Houdini is dead - HISTORY
Year
1926

Houdini is dead

Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, dies of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital. Twelve days before, Houdini had been talking to a group of students after a lecture in Montreal when he commented on the strength of his stomach muscles and their ability to withstand hard blows. Suddenly, one of the students punched Houdini twice in the stomach. The magician hadn’t had time to prepare, and the blows ruptured his appendix. He fell ill on the train to Detroit, and, after performing one last time, was hospitalized. Doctors operated on him, but to no avail. The burst appendix poisoned his system, and on October 31 he died.

Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, and soon demonstrated a natural acrobatic ability and an extraordinary skill at picking locks. When he was nine, he joined a traveling circus and toured the country as a contortionist and trapeze performer. He soon was specializing in escape acts and gained fame for his reported ability to escape from any manacle. He went on his first international tour in 1900 and performed all over Europe to great acclaim. In executing his escapes, he relied on strength, dexterity, and concentration—not trickery—and was a great showman.

In 1908, Houdini began performing more dangerous and dramatic escapes. In a favorite act, he was bound and then locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a water tank or thrown off a boat. In another, he was heavily bound and then suspended upside down in a glass-walled water tank. Other acts featured Houdini being hung from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried—without a coffin—under six feet of dirt.

In his later years, Houdini campaigned against mediums, mind readers, fakirs, and others who claimed supernatural talents but depended on tricks. At the same time, he was deeply interested in spiritualism and made a pact with his wife and friends that the first to die was to try and communicate with the world of reality from the spirit world. Several of these friends died, but Houdini never received a sign from them. Then, on Halloween 1926, Houdini himself passed on at the age of 52. His wife waited for a communiqué from the spirit world but it never came; she declared the experiment a failure shortly before her death in 1943.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Winfield Scott steps down

Citing failing health, General Winfield Scott, commander of the Union forces, retires from service on this day in 1861. The hero of the Mexican War recognized early in the Civil War that his health and advancing years were a liability in the daunting task of directing the Federal ...read more

Martin Luther posts 95 theses

On this day in 1517, the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation.In his theses, Luther condemned the ...read more

President Johnson announces bombing halt

In a televised address to the nation five days before the presidential election, President Lyndon B. Johnson announces that on the basis of developments in the Paris peace negotiations, he has ordered the complete cessation of “all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North ...read more

Earl Lloyd becomes first black player in the NBA

On October 31, 1950, 21-year-old Earl Lloyd becomes the first African-American to play in an NBA game when he takes the court in the season opener for the Washington Capitols.Lloyd grew up in Jim Crow Virginia and went to West Virginia State, where he was the star of the school’s ...read more

President Clinton stumps for his wife

On this day in 2000, lame-duck President Bill Clinton campaigns in New York on behalf of his wife, Hillary, who is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. This was the first time a first lady actively campaigned for a Senate seat.Bill gave the speech at a dinner, sponsored by a ...read more

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published

On this day, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle, is published. The book was the first collection of Holmes stories, which Conan Doyle had been publishing in magazines since 1887.Conan Doyle was born in Scotland and studied medicine at the University of ...read more

River Phoenix dies

On this day in 1993, the 23-year-old actor River Phoenix, who appeared in such films as Stand by Me and My Own Private Idaho, dies of a drug overdose outside a Hollywood nightclub. At the time of his death, Phoenix was considered one of the most promising actors of his generation ...read more

Hurricane Hattie strikes Belize

Hurricane Hattie strikes Belize on this day in 1961, killing more than 400 people and leaving thousands homeless. Almost half of Belize City was demolished by the storm.The storm that would become Hattie had formed two weeks earlier in the Atlantic Ocean and then moved slowly ...read more

The prime minister of India is assassinated

Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, is assassinated in New Delhi by two of her own bodyguards. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, both Sikhs, emptied their guns into Gandhi as she walked to her office from an adjoining bungalow. Although the two assailants immediately ...read more

Third Battle of Gaza

Early on the morning of October 31, 1917, Allied forces under General Edmund Allenby launch an attack on Turkish positions at Beersheba, in Palestine, beginning the Third Battle of Gaza.After two earlier attacks at Gaza failed amid heavy Allied casualties, the British brought in ...read more

Chiang Kai-Shek is born

On this day in 1887, in Chekiang province, China, Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of the Nationalist government of China from 1928 to 1949, is born. As a young man training in the Japanese military, Chiang was converted to the ideals of republicanism. Upon returning to China, Chiang ...read more