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
Timeline of Houdini's Life index.html index_2.html index_3.html
1912 1912Houdini performs his underwater box escape in New York's East River before a huge crowd. "Scientific American" magazine pronounces it "one of the most remarkable tricks ever performed."

In September, Houdini debuts his famous Chinese Water Torture Cell escape at the Circus Busch in Berlin.
1913 Houdini legally changes his name from Ehrich Weiss to Harry Houdini.

On July 17, Cecilia Weiss dies. Houdini faints upon receiving the news after a performance for the royal family in Sweden.
Sailing back to America, Houdini amazes former President Theodore Roosevelt with a spiritualist trick on board ship.
1915 During a performance at the Los Angeles Orpheum, Houdini argues with celebrated world heavyweight boxing champ Jess Willard, who had refused his invitation to join the committee on stage. After Willard insults him, Houdini wins the crowd with his retort, "I will be Harry Houdini when you are not the heavyweight champion of the world."
1917 Houdini lures master magician Harry Kellar out of retirement to perform in a benefit at the New York Hippodrome for the families of the men killed when a German U-boat sank the transport "Antilles."
1918 In the longest run of his career -- lasting nineteen weeks -- Houdini stars in the patriotic extravaganza "Cheer Up" at the New York Hippodrome. The highlights of his act are the vanishing elephant trick and an indoor version of his underwater box escape.
Houdini is involved in a romantic affair with Charmian London, the widow of writer Jack London, who had died in 1916.
Houdini makes his first motion picture -- the fifteen episode serial "The Master Mystery." Despite his wooden acting, audiences are thrilled by his stunts and he becomes an even bigger international star.
1920 The 1920 edition of Funk & Wagnall's dictionary includes the verb "hou-di-nize," meaning "to release or extricate oneself from (confinement, bonds, or the like), as by wriggling out."
1920Houdini forms his own production company, the Houdini Picture Corporation. Houdini starts writing "The Man from Beyond," which would premiere in 1922.
1922 Vacationing with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family in Atlantic City, Houdini attends a séance with Lady Doyle, who claims to channel automatic-writing from Houdini’s mother. Houdini is not convinced, and the incident marks the beginning of the end of his friendship with the world-famous author and leading proponent of Spiritualism.
1924 In July, Houdini has his first sittings with the celebrated Boston medium Mina Crandon, aka "Margery." Houdini, convinced Margery is a fake, feuds with her and more sympathetic colleagues on the "Scientific American" panel charged with evaluating her gifts. The case receives wide coverage in the press.
1925 In early January Houdini challenges Margery to appear with him at Boston’s Symphony Hall. When she declines, Houdini stages a séance to expose her methods. In February, the "Scientific American" panel votes to deny her the prize, tepidly saying, "We have observed no phenomena of which we can assert that they could not have been produced by normal means." In November, however, Houdini is vindicated by an article in "Atlantic Monthly." In it, a Harvard graduate student in psychology discredits Margery by catching her in a clear deception.
Houdini’s career-long search for theatrical respectability ends with his own Broadway show at the end of the year. Running two and a half hours, "HOUDINI" is easily the longest show he has ever done. The second and third acts, featuring some of his most famous escapes and an exposé of Spiritualism, respectively, are vintage Houdini. But the hour-long first act, featuring fifteen tricks and illusions, is a real departure for him. As biographer Kenneth Silverman writes, "... after a lifetime in magic, it marked his professional debut as a magician."
1926 In February and May, Houdini testifies before Senate and House subcommittees for a bill aimed at prosecuting anyone "pretending to tell fortunes for reward or compensation."
On August 5th, Houdini outdoes Egyptian fakir Rahman Bey by staying submerged in an airtight bronze coffin for one hour and thirty minutes. Houdini responds to charges that the coffin was rigged by saying, "there is no invention to it, there is no trick, there is no fake; you simply lie down in a coffin and breathe quietly."
1926Houdini dies in Detroit on Halloween, from complications of appendicitis. Several days earlier, he had been struck in the stomach by a student in his dressing room, then refused to cancel his shows until it was too late. His death triggers mourning and tributes around the world.
Houdini's funeral is held on November 4th at the Elks Clubhouse on West Forty-third Street in New York. As many as two thousand mourners pack the ballroom, and the event is widely covered. According to his instructions, he is buried with his head resting on a packet of letters from his mother.


1874 - 1898 | 1899 - 1910 | 1912 - 1926

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: