When Houdini came to to Aberdeen in 1909

What happened when legendary illusionist Harry Houdini came to the Granite City in 1909?
Harry Houdini in trademark padlock and chainsHarry Houdini in trademark padlock and chains
Harry Houdini in trademark padlock and chains

He held the people of Aberdeen in thrall as he wrestled with himself in the freezing harbour, bound by manacles and chains.

Harry Houdini, the world-famous escapologist, had arrived in the north east for a 1909 run of shows.

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As he took his act outdoors on July 1, thousands of people followed him to the harbour for a glimpse of the magic man, whose feats seemed all the madder given the stormy skies of that night.

Harry Houdini in Aberdeen, at the grave of Wizard of the North, John AndersonHarry Houdini in Aberdeen, at the grave of Wizard of the North, John Anderson
Harry Houdini in Aberdeen, at the grave of Wizard of the North, John Anderson

Police were reportedly ready to stop the show but Houdini dived in and he reportedly spent a-minute-and-a-half out of sight as his show unfolded.

The gathered folk gasped - and Houdini emerged, free and unscathed.

A report from the Aberdeen Free Press on June 29 1909 summed up the excitement Houdini brought to town.

Embedded in the Palace Theatre, the reporter noted that Houdini appeared on stage after two films of his “notorious manacled dives” were shown to warm up the audience.

“Then the tit-bit of the evening came. The curtain rose revealing a number of zinc tanks and pails, standing within a tarpaulin and guarded by three attendants, and in a brief space Houdini appeared. He had a great welcome” the report said.

It added: “Short of stature but strongly built, even an evening dress suit failing to conceal evidence of broad, powerful shoulders, he addressed the audience in firm, distinct tones, outlining his programme for the evening.

“The first turn consisted of getting out of a regulation straight jacket, rather a formidable looking garment. Two muscular looking men, who were announced to have lengthy experience in prison work, were commissioned to carry out the “fastening up” process.”

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Houdini, according to the report, could “scarcely breath, and certainly could not move his arms” which were crossed behind his back and strapped.

“When the jacked had been ultimately adjusted, Houdini commenced to extricate himself from what, to the ordinary individual, would have proved an impossible tangle,” the report said.

As Houdini threw the straight jacket from him, the crowd rose to its feet.

But, the reporter said, “better was yet to follow” with a large number of local men asked to examine a large zinc tank, which was filled with water and “resembled a wholesale milk can.”

“Houdini gave an exhibition of his remarkable powers by remaining in the tin immersed in water for a minute-and-a-half.

“Then, the dislodged water having been replaced, Houdini again entered the tin, a heavy lid was placed on and fixed down with four locks.

“A large screen surrounded the whole, and after about a minute, Houdini drew aside the curtains having emerged from his prison without disturbing the locks.

“The audience simply yelled at the performance, which showed that Houdini’s fame was worthily merited.”

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While in Aberdeen, Houdini visited the grave of John Anderson - known as the Wizard of the North - who was born in Aberdeenshire and credited with bringing street magic to the stage.

Houdini long favoured him as an inspiration and vowed while in the North East to pay for the upkeep of Anderson’s grave, in St Nicholas Churchyard, which had fallen into disrepair.