October 31, 2007

October 31 | Houdini

March 24, 1874 - October 31, 1926: Age 52

Ehrich Weisz was a careful man. Known as Harry Houdini (he took the name to honour Jean Robert-Houdin, a French magician he admired), he developed, practised, and performed hundreds of death-defying "escapes". In fact, he was such a meticulous and careful man that there was very little chance that any of his escapes would endanger him unduly.

A number of factors came together to cause Houdini's death. The best known is this: on October 22, after a performance in Montreal, three young McGill University students visited Houdini in his dressing room. One decided to test his well-known assertion that he could withstand any blow to the stomach, and sucker-punched Houdini in the abdomen several times. (The young man, J. Gordon Whitehead, went on to live a life of "failure and pathos", according to author Don Bell in The Man Who Killed Houdini, and died of malnutrition in 1954.)

Nobody knew it at the time, but on that day Houdini was probably already suffering from the beginning stages of appendicitis. The pain of receiving undefended blows to the abdomen masked the growing pain of the infection, and Houdini ignored it. He performed two nights later in Detroit with a temperature of 104, refusing to miss his performance in order to get medical treatment. He was hospitalized that night, and the doctors diagnosed a ruptured appendix and gave him six hours to live. In fact, he lasted another week, dying on Hallowe'en at about 1:30 in the afternoon.

Houdini had a longstanding interest in spritualism, and had made a deal with his wife, Bess, that whoever died first would try to contact the other. They had pre-arranged a series of 10 code words that would identify the ghost as genuine, because Houdini feared that spiritualists would try to capitalize on his death by "contacting" him. Spiritualist Arthur Ford did claim to contact him and somehow coerced or seduced Bess Houdini into agreeing that the code had been correctly given, but she later denied his claims. She herself held a seance every year on October 31 to try to contact her husband. After 10 years with no success, she snuffed out a candle she had kept lit since he died, saying "Ten years is long enough to wait for any man." However to this day, the tradition of holding a seance for Houdini on Hallowe'en is maintained by magicians thoughout the world.

There is one known recording of Houdini's voice. If you'd like to hear it, click here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Forbes, Malcolm, They Went That-a-Way, Simon and Shuster, 1988.

1 comment:

catalinakolker said...

Don't get me wrong - but this blog is really creepy.