Houdini’s daring Vancouver escape was 100 a long time in the past this 7 days

A single hundred many years in the past, environment-popular magician Harry Houdini arrived in Vancouver to pull a daring stunt: Freeing himself from a straitjacket whilst suspended upside down in entrance of hundreds of Vancouverites. 

He performed the signature act, which commonly took him involving five and 10 minutes, on March 1, 1923, in front of the former Vancouver Solar setting up found on Pender Street. 

The escape — a edition of which he pulled off in other big cities  — was to drum up awareness for his efficiency at the city’s Orpheum Theatre, a predecessor to the making which proceeds to bear the exact name.

“Houdini was not just a magician, not just an escape artist, but he was maybe the world’s first superhero. And people truly couldn’t get plenty of of him,” mentioned Vancouver-primarily based writer and magic historian John Pellatt, who researched the pay a visit to for a collection of article content on the website Canada’s Magic.

“If he was alive today, he would be the learn of social media. This guy understood how to boost himself.” 

On The Coastline9:10Harry Houdini’s take a look at to Vancouver remembered

Rod Chow and John Pellatt converse with Kathryn Marlow about the renowned magician’s quit in Vancouver 100 a long time ago.

Grasp of escape joins Vancouver vaudeville circuit

Houdini was a well known performer in the early 1900s, recognized for his escape artistry. He toured throughout Europe, the United States and Canada, executing vaudeville ⁠— common stay entertainment reveals that featured acts such as comedy, music or stunts.

Aside from Houdini, other well-recognised vaudeville names to perform in the metropolis consist of Charlie Chaplin, silent movie actor Fatty Arbuckle and comic Jack Benny, who opened for Houdini taking part in the violin prior to generating his switch to comedy and at some point a prolonged occupation in radio and television.

Civic historian John Atkin claimed Vancouver was a bustling hub for vaudeville at the time, with trains from the American midwest travelling through B.C. in advance of heading down to Seattle. He estimates the metropolis experienced all around 20,000 audience seats in whole for reside vaudeville theatre, which was a substantial attraction.

“You experienced most people right here.”

A newspaper clipping from the Vancouver Sun reads "The Genius of Escape, Houdini, In person, who will startle and amaze."
A newspaper clipping from the Vancouver Sunlight advertises Houdini’s Vancouver go to. (Canada’s Magic weblog)

Born in Budapest, Houdini’s job begun in the 1890s and broke via in the 1900s when he began performing in the course of Europe. By 1923, he was a single of the most significant stars in the planet.

During his three-day visit in 1923, from Feb. 28 to Mar. 3, Houdini performed 7 matinees and night shows at the former Orpheum Theatre ⁠at 796 Granville St., wherever the existing-working day Pacific Centre mall stands.

At these theatre performances, according to Pellatt’s exploration, Houdini’s large stunt was acknowledged as the “water torture cell.” It included him staying suspended upside down in a locked glass cabinet complete of water, holding his breath for more than a few minutes though he escaped, a efficiency a reviewer in The Province explained as “without doubt just one of the very best of the time.”

But the largest audience was for his public efficiency suspended upside down in entrance of the Vancouver Solar.

‘A cheer arose and swelled into a roar’

In the week leading up to Houdini’s community performance, the Sunlight posted a collection of articles endorsing the stunt, which it explained as “exceptional” irrespective of remaining an proven element of the magician’s regime.

The paper documented that a pair of Vancouver law enforcement detectives had promised to lock Houdini up in a “burglar-proof” escape jacket, with monetary awards offered for any individual who could determine out how he managed to pull off his escape.

As Houdini was hung upside down, police estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals showed up to see if he could get free of charge.

A crowd of people forms around the Vancouver Sun Building, Houdini is suspended upsidedown middair in a straightjacket.
Police estimates from the time believed the group that watched Houdini escape to be as big as 10,000 persons. (Metropolis of Vancouver archives)

He “furiously struggled” for three minutes and 29 seconds, according to the paper’s report, and when he showed he was no cost, “a cheer arose and swelled into a roar.”

And even though it may well have been showmanship, Houdini had praise for the viewers, as well, calling it “the best outside crowd I have at any time noticed.”

Houdini’s final decades

The take a look at was a element of an East-to-West tour by way of many Canadian towns, in accordance to Pellatt. A few times previously, the magician had created similar headlines in Winnipeg.

At the time of his Vancouver display, Houdini was 49 years outdated. He died from a ruptured appendix just a few years later.

Pellatt said his function proceeds to resonate. 

“He was making an attempt to notify us that you can escape the boundaries of your possess daily constraints in unique strategies … I imagine, in numerous approaches, it was a metaphor for people’s individual humdrum life.”

“And I imagine men and women then and now nevertheless have to have that kind of hero to look at and to it’s possible aspire to.”

The Great Houdini mesmerized audiences at displays across Canada and the environment. (courtesy Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra)


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