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Mirror Cuffs

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Mirror Cuffs was a Harry Houdini challenge escape first performed in 1904. The London Daily Mirror newspaper challenged Houdini to escape from special handcuffs that it claimed had taken Nathaniel Hart, a locksmith from Birmingham, five years to make. Houdini accepted the challenge for March 17, during a matinée performance at the London Hippodrome theater.

The Escape

It was reported that 4,000 people, and more than 100 journalists, turned out for the much-hyped event. The escape attempt dragged on for over an hour, during which Houdini emerged from his "ghost house" (a small screen used to conceal the method of his escape) several times. On one occasion he asked if the cuffs could be removed so he could take off his coat. The Mirror representative, Frank Parker, refused, saying Houdini could gain an advantage if he saw how the cuffs were unlocked. Houdini promptly took out a pen-knife and, holding the knife in his teeth, used it to cut his coat from his body.

Some 56 minutes later, Houdini's wife appeared on stage and gave him a kiss. It was believed by some that in her mouth was the key to unlock the special handcuffs. Houdini then went back behind the curtain. After an hour and ten minutes, Houdini emerged free. As he was paraded on the shoulders of the cheering crowd, he broke down and wept. Houdini later said it was the most difficult escape of his career.

Research

After Houdini's death, his friend Martin Beck was quoted in Will Goldston's book, Sensational Tales of Mystery Men, as admitting that Houdini was bested that day and had appealed to his wife, Bess, for help. Goldston goes on to claim that Bess begged the key from the Mirror representative, then slipped it to Houdini in a glass of water. However, it was stated in the book The Secret Life of Houdini that the key required to open the specially designed Mirror handcuffs was 6" long, and thus could not have been smuggled to Houdini in a glass of water.

Goldston offered no proof of his account, and many modern biographers have found evidence (notably in the custom design of the handcuffs) that the Mirror challenge was arranged by Houdini, and that his long struggle to escape was pure showmanship. In support of this contention, it has been reported that the sterling silver replica of the Mirror cuffs presented to Houdini in honor of his escape was actually made the year before the escape actually took place.

This revelation was also discussed in depth on the Travel Channel's "Mysteries At The Museum" program in an interview with Houdini expert, magician and escape artist Dorothy Dietrich of Scranton's Houdini Museum.[1] A full-sized design of the same Mirror Handcuffs, as well as a replica of the Bramah style key for it, is on display to the public at the Museum in Scranton.[2]

References

  1. Travel Channel, "Mysteries at the Museum - Houdini" Retrieved 2015-07-25.
  2. Wikipedia - Harry Houdini, Mirror Challenge