88 Years ago yesterday, HARRY HOUDINI HURT DURING ACT IN THEATER
Albany, October 12, (By U. P.) – Harry Houdini, the magician, has an incomplete fracture of one of the bones of the left foot, received last night when a 200-pound weight slipped and fell on his foot during one of his acts. The muscles of the foot and other bones also were badly bruised, but his manager said today Houdini would appear at the theatre tonight, as usual.
This surprising communication was received by Samri Frikell [AKA Fulton Oursler] from Mrs. Wood, a medium, shortly after the accident to Houdini.
Three years ago, Doctor Hyslop: [meaning the spirit of Doctor Hyslop –Editor] said to J. Malcolm Bird of the Psychical Research Society: “The waters are black for Houdini,” and he predicted that disaster would befall him while performing before an audience in a theatre. Doctor Hyslop now says that the injury is more serious than has been reported and that Houdini’s days as a magician are over! [Spirit Mediums Exposed By Samri Frikell]
First off, I put very little stock in this weird prediction by Mrs. Wood. But what I find interesting is the ad attached to the prediction that describes Houdini getting hurt when a weight is dropped; There is no mention of the Water Torture Cell.
Image courtesy of “The Key” by Patrick Cullition
I always heard the accident described this way:
While performing at the Capital Theater in Albany, New York, Houdini was being locked in the stocks and preparing to be hoisted upside-down over the Torture Cell. But just as he was being raised from the stage, one of the cables loosened and twisted, causing the heavy stocks to shift and fracture his ankle. [WildAboutHoudini]
Another ad collaborates the 200 pound weight falling on his foot:
Houdini, Magician, Hurt When Weight Is Dropped
ALBANY, Oct. 12. – Harry Houdini, magician, who began a three day engagement at a theater here last night, suffered a painful injury to his left foot during the first performance. An X-ray examination today revealed an incomplete fracture of a bone and bruises to bones and muscles. A 200 pound weight fell on his foot. [The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) 12 October 1926]
Silverman describes the accident as follows:
As Houdini was being hoisted upside down from the stage into the Water Torture Cell, during act 2, the cables twisted or swayed. The lurch cracked the clamped footstock and fractured his left ankle. In one sense he was lucky. A physician later told him that if the stock had not broken it would have amputated his foot. Unable to stand on his left leg, he omitted the Upside Down but continued the show. The injured foot bandaged by a doctor backstage, he gave his act 3 anti-Spiritualist demonstration from a chair. With the aid of a splint and a leg brace he got through two more days of performances in Albany and three in Schenectady before opening in Montreal.
How would you describe the accident?
Special Thanks to Lisa Cousins for showing me the Magic Castle’s copy of Spirit Mediums Exposed By Samri Frikell which led me to get my own copy of the magazine.
UPDATE: Check out post by John Cox that gives Houdini’s version of the Albany accident.
Here is another account of the accident that goes with the image (i.e., ad) from The Key above:
Six inches, three seconds and the goddess of luck last night saved Houdini, master magician, from an injury which would have left his physical prowess only a memory.
When the heavy wooden frame binding his feet loosened as he lay flat on his back on the stage of the Capitol theatre, the vise-like snap of the stocks fractured his left foot. He was being lifted by the shoulders for the beginning of the Chinese Water Torture Cell trick.
In another three seconds he would have been free of the stage. Had the frame loosened then, its snap would have severed his leg. Dr. Elwynn Hannock, who attended him, said today, Or had the frame struck his leg six inches higher, it would have snapped his leg, he said.
Houdini plays today and tonight. When the foot is better, he will try the Chinese trick again.
There wasn’t a counter weight. I found an article by Houdini Himself, in the January 1919 Strand Magazine where he states:
“It is this element of danger that makes my Chinese torture-cell a good trick. Before doing the trick the audience sees the narrow glass case filled with water and my legs clamped with a three hundred and fifty pound weight. It then watches me as I am lowered, head downward, into the water. In sight of the audience the case is then locked and closed.”
Image courtesy of houdinitribute.com
The Key has a photo with a caption that reads:
“Kukol handles the block and tackle while Vickery and Collins prepare to guide Houdini into the cell.”
The Key also says:
that Houdini laid flat upon his back on a mat resting on the stage floor while his assistants and members of the volunteer committee clamped down the stocks-shaped cover of the Cell upon his legs. Ropes lowered from the flies were then hooked on to the corners of the cover securing Houdini, and by means of a windlass in the wings the cover was slowly raised until Houdini was suspended head-down, directly above the transparent and water-filled Cell…
It appears that the weight referred to in Newspaper accounts, is really referring to the stocks-shaped cover.