Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini

Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini

by Sid Fleischman

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Who was this man who could walk through brick walls and, with a snap of his fingers, vanish elephants? In these pages you will meet the astonishing Houdini—magician, ghost chaser, daredevil, pioneer aviator, and king of escape artists. No jail cell or straitjacket could hold him! He shucked off handcuffs as easily as gloves.

In this fresh, witty biography of the most famous bamboozler since Merlin, Sid Fleischman, a former professional magician, enriches his warm homage with insider information and unmaskings. Did Houdini really pick the jailhouse lock to let a fellow circus performer escape? Were his secrets really buried with him? Was he a bum magician, as some rivals claimed? How did he manage to be born in two cities, in two countries, on two continents at the same instant?

Here are the stories of how a knockabout kid named Ehrich Weiss, the son of an impoverished rabbi, presto-changoed himself into the legendary Harry Houdini. Here, too, are rare photographs never before seen by the general reader!


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781605147208
Publisher: Findaway World Llc
Publication date: 04/01/2008
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 4.82(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.14(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Sid Fleischman wrote more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. Among his many awards was the Newbery Medal for his novel The Whipping Boy. The author described his wasted youth as a magician and newspaperman in his autobiography The Abracadabra Kid. His other titles include The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, a novel, and three biographies, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World; The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West; and Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.

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The Story of The Great Houdini

Chapter One

He Was Born, But Where?

Not long ago the breast pocket snipped from a man's pajamas came up for auction in New York City. Immediately, bids around the room erupted like doves flushed from cover. So eager was the crowd for this fragment of sleepwear that a lofty price of $3,910 was reached before the auctioneer banged his hammer and shouted, "Sold!"

Why would anyone want the pocket of an old pair of striped pajamas with the initials HH monogrammed in gray?

Easy. The first initial stood for Harry. The second for Houdini.

Harry Houdini, the world's greatest magician and escape artist. No jail cell, no chains, no manacles could hold the man.

Houdini, who walked through a red-brick wall! He came through without a scratch, too.

Houdini, who clapped his hands like cymbals and made a five-ton Asian elephant disappear into thin air. Not even the elephant knew how he did it.

Like those engaged in the ancient commerce in relics of saints, buying and selling a wrist bone here, a great toe there, today's magic collectors seek anything associated with the supernova of sorcery, the incomparable, the fabled Houdini—even a trivial scrap of flannel.

This powerfully built but diminutive young man was the most commanding wizard to burst upon the world scene since Merlin performed his parlor tricks during the misty days of King Arthur. Houdini could have sawed Merlin in half.

An abject failure as a magician in his early twenties, Houdini woke one morning, like the poet Lord Byron, to find himself famous.

Aknockabout kid, the son of an impoverished rabbi, he insisted that he was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. An ambitious finger finger, he crowned himself King of Cards, with holes in his socks. Leaping onto a carousel horse at full gallop, he reached for the gold ring of stardom—and caught it. That, perhaps, was his greatest sleight-of-hand trick, as we shall see.

What exactly did he do that so excited the world's imagination? What razzle-dazzle fixed the name Houdini in the public memory so firmly that it is still remembered today, more than eighty years after his final disappearing act?

Watch him.

Tightly strapped and buckled into a canvas straitjacket designed to restrain the violently insane, he is being raised by his ankles to dangle like a fish from the cornice of a tall building. He wriggles free as adroitly as a moth emerges from a cocoon. The crowd cheers. Can nothing hold the great escape artist?

After recrowning himself the "King of Handcuffs," a defiant Houdini is being shackled at the wrists and ankles. He is quickly nailed inside a wooden packing case and thrown into the untidy waters of New York Harbor. Moments later, he splashes to the surface, rattling aloft the police jewelry.

He has escaped the inescapable. The skeptics are befuddled. The man must have supernatural powers!

Equally confounding is his trademark Indian Needle Trick. At the same time, the faux secrets were demeaning, for they dismissed the magician's hard-won sleight-of-hand skills and mastery of the arts of fooling the socks off people. Houdini was the grand guru of magic. He didn't need the unseen assistance of sprites, spirits, and imps.

It is said that you know you are truly famous when the deranged imagine that they are you.

Once Houdini's exploits blazed across newspaper headlines, the opportunists, the cunning, the nutcases, and the jealous emerged like theatrical chameleons. The imitators not only parted their hair in the middle, as did the escape artist, they mimicked his style of dress and his billing. There were more self-crowned Kings of Handcuffs before the footlights than in all the royal houses of Europe—half a hundred in England alone. To Harry's great annoyance, these pests tried to counterfeit his name, coming up with such worshipful thefts as Whodini, Oudini, and Hardini.

