The Library of Congress looks at the copyrights it holds filed by Harry Houdini for several of his illusions.
And here’s the wax cylinder recording Houdini did for his Water Torture Cell:
By Richard Kaufman
Two episodes of this series have aired so far. Like most things done for the public on Houdini, it’s filled with questionable facts.
The first episode is about revealing “the real secret” of Houdini’s Water Torture Cell. That secret has actually been published, but you would never (fortunately) know that from episode 1 of the show.
“This first episode, ‘The Torture Escape,’ investigates Houdini’s Water Torture Cell, and in the end you are led to believe that they’ve discovered and exposed the secret of Houdini’s most famous escape. But they actually did no such thing. They created their own luxuriously large cell and their own means of release which is not how Houdini’s cell looked or worked. And as far as learning the secret from David Haversat’s two page Houdini design (an incredible artifact!), know that the production had already built their cell and filmed their escape sequence before they ever saw that document, which doesn’t reveal the real secret anyway.”
I saw the actual Houdini Water Torture Cell at the Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls before it got torched. It was much smaller than expected and quite claustrophobic—no doubt part of what created the tension when Houdini was upside down in it and the top of his head seemed to almost touch the bottom of the tank.
The second episode is about the Bullet Catch, a trick which Houdini may or may not have done. Can there actually be any tension in watching someone (definitely not the charismatic Houdini) perform this trick on a TV show? Of course not: they’re not going to broadcast someone getting their brains blown out.
There’s also that nonsense about Houdini being a spy.
Regardless of what the ratio of truth to nonsense is in this show, so much of what is wrong with with modern culture is captured by noting that this ostensibly factual series is being shown on THE SCIENCE CHANNEL.
Episodes are $2.99 each, the series is $9.99. Personally, I’d rather buy some chocolate!