Kids still hooked on Houdini—May 15, 2009
I have always been fascinated by Harry Houdini, the world’s greatest magician and escape artist, and I have read several biographies, available in the children’s department of the library, to learn more about this interesting man.
Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, in 1874 and was the son of a rabbi. His family emigrated to the United States in 1878 and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. As an adult Houdini fabricated the story that he had been born in Appleton, perhaps as an attempt to make himself a “true American.” The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, which he always claimed as his hometown, has a wonderful collection of artifacts and information about the magician’s life and career.
As a teen Ehrich read the book “The Secrets of Prestidigitation and of Magic” by the famous French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, and this book inspired him. When he was ready to select a stage name, he created the name “Houdini” by adding the letter ‘i’ to Houdin’s name. Houdini in the French language means “like Houdin.”
Besides performing death-defying escapes and mystifying magic tricks, Houdini worked hard to expose spiritualists and mediums who claimed to be able to speak to the dead. He would demonstrate how they used the tricks of a magician to produce the effects they used in their séances.
Houdini died on October 31, 1926, of peritonitis following a ruptured appendix. Although he has been gone for more than eighty years, his name still lives on as the greatest magician who ever lived.
You can learn more about Houdini’s life in these biographies: “Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini” by Sid Fleischman, “Spellbinder: The Life of Harry Houdini” by Tom Lalicki, “Harry Houdini” by Vicki Cobb, and “Houdini” by Laura Alden.
Houdini also appears as a character in a number of fictional stories in the children’s collection. In “Danger in the Dark” by Tom Lalicki, Houdini helps 13-year-old Nate expose a medium who is trying to steal money from Nate’s great-aunt. “Shots at Sea” brings Nate and Houdini together again on an ocean liner bound for England, and they try to find the man responsible for an assassination attempt on President Theodore Roosevelt.
In Brian Selznick’s book “The Houdini Box,” a young boy who wants to learn how to perform Houdini’s amazing tricks has a chance encounter with his idol and receives a mysterious locked box. Does the box contain the secrets to Houdini’s famous magic tricks?
Two time travelers find themselves stranded in 1906 and enlist Harry Houdini to help them find a gate to the future in “The Tomorrow Connection” by T. Ernesto Bethancourt. “The Séance” by Iain Lawrence tells the story of 13-year-old Scooter King, whose mother performs séances. It’s his job to perform the tricks that make her séances seem real. When Houdini arrives in the city to perform magic and expose fraudulent mediums, Scooter needs his help to solve a murder.
Look for these books about Harry Houdini in the children’s department of the library and find out more about this fascinating man!