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3 Reasons Houdini Was Way More Badass Than You Think

When asked who the greatest magician of all time is, most people will say Harry Houdini, because Christian Bale's character in The Prestige is not a real person. Houdini's name is synonymous with magic and bizarre escape stunts inexplicably labeled "magic." However, his name should also conjure up (get it? Because he's a magician) images of batshit insanity, because it turns out he was all about that, too.

#3. He Escaped from a Sea Monster

By 1911, Houdini was one of the biggest names in the world, renowned for his "challenge escape act," which was pretty much what it sounds like -- he would accept any escape challenge his audience presented to him. Normally this wasn't a problem, because your average wage worker wasn't likely to show up to a Houdini show with any restraints more complicated than a pair of handcuffs or a pillowcase. However, a group of Boston businessmen decided to bring something totally crazy to the table and challenged Houdini to escape from a large sea creature that had recently washed up in Boston Harbor.

Smithsonian Magazine
Seen here.

Scientists weren't even sure exactly what this hulking turtle-fish was, so naturally everyone's first thought was to stuff a 40-year-old magician inside it to see if he could claw his way back out. Houdini did the only thing a reasonable adult in his position could do: He climbed inside the decaying seabeast.

The monster, which was so large that it took a dozen stagehands to drag it out, was flipped onto its "back" and sliced open. Houdini, handcuffed and fastened with leg irons, then jumped inside. He managed to escape a few minutes later, but not before breathing in a copious amount of arsenic, which the creature had been soaked in to prevent decomposition, presumably by someone who had bet against Houdini. He immediately passed out and nearly died, which technically would've still counted as a successful escape because Houdini was outside the monster at the time.

Apic / Getty
"If someone would please hand me their top hat, I'd like to vomit into it."

#2. He Settled Disputes With Shit-Kickings and Arson

Houdini was not a fan of his imitators. He routinely appeared at rivals' shows to shame them for attempting his act (and occasionally troll the shit out of them with inescapable handcuffs), and he sometimes sent his younger, face-punchier brother Theo to make plagiarists apologize to the toes of his wingtips.


You don't mess with a man who wears a vest like that out in public.

If that didn't get the message across, Houdini was more than happy to literally burn motherfuckers to the ground. According to Theo, Houdini once set fire to a competitor's performing space after the delightfully silly bastard claimed to be better than Houdini at escapology. Houdini later expressed some remorse, but only because he might've inadvertently harmed some animals involved in the man's act.

#1. He Was Basically a Crazy Stuntman

There was no television or Internet back at the turn of the century, so if you wanted people to come to your shows, you really had to be good at tireless self-promotion. Houdini loved generating publicity for his performances, and one of the ways he would do this was to strip completely naked and get voluntarily thrown in prison, from which he would then escape (because as we all know, the very best magic involves jail and male nudity). He even subjected himself to voluntary cavity searches so the public would know that he wasn't hiding any lock picks or keys anywhere on his body.

Wild About Houdini
"... uh, Harry, we're done with the search. Feel free to put your pants back on."

Actually escaping from the various cells, handcuffs, and straightjackets Houdini allowed himself to be locked in routinely required him to beat the ever-loving shit out of himself. He would swallow and regurgitate keys (which is potentially much more dangerous than it sounds), use his toes to unlock locks, and dislocate his shoulder like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon to get out of straightjackets, which is one of the only times in history that a Jewish person has willingly done anything in a manner similar to Mel Gibson. There are several accounts of Houdini knocking himself unconscious or almost breaking his neck while performing, leading us to believe that he could've enjoyed a lucrative career on MTV had he been born a century later.

Paul Archuleta / Getty
Especially now that they have an opening.

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