Mysteries Still Surround Harry Houdini’s Halloween Death


Harry Houdini, the remarkable illusionist who stunned international audiences with his death-defying act of escape, was chained for eternity by the grim reaper on this Halloween in history, October 31, 1926.

“As one of the most influential figures on the American scene, [Houdini’s] the popularity lasted a quarter of a century,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in its obituary of the performer, considered by many to be the greatest magician in history.

“Houdini counted royalty from Europe and Asia among his audience.”

Harry Houdini’s cause of death was peritonitis, caused by a ruptured appendix.

But questions continue to surround the bizarre circumstances of Houdini’s death at 52, including suggestions from some fans that the famous performer was murdered.

Houdini had just given a lecture at McGill University in Montreal and met with students after the appearance.

Harry Houdini (1874 – 1926), Hungarian-born magician and escapologist, rode in an anti-escape suit.
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The muscular magician was known to boast that his stomach was so strong he could withstand a blow from any man.

“A student, Joselyn Gordon Whitehead, asked if he could take a punch and immediately Houdini nodded,” PBS News Hour wrote in a 2019 online account of the artist’s death. escape.

“The student punched the tall magician twice, but before he had a chance to tighten his abdominal muscles and brace himself. The ‘hammer-shaped’ punches caused visible pain and Houdini stopped Whitehead mid-shot on the third attempted punch to his stomach.

Harry Houdini escaping from a straitjacket in Cleveland, Ohio, 1915.
Harry Houdini escaping from a straitjacket in Cleveland, Ohio, 1915.
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The pain only got worse when Houdini endured a 15-hour train ride to Detroit.

He was quickly diagnosed with acute appendicitis.

Still, he put on one more show before being rushed to hospital for emergency surgery on October 24.

Harry Houdini, full-length portrait, standing, facing, chained around 1899.
Harry Houdini, full-length portrait, standing, facing, chained around 1899.
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It was too late. Houdini’s appendix had already ruptured.

He died a week later from the infection.

“Whitehead was not charged in the incident and lived a solitary life in Montreal,” the active fan site WildAboutHoudini.com reported.

Magician Harry Houdini jumps from Harvard Bridge, Boston, Massachusetts on April 30, 1908.
Magician Harry Houdini jumps from Harvard Bridge, Boston, Massachusetts on April 30, 1908.
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Medical research today indicates that it is extremely rare for blunt force trauma to cause appendicitis. But by the 1920s, it was widely believed that Whitehead’s punches had killed Houdini.

“The poor medical student probably went to his grave thinking he had robbed the world of the great Harry Houdini,” PBS wrote.

The magician was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874 and grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Harry Houdini in the coffin shortly before it was sealed for submersion.
Harry Houdini in the coffin shortly before it was sealed for submersion.
Archive Bettmann

His disappearance under such unexpected but mundane circumstances is all the more shocking in light of his career spent defying death – or at least appearing to defy death.

“The Hungarian-born escape artist jumped off bridges while handcuffed and in leg irons, slipped out of sealed milk cans filled with water, and designed a ‘torture cell’ to Chinese water “in which he was immersed and hung upside down by his ankles,” reported History.com.

“The thrilling escapades usually involved a fair amount of trickery and sleight of hand, but they were also fraught with real risk.”

Many fans were hoping to hear Houdini talk about the afterlife.

Illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini, New York, July 7, 1912. On the same day he performed his famous stunt in which he was submerged in the East River in a crate.
Illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini, New York, July 7, 1912. On the same day he performed his famous stunt in which he was submerged in the East River in a crate.
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“Famous in life for his unlikely escapes from physical restraints, the illusionist promised his wife, Bess, that – if possible – he would also break the chains of death to send her a coded message from beyond. “, noted the Smithsonian Magazine in a 2021 column of his unusual life and bizarre death.

But Bess Houdini, who married the magician in 1894 and also served as his stage assistant, was ultimately disappointed.

Questions continue to surround the bizarre circumstances of Houdini's death at age 52, including suggestions from some fans that the famous performer was murdered.
Questions continue to surround the bizarre circumstances of Houdini’s death at age 52, including suggestions from some fans that the famous performer was murdered.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

As Smithsonian further noted, “On Halloween Day 1936, she finally gave up, declaring to the world, ‘Houdini didn’t come…I don’t believe Houdini can come back to me, or whoever whether it be.'”

Houdini is buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York, where his grave has become a site of pilgrimages and Halloween rituals among the magician community.

New York Post

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