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10 Secrets Behind Harry Houdini's Greatest Illusions

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I love it when the secret is practice.

9. Metamorphosis

Houdini performed the “Radio of 1950” illusion at the end of his career (and life), but he performed the “Metamorphosis” illusion at the beginning of his career, when he and his wife Bessie took their act on the road in 1894. Houdini didn’t invent the illusion, but earlier versions of the acts had featured two men changing places. Houdini exchanged places with his wife. His version became a sensation, catching the attention of the Welsh Brothers Circus. In 1895, the circus took the Houdinis on tour.

The illusion was fairly complicated. Houdini’s hands were bound behind him, and he was placed in a sack that was knotted closed. The sack was placed inside a box, locked, and strapped closed. The box was placed in a cabinet with a curtain.

Bessie stepped into the cabinet and drew the curtain closed. She then clapped three times. On the third clap, Houdini drew back the curtain, and Bessie was gone. She was found in the sack in the box, with all the locks and straps still in place and her hands bound behind her.

The Secret:

The secret of the illusion is surprisingly simple: practice. First, Houdini was an expert on ropes and knots, and his hands were tied by a knot easily slipped. By the time the sack was pulled over his head, his hands were free. The sack had eyelets around the top edge that allowed the rope to feed inside and outside the bag. Houdini simply pulled on the rope from the inside to loosen it.

After Houdini was placed in the box, he wiggled out of the sack while Bessie locked and strapped the box lid. Once Bessie drew the curtain closed, Houdini slipped out through a rear panel in the box. Contrary to the audience’s assumptions, Houdini clapped, not Bessie. He clapped once then helped Bessie climb into the box through the rear panel (without disturbing the locks or straps).

On the third clap, Houdini opened the curtain. While he unlocked and unstrapped the box, Bessie, inside, wiggled into the sack and slipped the ropes around her wrists. Harry and Bessie practiced so thoroughly that Houdini was out and Bessie in his place in just three seconds.

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