Editor's Note

This collection reflects the complexity, imagination and daring of a human being who believed in the "Impossible Possible." Born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, on March 24, 1874, he soon immigrated with his family to the American Midwest where his father became the first rabbi of a new congregation in Appleton, Wisconsin. Taking the stage name "Houdini," he embarked on a process of self-creation through magic and "escapology" that led him from dime museums, curiosity shows, and unknown acts, to the top of vaudeville and international fame. Throughout his life Houdini explored, with depth and passion, the history and practice of the illusion arts. This collection commemorates the mind, the performance, and the man through materials whose immediacy attests to the dynamic progression of Houdini's life.

Photographs and other images are featured in this collection because performance magic is a visual art driven by well-staged execution and psychological depth. Houdini was a master of the outrageous, the mysterious, the strange, the richly human; images are a powerful link with who he was. Those presented here, in conjunction with printed matter, show a young Houdini and include the early years of his married life when he performed with his wife, Beatrice Rahner Houdini. Photographs and accompanying material depict Houdini in the circus, on the vaudeville circuit, and breaking through to stardom in Europe and the United States. Handcuffs and leg irons, the bridge jump, the upside-down straitjacket escape, the milk-can escape, the upside-down water torture cell, and the vanishing of Jenny the elephant on the stage of the New York Hippodrome are represented here. These images are accompanied by others of Houdini as the debunker of fraudulent mediums. Together, the items chosen for this collection present a private person whose relentless projection of a public persona made him an enduring legend.

Joan F. Higbee
Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Library of Congress
October 1996

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