The Handcuff King THE GIPPSLAND TIMES Magazine 1951

Here is an interesting article written in 1951. A Mr. W. Buchanan-Taylor who claimed to have been Harry Houdini’s friend and tells some interesting stories. He contributes Houdini’s death to the Water Torture Cell and says he actually died of Pneumonia versus the “Punch”. I cannot find a Houdini connection with Mr. Taylor in my research so if you are aware of who he was please leave a comment. Well I’ll just let you read it!

“The Handcuff King” MANY people, especially those now approach-ing middle-age, will remember the exploits of Harry Houdini, who ranked as one of the finest and best-known escapologists of all time. Houdini’s ingenuity in freeing himself from handcuffs and similar shackles was extraord-inary, and brought world-wide fame to him. In this article Mr. W. Buchanan-Taylor, who was Houdini’s personal friend for many years, tells some interesting tales about this famous man. Harry Houdini’s private and pro-fessional lives were measured by the clock and the lock. He was one of the few men I have ever known who fixed exactly the num-ber of his sleeping hours, the pre-cise moment of his awakening who had a punctilious regard for regular meal-times, and an almost passionate punctuality in all his professional and private affairs (writes Mr. Buchanan-Taylor). This amazing man, whom no police force in the world could hold, lived a life of precision. He died tragically in Detroit, after being immersed head down-wards in a tank for about four minutes. Many American news-papers carried the story that he died from a punch in the dia-phragm, administered playfully by an athletic, university youth who had gained access to Houdini’s dressing room. The punch may have contributed, but the fact is he died of pneumonia, doubtless brought on by excessive pressure on his lungs during the under-water performance. Had Houdini devoted himself to swimming, he would most certainly have held the world’s record for under-water feats. Usually, to maintain tensity of excitement, he stayed upside-down in a churn of milk or water for three-and-a-half minutes. Many Times he was immersed for over four minutes. Sometimes, in per-forming this feat, he would be handcuffed, hands behind his back, and manacled. Good Publicity When he visited for the first time a town with two music halls, he would manacle his brother, Hardeen, on the stage at one of them, then jump out of a stage-box and promise those present to expose Hardeen’s trickery at the opposition hall. Since he taught Hardeen all his feats, exposure was easy. Both halls played to cap-acity business and proved the value of competition. I have never met a man who looked less like an escapologist than Harry Houdini Quiet, rather pallid, with piercing eyes and wavy hair parted down the middle, under medium height, he was, in appearance, more like a tough lawyer than a strait-jacket expert: though, to be sure, in certain cases, there have been afinities between those two. Several imitators of Houdini, or handcuff experts in their own rights, practised under the sub-title of “escapologists.” I do not think Houdini ever used that coined designation. He was just” the handcuff king.” A non-smoker and teetotaller, he kept himself in perfect con-dition, but never muscle-bound.His work demanded physicalelasticity. As became a swimmer, the muscular ripple was beneath the skin. He possessed many types of handcuffs, or, as the police Of America called them, “bracelets.” Some were almost prehistoric; cer-tainly mediaeval. Others were of the most modern manufacture. In whatever country he travelled, he added to his collection of shackles, manacles, locks, bolts, and bars. He kept an acute eye on new developments in the manu-facture of locks of all kinds, mainly. through the technical journals-particularly safe locks and new, safety devices adopted by the police of different countries for use on cells and corridor gates. Early in his stage career, he challenged the most famous, mod-ern lock-makers in the world. He discovered the principles on which the firm had placed its faith, and so confused their efforts to confine him within rooms and cells that they were compelled to make im-provements in their locks. Even then, they paid him large fees as a consultant. Harry was born in the state of Wisconsin, and changed his name by deed poll from his nearly un-pronounceable family surname to Houdini, a name inspired by his reading the works of Robert Houdin, one of the most eminent names in the annals of conjuring. Houdini came to England for the first time in 1900 when he chal-lenged Scotland Yard to handcuff him and leave him naked in a cell. Having stripped to