Women, too, tried to get into the act. Most nettlesome was a Miss Undina in Germany whose name, when pronounced, sounded close to the original. He had to sue to get her and her copycat tricks out of the escape business. And where a heavily manacled Houdini had had himself photographed in his underwear, an imitator named Miss Lincoln had herself photographed in a racy costume that could pass as knee-length bloomers. But not even the curves and black stockings of that distaff queen of handcuffs were a match for Harry's commanding footlight razzmatazz.

His strategy was to trump his imitators with ever more daring and death-defying feats of mystification. It was this battle for supremacy that inspired one of his most dangerous illusions—the awesome Milk Can Escape.

In earlier days, milk fresh from the cow was transported in large cans. Houdini had one made just large enough to hold him tightly folded in a fetal position. Buckets of water were poured into the can, followed by Houdini himself. Challenging his audience to hold its breath with him, the great showman lowered his head under water. The lid was secured with six padlocks, and a curtain was drawn around this impending death scene.

At thirty seconds the audience was gasping for breath. Sixty seconds passed. Tick, tick, tick. Two minutes! Had the escape gone wrong? Tick, tick, tick. Was Houdini drowning?

Assistants with axes stood ready to burst open the death can. At the last moment, just short of 180 seconds, out popped the master of escape, breathless, dripping wet, but very much alive.

He Jests at Handcuffs shouted a Los Angeles newspaper, while Houdini challenged the world to duplicate his escapes. But as the years passed, he could read his voluminous scrapbooks, and they were telling him that flinging off handcuffs was no longer making headlines.

While his name had become as recognizable as that of Napoleon, of Shakespeare, of Lincoln, the former carnival magician feared slipping back into obscurity. He understood that fame needed constant renewal, and he went at it with ingenuity and furious energy.

