Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Montage of images and link description. Houdini Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
Save Houdini Margery Pamphlet Film Clips

Escape Secrets: Ropes Escapes

Handcuffs Ropes Straitjacket Milk Can Houdini, always the student, learned everything there was to know about ropes and various methods of tying them. But to a much greater degree than with handcuff escapes, he relied on brute physical strength and endurance to set himself apart from the average escape artist.

In his 1921 book "Magical Rope Ties and Escapes," Houdini explained many of the strategies he used. The most important phase of the act was the actual tying up process. "There are many types of rope ties," Houdini wrote, "and in all of them the secret of escape depends on the ability of the one being secured to gain the necessary slack for a starter." The following excerpts from "Rope Ties" describe some of the techniques he would employ while being bound with a sixty-foot rope:

The whole secret lies in the fact that it is quite impossible to tie a man while in a standing position, with such a length of rope, so that he cannot squirm out of it with comparative ease, if the tying BEGINS AT ONE END OF THE ROPE and finishes at the other . . .

It is the experience of all who have used this tie, that the first few knots are carefully tied, but after a time it will be found that the rope is being used up very slowly, and they will begin winding it around the body and making very few knots . . .

If the committee . . . begin to make more knots than suits you, it will be well to swell the muscles, expand the chest, slightly hunch the shoulders, and hold the arm a little away from the sides. After a little practice you will find that such artifices will enable you to balk the most knowing ones. You should always wear a coat when submitting to this tie, as that will be found to be an added help in obtaining slack . . .

Houdini's famously powerful physique, flexibility, and general athleticism made him one of the most adept performers in history when it came to rope escapes. His mental and physical toughness came into play as well, since he seemed to believe escaping from a rope tie was merely a matter of time, and he refused to ever give up.

But he wasn't opposed to a little trickery, either: "A sharp knife with a hook-shaped blade should be concealed somewhere on the person, as it may be found useful in case some of the first, carefully tied knots prove troublesome. A short piece cut from the end of the rope will never be missed."


Handcuffs Escapes | Ropes Escapes |Straitjacket Escapes | Milk Can Escapes

Save Houdini | Escape Secrets | Margery Pamphlet | Film Clips

The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide
The American Experience | Kids | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe

©  New content 1999 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: