annually on September 21st (since 1927)
Escapology Day celebrates escapologists, those artists, magicians, daredevils, and stage performers who escape from restraints and other traps such as straitjackets, handcuffs, cages, and coffins. They often have to escape from more than one type of restraint at the same time. Escapologists began gaining recognition in the mid-nineteenth century, but it really wasn't until Harry Houdini came along in the early twentieth century that escapology became a widespread form of entertainment. Some famous escapologists besides Houdini are Dorothy Dietrich, Dean Gunnarson, Alan Alan, and Jonathan Goodwin.
Houdini performed escapes that made it necessary for him to contort himself and pick locks, but much of his work was also based on illusion. Escapology Day takes place on September 21, on the anniversary of the date in 1912 when he first publicly performed his Water Torture Cell escape, which took place at the Circus Busch in Berlin, Germany. He performed it on many other occasions and it became one of his most well-known feats. This date has been marked since the year after Houdini's death, which took place on October 31, 1926. Contrary to what some believe, Houdini did not die while attempting his Water Torture Cell routine.
In order to perform the Water Torture Cell, which became known as the Chinese Water Torture Cell, and which Houdini called the Upside Down (or USD), Houdini had his feet locked in heavy stocks before being lowered upside down into a locked tank (cell) of water. During his early routines, there was also a steel cage inside the cell. He would escape the cell as a curtain surrounded it, but the cell would still be locked when he had finished.
The cell cost over $10,000 to build. Its stocks and frame were made of Honduras mahogany, and it had nickel-plated steel with brass fixtures. It could hold 250 gallons of water, and it had half-inch tempered glass at its front. Unbeknownst to the audience, there were two large plug holes on each side of the cell, which Houdini could let water out of if there was an emergency, by pulling on handles inside the cell. Following Houdini's death, the original cell changed hands a few times, was restored, and was then nearly completely destroyed in a fire in 1995. The frame was once again restored and a pane of glass that had been made by Houdini as a backup if the original glass ever broke was installed in it. The cell was purchased by magician David Copperfield in 2004 and is now located at his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, which is not open to the public.
How to Observe
Here are some ideas on how you could spend the day:
- Go somewhere to see some escape artists perform in person.
- Visit a museum that focuses on escapology or Harry Houdini such as the American Museum of Magic, the Houdini Museum, the History Museum at the Castle, The House of Houdini, or the Houdini Museum of New York.
- Visit Harry Houdini's grave.
- Read a book about escapology or Harry Houdini.
- Visit a magic shop or shop at an online magic store.
- Watch a film about Harry Houdini such as Houdini, The Great Houdinis, or Houdini.
- Watch a film starring Harry Houdini such as The Grim Game or Haldane of the Secret Service.
- Learn how to do some escapology.
- Watch a video or two on how to perform the Water Torture Cell.
- Listen to Houdini talk about the Water Torture Cell.
- Learn more about escapologists other than Harry Houdini such as Alan Alan, Dorothy Dietrich, Dean Gunnarson, and Jonathan Goodwin.
- Join the International Escapology Guild, the United Kingdom Escape Artists, or the International Escapologist Society.