LINK: Houdini was better at magic than cycling

Mil Catch Wheel Fever

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Below are snippets from a 2010 article on Milwaukee published by Pete Ehrmann that said Harry Houdini was better at magic tricks than bicycle racing:

Draped in chains and locked in a trunk that was tossed overboard, Harry Houdini would be free and swimming to the surface before the trunk sank to the bottom. No jail cell or straitjacket could hold him. But 117 [122] years ago, the great escape artist was just another guy who cried uncle riding a bicycle from Waukesha to Milwaukee in the most grueling race in the country.

A shade longer than 16 miles, the Waukesha Road Race [WRR] started at the Waukesha County Courthouse in what was then a resort village accessible from Milwaukee only by train or horse, and proceeded east along the Waukesha Road (now Highway 18, or West Blue Mound Road) to Brookfield, then east along Watertown Plank Road through Wauwatosa and finished at North 28th Street and West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee.

Nineteen-year-old Houdini — then still known as Erich Weiss, an avid bike racer, swimmer and boxer — started the race in ‘93. “But he was faster with his hands than with his feet,” Milwaukee cyclist Ed Aldridge recalled in a 1928 interview, and couldn’t overcome the hazardous course.

“For the first mile from the starting point — the Courthouse in Waukesha — the road is level and quite smooth and hard until the first hill is reached,” reported The Milwaukee Journal in 1892. “Though generally hard to climb, owing to the cinders and dust, wheelmen will find it a much more difficult task this year, as the road has been recently covered with about three inches of soft, loose gravel.”

Except for the choking dust, it was relatively smooth sailing until the riders pedaled out of Wauwatosa on Stone Quarry Hill, “about 100 feet long and very steep, besides being very rough.”

Click the link below to read the article in its entirety:

Was he even in Milwaukee on July 4th,1893 when the WRR was held that year?

  • One would think that 1883 [to 1886] when he was living in Milwaukee would make more sense, except the first WRR started August 9th, 1890.
  • According to The Metamorphosis by Bruce MacNab, Houdini was in Chicago in May 1893 and then spent the rest of the year playing third-rate theatres throughout the northern states.
  • According to Entertainment in Early Milwaukee by Larry Widen, Houdini performed at all of Milwaukee’s dime museums between 1892 and 1898.



6 thoughts on “LINK: Houdini was better at magic than cycling

  1. HH was 9 to 12 years of age when he lived in Milwaukee so that has to be ruled out. He seems to have been at least near the area of the race at one point or another in 1893. I think it’s possible he had time off to enter the race. He was 19 and still making the transition from athletics to magic.

    Too bad there weren’t mountain bikes with gears back then to make that course a piece of cake.

    • Ah yes, the voice of reason. It all makes perfect sense that he could have entered the race. The part that bothers me, is he cried uncle.

  2. He probably overestimated his skills and endurance and entered it half heartedly to see how he would fare. He may have gotten in over his head once he was on the course. I bet he didn’t train for this event ahead of time if he was busy traveling around performing. You need to have a bike and cycle consistently over hilly terrain to prep for something like this.

    The chain may have come off or a tire went flat on him. I don’t believe there wasn’t a pit crew to make fast repairs, so there couldn’t be any point in attempting a fix during the race. Best to call it a day.

  3. The second point sounds funny but it might be possible. Going over rough terrain could have popped the chain off or ruin a tire. Also remember that Harry cried uncle at Catalina Island when he was getting his butt kicked by the relentless waves that were battering him. He also threw in the towel after the movie business kicked his butt. A bruised rear end is usually the wake up call.

    • Agreed; the pit crew remark had me in stitches. Despite taking a beating, we have to give him credit for giving it a go. Most of the time, he was the one kicking butt.

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