The Escape Artist


In 2011, I happened upon a newspaper article written for the Canadian Newspaper, The St. Catharines Standard. written in 1974 about an object that had been stolen from the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame, a popular folk museum in Niagara Falls, Ontario, that operated from 1968 until 1995. The original object that had been stolen was a small sealable box containing a pencil and a pad of paper created by the late Hungarian-American escape artist and stunt performer Harry Houdini (1874-1926) and was meant as a tool to test and debunk spiritual mediums.

Often mistakenly described as a magician, Houdini referred to himself as an engineer, someone who could confront and escape the threshold of death by means of ingenuity rather than magic. Houdini’s fervent faith in the conscious afterlife, however, led him on a campaign to unveil mediums’ techniques of sleight of hand, and went on during the latter half of his career to publish books and create exam-like objects to test their abilities. Houdini had offered a $31,000 cash reward to any medium who could summon the spirits to write with the pencil within the box, without actually touching the box, and until 1974 that offer had been continued by the Hall of Fame. Suspiciously, two weeks before it was stolen, two Brock University Students announced that they would attempt the feat. There no images or records of the object in the Niagara archive, nor in Pennsylvania where another extensive Houdini collection is found, but that Houdini never intended any of his objects to be exhibited post mortem. Instead he requested that they be first inherited by his brother Hardeen, and then burned and melted after his death. I found it curious that the fate of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame would end in flames in 1995, fulfilling Houdini’s original wish.

The Escape Artist is a reconstruction of this box based only on its description in the article from 1974. The original box has never been recovered and is understood to have been the sole artefact suvivor of the fire that destroyed the Hall of Fame.


    1910, Harry Houdini with his brother. source:


    Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls. Source: Niagara Falls Library


    Brochure from the Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls. Source: Niagara Falls Library


    1974, Houdini's magic box is stolen. Source: St. Catharines Library


    Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls. Source: Niagara Falls Library


    1995, Source: Niagara Falls Library