the buff, he was examined by a special searcher and declared not to be in possession of any means of escape. He released himself from his handcuffs, opened the locked door of his cell, and emerged into the gen-eral hall. That escape caused a sensational period of business at the Alhambra Theatre in Charing Cross Road. He spent some four years in England and Continental coun-tries before returning to the United States, where the news of his European exploits had raised him from comparative obscurity to stardom. When he was elected Chairman of the Magicians’ Club of London, to show his fellow-members that sleight of hand was just as easy for him as handcuff-slipping, he demonstrated his version of the needle trick, which involved pass-ing on to the tongue a dozen gen-uine Redditch needles, a yard of sewing thread, accompanied by gulps of water to wash the material down. Within a minute of the last needle disappearing in his mouth, he picked out the end of the thread and slowly withdrew it from his mouth. Every needle was threaded. Polished Conjurer A committee examined his mouth before, during, and after the trick, but there was no clue. I have seen a dozen magicians do the same trick-one of them using razor blades–but none compared with Houdini in the slick, polished presentation. He had verbal fights with many people during his career. He was inclined to spiritualism, and would have become a confirmed convert had he been able to find a medium through whom to communicate with his dead mother. He revered he- memory, and never ended his search for spiritual contact. He even went so far as to take an intensive study course in mahatmatism. I have stood by Houdini on sev-eral occasions when he was about to jump, handcuffed and manacled into dock, river, or canal. I have watched him in his mechanics shop, marvelling at the meticulous work he applied to keys, locks, and shackles. His bench-work was sodelicate that on one occasion I said: “Harry, you missed your vocation; you ought to have beena watchmaker.” His reply was:”What, and spend my life in a factory? No fear! Time may be im-portant, but so is money: you can do so much good with it. “An eavesdropper might have imagined that Houdini’s god was mammon. It was not. He gave lavishly to many charities, asso-ciated with many creeds. He seldom refused to appear at charity performances, and his con-tribution to Jewish organisations must have run into many thous-ands of pounds. He was generous, too, in individual cases of need, as many music-hall professionals will vouch. Houdini, who had booked an en-gagement of one month at the Famous Winter garten Music Hall, arrived in Berlin several weeks before he was to appear. His investi-gations showed clearly that the police knew of his coming and probable intentions. They had ac-counts of his escape feats perform-ed under the challenges to other police forces. They had been at special pains to send for some ter-rible ancient shackles from Nur-emberg, and the combination of their modern locks and mediaeval punishment contraptions seemed like ominous obstacles. Neverthe-less, he went ahead with his daily challenges. At first, they did not respond, but under the barbs of newspaper references, they ultimately accept-ed the challenge. His conditions were that he should be officially stripped bare, searched by their keenest expert and then placed in a cell that would be locked, and that the corridor gates leading to the hall should be locked beyond all question of access except by officials. Within five minutes of being led into the cell, he was out in the Aflice hall, having freed himself of and cuffs, picked the cell-door Lock, and mastered the corridor gate-lock. The police officials were frankly startled. They had never known anything like it, and test they be made into laughingstocks they issued a statement that Houdini had suborned a minor official. The Wintergarten was packed to suffocation at every performance for a month, and every time he appeared on the stage he made a biting reference to the Berlin police. The newspapers poked fun at the officials, and then Houdini issued a writ against the police. The court ruled against him. He determined to appeal, and one day I received a telegram ask-ing me to proceed to Berlin. There I told of what I had seen Houdini achieve in various police headquar-ters in England. Houdini won his appeal, with the full damages claimed and costs.

2 thoughts on “The Handcuff King THE GIPPSLAND TIMES Magazine 1951

  1. Interesting to read about the memories of people in the 1950s who saw Houdini perform. Even if their recollections weren’t quite accurate.


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