Evan Andrews and History.com present 10 Things You May Not Know About Harry Houdini. Here are three of my favorites…
Houdini once staged an escape from inside a sea monster.
In September 1911, a group of Boston businessmen challenged Houdini to attempt the most bizarre stunt of his career—an escape from the belly of a 1,500-pound “sea monster” that had washed up in the city’s harbor. Historians still aren’t sure what the creature actually was—it’s been described as everything from a whale to a leatherback turtle—but Houdini was up to the task. As thousands of spectators looked on, he allowed himself to be handcuffed, shackled in leg irons and wedged inside the stinking carcass, which was then covered in chains and placed behind a curtain. Houdini emerged in triumph after just 15 minutes, but later admitted that he was nearly suffocated by the fumes from the chemicals used to embalm the beast.He was an aviation pioneer.
After developing a passion for aviation while in Europe in 1909, Houdini bought a French-made Voisin biplane and became one of the world’s first private pilots. The magician crashed during his maiden flight in Germany, but he continued practicing and eventually set his sights on becoming the first man to pilot an airplane in Australia. During a tour Down Under in March 1910, Houdini hopped behind the controls of his Voisin and made three successful flights near Melbourne, each only a couple of minutes long. The Aerial League of Australia certified Houdini’s display as the country’s first powered and controlled flight, but some historians have since argued that the record actually belongs to Colin Defries, an Englishman who had made a brief flight a few months earlier. In 2010, Houdini and Defries were both honored in a series of stamps commemorating the centennial of powered flight in Australia.Houdini assisted with the American war effort during WWI.
Although he was born in Hungary, Houdini was an American patriot and staunch supporter of U.S. involvement in World War I. He persuaded the Society of American Magicians to sign loyalty oaths to President Woodrow Wilson, and later canceled his touring season to devote himself to entertaining soldiers and raising money for the war effort. Houdini also drew on his arsenal of magician’s tricks to provide special instruction to American troops. In a series of classes held at New York’s Hippodrome, he counseled doughboys on how to escape sinking ships and extricate themselves from ropes, handcuffs and other restraints in the event of capture by the Germans.