Secrets behind Harry Houdini's risky stunts

Here are details of how legendary illusionist pulled off his remarkable stunts

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Secrets behind illusionist Harry Houdini's jaw-dropping stunts revealed.

Harry Houdini, an early 19th century master escapologist, performed seemingly impossible stunts such as breaking locks, escaping boxes and and straitjackets, fascinating generations.

However, his methods were ingenious and impressive than the trick itself, highlighting the complexity of magic, according to Metro.

To mark what would have been the magician's 150th birthday, here are three of Houdini’s greatest stunts and how he did them.


Harry Houdini in chains at the edge of a pier ready to dive in. — Metro via Corbis
Harry Houdini in chains at the edge of a pier ready to dive in. — Metro via Corbis

Houdini was known to escape any set of handcuffs, often adding a river or lake to his tricks. 

Despite being encouraged by local police to restrain him, he managed to free himself twice in over an hour, and even one-off handcuff with a single key could not hold him.

What really happened

Houdini was skilled at picking locks from an early age. He could open handcuffs by hitting them with enough force, or by pulling a screw from the locking mechanism with a thin string.

Most times, he concealed a skeleton key in his hand or sleeve, and for specialty handcuffs with one key, he would inspect the cuffs and hand the key to an assistant who would then choose a similar-looking key from his vast collection.

Houdini would then return the lookalike key before using the real one.

Upside-down straitjacket escape

Houdini free from his hanging straitjacket trick. — Metro via Corbis
Houdini free from his hanging straitjacket trick. — Metro via Corbis

Straitjackets are designed to restrain people, making it an impressive feat to see a man wrapped in one, dangling high off the ground from a rope tied to his feet.

The renowned stuntman performed this in public to increase audience numbers during his evening shows, showcasing his skill in executing such stunts.

What really happened

Houdini used a unique method to put on a jacket, which involved crossing his arms, breathing in to increase his chest size and pinching the jacket material to remove any slack before it was buckled.

He then used brute strength to pull his right arm over his head, undoing the straps and buckles with his teeth or a cutting too he had “palmed” before the jacket was put on.

Houdini’s upside-down hanging stunt was beneficial for him as gravity worked in his favour.

Underwater Box

This stunt combined all of Houdini’s strengths – handcuffs, locks, and breath control. He was placed in a wooden crate, secured with ropes and chains and then craned into a river.

The crate sank and after what seemed like an eternity, Houdini bobbed to the surface, free of the box and his handcuffs.

What really happened

Houdini escaped from handcuffs before the box, drilled with holes to fill it with water quickly, was even nailed shut.

The box also had a hidden panel on one side which opened to allow Houdini to escape once the box was in the water. He would then wait to build suspense before he surfaced.