Harry Houdini’s Great Rope Escape (Circa 1920)

Har­ry Hou­di­ni (né Erik Weisz) emi­grat­ed from Hun­gary to the Unit­ed States as a young­ster, set­tling first in Wis­con­sin, then lat­er in New York City. Cap­ti­vat­ed by mag­ic from an ear­ly age, Hou­di­ni (1874–1926) began per­form­ing small-time mag­ic shows and exper­i­ment­ing with escape acts, even­tu­al­ly hon­ing his abil­i­ty to escape from hand­cuffs. Then he nev­er looked back:

Arriv­ing in a new town, Hou­di­ni would claim the abil­i­ty to escape from any hand­cuffs pro­vid­ed by the local police. His easy escapes pro­vid­ed excel­lent pub­lic­i­ty for his shows. Hou­di­ni offered $100 to any­one who pro­vid­ed hand­cuffs from which he could not escape, but he nev­er had to pay. Through his increas­ing­ly com­plex escapes and his shrewd use of pub­lic­i­ty, Hou­di­ni became a head­lin­er on the vaude­ville cir­cuit, play­ing in cities across the coun­try. Not sat­is­fied with that low lev­el of fame, how­ev­er, Hou­di­ni decid­ed to gam­ble by tak­ing his act to Europe.

When he returned from Europe, Hou­di­ni per­formed increas­ing­ly high-pro­file stunts — e.g., free­ing him­self from chains after jump­ing into Boston’s Charles Riv­er, escap­ing from a strait jack­et while hang­ing upside down in Times Square, break­ing out of a prison cell that held the assas­sin of Pres­i­dent James Garfield. Today, we have Hou­di­ni per­form­ing a more straight­for­ward escape — from a sim­ple chair and rope. Below, in an image appear­ing in Ladies’ Home Jour­nal (1918), Hou­di­ni tells you a lit­tle about how he made his great rope escape. He offers more details here. The video above was shot cir­ca 1920.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Hou­di­ni Escape From a Strait Jack­et, Then See How He Did It (Cir­ca 1917)

Inven­tor of a Wear­able Para­chute Takes a Fly­ing Leap Off of the Eif­fel Tow­er in 1912, and It Doesn’t End Well

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