The Escape Artist

2011

Pencil, custom box, glass, cloth, text, pedestal, chair, red rope barrier.

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Harry Houdini, the famous American escape-artist of the 1920’s, was a skeptic when it came to psychics. He was a great believer in the paranormal, and was angered by carnival acts who exploited their hopeful visitors with cheap trickery. So, he invented a test. A box made of wood and glass, with a pencil hanging inside of it. Very similar to the one seen here.
When Houdini died in 1926 he left all of his performance paraphernalia to his brother. His brother was instructed that before his own death that all of the things should be burned. However, the Houdini brother, disobeyed and sold the collection to two museums, one being in Niagara Falls, Canada. That is where the box ended up.
In the 70's, the museum advertised that if anyone would be able to move the sealed-in pencil with their mind only, that person would be paid a cash reward of $31,000. But when two individuals finally announced that they would try, the box was mysteriously stolen. In 1995, the museum was set on fire, which burned the remainder of the collection and brought Houdini’s last living desires to fruition. The magic writing box is still missing, and perhaps was the only object to have escaped the tragic fiery fate.

The Escape Artist is a reconstruction of this magic box, as it is described in the article that reports its theft. There are no known photographs of the original box. This object has been exhibited on two occasions, with the original text from the 1974 article.

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    1910, Harry Houdini with his brother. source: commons.wikimedia.org

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    Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls. Source: Niagara Falls Library

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

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

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    Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls. Source: Niagara Falls Library

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    1995, Source: Niagara Falls Library