The Story of The Great Houdini
. Copyright © by Sid Fleischman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Harry Houdini, a.k.a. Ehlric Weiss, was a master magician. From his clever tricks, to his mind-blowing stunts, Houdini¿s name was embossed into every cover of modern books of magic. The elegantly woven tale of Escape! by Sid Fleischman, told the facts, good and bad, about the mind-blowing magician and King of the Cards, Harry Houdini. Many magicians liked to be called Professor, since it gave off some high class status. The fast paced book told every detail about his life, and helped inspire others.
gkuhns on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is written by a former magician, which both hurts and helps it. The magician's perspective adds layers of meaning, but the unspoken magician code means that Houdini's tricks are not revealed. No matter. Meticulous research coupled with linguistic flair and fascinating artifacts provide an entertaining read, even for a biography. This book is intended for a middle school audience, however, so though the subject matter may entice younger audiences, librarians and educators should save it for grades 6 and above.
ekaufman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not a big fan of non-fiction as it is, but I found this book to be a slow read. The vocabulary used is above that of your average middle schooler, and I even found myself rereading passages. The way the book was written was unique in that it follows the author as he travels around researching Houdini. I did learn some interesting facts about Houdini from lies about where he was born, running away from home, and succumbing to death from a burst appendix. The pictures were helpful and interesting.
dee_kohler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Biography of the great Houdini, better than others I've read, portrays Houdini as the real man, ego-centric, an early manipulator of his own legend. Nice old time photos, some language might be hard for kids, but doesn't detract from story.
hezann73 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is exactly what I want a biography on Harry Houdini to be like! It's entertaining, but informative and leaves you wanting more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I thought it was fascinating and enthralling! Although Fleischman never tells you how Houdini was able to walk through walls, escape any prison he was put in, or make an elephant disappear, I was still captivated by the story of how Ehrich Weiss became the Great Houdini.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
3tzmom More than 1 year ago
This book is a choice on my son's summer reading list. As a mom and an English teacher, I can't imagine a 7th grader trying to follow this book without help. The writing style is very confusing and overdone. It's like the Author sat down with a Thesaurus to pick the most flowery over the top words for each sentence. Some of the facts are interesting and so are the pictures, but still very boring book. Last year, he read the Great Fire and it was well written and very interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
10-Year-Old_Turtle_Fan More than 1 year ago
This confusing story is all about the exciting life of Harry Houdini. We follow Harry from his birth, to his rags-to-riches life. We learn about his marriage with Bess, who was only 18 at the time. We also learn about his death on Halloween in1926, and how it happened. The story is told with many pages of pictures with detailed captions, a glossary and much more. This story is filled with dozens of Harry Houdini's many tricks that fascinated many people around the world. To be honest, I tried to make this sound as boring as possible, because that's exactly what it was when I read it. I barely understood it at all. I only knew the basic thing that was going on in each chapter. It was filled with many confusing words that no 4th -6th grader would ever know what the meaning was in a million years. I hated it and found myself dreading the point when I had to read it. I tried reading it 2 times before but had to abandon it because I was bored out of my mind. I can't believe that this book was chosen out of all the wonderful books in this world besides this one. I mean, COME ON! I was sad because Harry Houdini's life is actually interesting, but not in this book. I would recommend people to not read this book and wish people not to waste their money or time on this book. Frankly, it stinks. I was deeply surprised and will never read one of his books again. How Sid Fleishman won the Newberry medal with another one of his books I don't know. It's flabbergasting. I'd rather rate this book a zero that to give it a one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Written by Sid Fleischman, a magician who was inspired by Harry Houdini, this book gives a perspective that a person not involved in the world of magic could not. Not only does Fleischman know how Houdini did his tricks, 'no, he does not reveal any of the secrets!' he uses metaphors related to magic. Words like 'illusion,' 'bedazzled,' and 'bamboozled' appear throughout the novel. The information about Houdini makes him seem human, a trait not often connected to this trickster. Escape! provides an informative look at Ehrich Weiss' 'Houdini's' life, a background of his family, and pictures to give a visual of what Houdini was all about. Because Fleischman was such a big fan of Houdini, he has done a lifetime of research about him. Overall, this book is a fun and intriguing read about a fun and intriguing person.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are into magic and magic tricks Escape is perfect for you.This book tells all about Hudini's life and the tricks he did.Sid actully has real photos of Hudini in the book that he got from one of Hudini's family members.The best part is when the book tells how Hudini started magic.Have fun reading the rest!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sid Fleischman Escape Review Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini, a magician¿s tale conjured from a magician¿s top hat, is a showman¿s spirited triumph. Sid Fleischman, himself a magician as documented in The Abracadabra Kid, fills each page with enchanting insights not possible by writers outside the magic circle. Beyond that, the reader of both Fleischman books will soon discover many similarities between the author and his subject. Both Jews, both taken up by the magician¿s wand at an early age, both showmen, both devoted to lifelong sweethearts, and both eager to extend a hand to those just coming up the pike. No wonder Fleischmen had to write this book. In addition to facts and figures found in traditional tellings, Fleischman reveals absurdities of the magic trade in the same way that the Great Houdini did at the turn of the last century. Though an illusionist to the very end, Houdini grew to loathe spiritualists who preyed on the grieving relatives of young men lost in WWI and went to considerable lengths to expose them. Fleischman continues the debunking. Through the vagabond subject¿s experiences, the author deftly slips the history of the era¿WWI, the advent of movies, the demise of vaudeville¿into every chapter. Comparing the value of dollars then and now Fleischman gives the reader a strong sense of both history and economics. Inflation is no illusion. Literary allusions and theatrical terms abound in context, without confusing the unfamiliar reader. Fleischman¿s trademark promotion of reading slides in unexpectedly as he shows time and again how much this grammar school dropout relied on his books to improve upon his language, his image, his birthdate, and his country of origin and to sharpen his trade skills and to build his 5,000-book collection. The book is peppered with historic photographs, some from the author¿s own collection (he knew Mrs. Houdini), with captions that are a great read unto themselves. Yet Fleischman is no flim-flam man. When he discovers conflicting information, he explains that to the reader, allowing a rare look over the author¿s shoulder. The vocabulary is far from simplified, but the fast pace and clear language make it a winner for all ages. Safe for reading aloud in public classrooms and at home. The slim volume is easy to hold and there is ample space between the lines, making it an easy-on-the-eyes read. As well as being a great story well told, this is a brilliant example of a research paper. Though filled with anecdotes from the author¿s own magical experiences, references are made throughout the book to the many other sources he used¿letters, diaries, handbills, and, of course, other people¿s books. The bibliography is chock full of personal annotations. Want to know about Chinese water torture, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or Machpelah Cemetery in Queens? Well, the index will send you to the right page for a magnified view. Whether starting with the pictures, the index, or the text, the reader can expect to learn a great deal during a fast-paced and satisfying read. Escape! into this highly recommended book.