blog, this was actually his second escape there; his first took place a year prior, in March 1916.
The story goes that the press agent for the Palace Theatre wanted to drum up publicity for Houdini’s upcoming performance. The agent made an announcement on March 28 stating that Houdini would escape from a straitjacket suspended in the air to honor, as Cox writes, “Vaudeville’s special contribution to the Shakespeare Tercentenary celebrations”.
New York police weren’t exactly pleased by the public disruption this would cause, and decisively shut it down. This prompted Houdini’s agent to proclaim the very next day that the escape would happen anyway, but they weren’t going to tell anyone—let alone the fuzz—where it would take place.
And so, the famous photo (seen below) long thought to be capturing Houdini’s grand 1917 straitjacket escape attempt was actually chronicling this secret, long-forgotten show over a year before.
For a more in-depth analysis of this fantastic find, including exclusive photos and newspaper clippings detailing reports and reviews of the event in question, be sure to check out Cox’s full story over at Wild About Harry.