The only certainty in life is death. Even the great escapologist Ehrich Weiss couldn’t avoid its clutches. Ehrich Weiss? You probably know him better as Harry Houdini.
Despite his later claims to have been born in Appleton, Wisconsin, Erik Weisz (as he was originally) entered the world in Budapest in Hungary on 24 March 1874.
His parents brought him to Appleton as an infant, where the spelling of his name changed to Ehrich Weiss. His father was a rabbi, but Ehrich had no intention of following in his footsteps.
As a child he astounded family and friends with his ability to pick locks, escape from knotted ropes, and twist his body into contorted shapes to fit into tiny spaces. Even in later years, when he was president of the Society of American Magicians, he could be offended by anyone suggesting that he was a ‘magician’, that he was aided by some supernatural agency. He was far too egotistical for that.
Ehrich wanted everyone to know that his ‘magic tricks’ were masterly thought out logical exercises masked in over-the-top performances. He was an ‘illusionist’, not a latter day Merlin.
He first worked in fairgrounds and music halls. His act was mainly getting out of handcuffs, but as his fame spread, his ambition grew. He escaped from strait-jackets while encased in sealed boxes; he released himself from seemingly impossible knots while hanging upside-down in tanks of water.