On June 24, the Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM), in Baltimore, will open Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, an original exhibit exploring the life and legacy of the world’s most famous magician. Featuring dozens of artifacts, photos and archival records, many on loan from public and private collections, Inescapable will showcase the incredible story of how this Hungarian Jewish immigrant, Ehrich Weiss, transformed himself into an international superstar.
Beginning with his birth in Budapest, Hungary in 1874, through his upbringing as a rabbi’s son in Appleton, WI, visitors will travel through a series of 10 themed sections that reveal how Houdini’s identity influenced his career. Sections range from a focus on his early years as a young immigrant working odd jobs to his transformation to a full-time magician. It goes beyond his public persona and explores his personal life from his family to his dedication to community service.
Inescapable not only deals with Weiss/Houdini’s extraordinary career on the stage but also takes visitors behind the curtain to look at the influences and causes that shaped his life.
“It will give visitors a deeper understanding of how the Houdini story fits into the saga of Jewish immigration in the late 19th century and how the technological innovations of his time enabled his rise to stardom,” says Marvin Pinkert, executive director of JMM.
In addition to the exploration of his early life, sections include:
- Setting the Stage describing the struggles of Houdini’s early life and the difficulties faced by his father, artifacts include a Hebrew bible that belonged to Rabbi Weiss.
- The Self Liberator featuring a spectacular display of reproduction posters, photos and press clippings, as well as original apparatus, including a straitjacket and milk can that he used in his performances.
- On the Cutting Edge investigates his exploration of new technologies and also features clips from his film career and a chance to listen to a rare recording of his voice.
- Houdini’s Third Act: Exposing Frauds showcases his crusade against deceptive spiritual mediums.
- The Final Bow/Curtain Call sets the record straight on the events that led to his death and explores the séances to contact him by his wife, Bess.
- Houdini in Maryland shines a spotlight on his appearances in the state where he performed close to 100 shows during his career. This section also features Houdini’s personal diary from 1898 turned to the page recording his first tour of Maryland (before his success) where he repeatedly reports “no dinner,” as he could not afford to eat.
Throughout the exhibit, visitors also will have the opportunity to try out some of Houdini’s magic tricks, including the world’s smallest version of Houdini’s biggest illusion – making a five-ton elephant “vanish.”
In a nod to one of Houdini’s greatest escapes, JMM will open Inescapable with Dai Andrews, a professional escape artist, who will re-create Houdini’s 1916 Baltimore escape from a straitjacket while suspended upside down from a 50-foot crane.
During the exhibit’s run, JMM will offer supplementary programming including several speakers such as David Saltman, author of “Houdini Unbound,” and Ken Trombly, a collector of Houdini memorabilia.
JMM also will introduce an education initiative which includes a one-person living history performance of Harry Houdini. This program, featuring a professional magician who takes on the persona of Houdini, will include a dramatic performance of his life and offer opportunities for audience interaction.