The mystery of Houdini’s death

by Rick Roberts
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Harry Houdini is one of the most famous names in the world. He was an illusionist and escape artist. Houdini had an incredible career but one of the greatest unsolved mysteries about him concerns his death.

Houdini’s career began in a traveling circus in 1891. He was the ‘King of Cards’ at the time but in truth, he was merely a sideshow. His skills were average at best and few were enticed by his card tricks. Over time Houdini started to realize that he had an incredible ability at escape tricks. Whether it was a straight jacket, a pair of handcuffs, or something far more elaborate, Houdini was always able to find a way out and leave the audience in awe.

His escape abilities became so famous that he started to take them outside of his own show and began performing publicity stunts in public. He asked the police to handcuff him and he jumped into a river. Later he resurfaced free of any shackles. His most famous stunt was the ‘Chinese Water Torture Cell’. Here he was suspended upside down by his ankles in a glass case of water. He was completely visible from all sides and the locks around his ankles made escape impossible. Yet he always succeeded.

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He toured the world with his act and was worthy of his reputation as the greatest escape artist there ever was. However, in 1912 his tour hit a number of issues. While he was performing his most famous stunt he broke his ankle. He would continue to tour with the injury but was in constant pain. As the tour continued he met one man who asked him how impressive his pain threshold really was? Houdini had become famous for his ability to withstand any level of pain and he was happy to show off to a fan.

The man asked if he could punch Houdini in the stomach to test it out. Houdini agreed but before he could brace his core the man gave him a number of quick hard shots to the stomach. Reports say that he winced from the pain of everyone. Before the man could issue any more blows Houdini asked him to stop. He boarded a train that night for his next show but could not get any sleep. He was in such pain that he asked for a doctor to be sent to his next location.

The doctor arrived and examined him and told him he needed a hospital straight away. Houdini refused. He had a show that night that was sold out and he wanted to perform no matter what. If there was ever evidence needed of his ability to withstand pain, this was it. Houdini managed to complete three-quarters of his performance. It is said that he passed out a number of times and had to be kept cool with ice in-between acts. Later that night he was rushed to a hospital but could not be saved.

The doctors said his appendix had ruptured and the lining of his stomach was inflamed by peritonitis. While today this would be easily solved with some antibiotics back then they didn’t exist. Some say that it was the punch of the fan that ruptured his appendix while others say that he had died of natural causes.

Houdini had spent much of his life debunking spiritualist ideas. He was very clear about his show that it was illusion not magic and he went to great lengths to prove that spiritualism was not real. So much so that many people threatened his life. To this day many believe that he was poisoned by spiritualists as revenge as he proved so many of them as fakes.

Whether it was a punch, his exploits, or natural causes that killed Houdini we will never know.  

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