By Tom Interval
Today is Harry Houdini’s 147th birthday. Happy birthday, Harry! You don’t look a day older than three! At least in the accompanying video and photo.
Before Houdini was Houdini, he was Erik Weisz, born on March 24, 1874. After moving with his family from Budapest, Hungary, to the United States in 1878, his name was Americanized to Ehrich Weiss.
Ehrich would start calling himself Houdini in the early 1890s, borrowing the name from his then-hero, French conjurer Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, often referred to as “the father of modern magic.” Harry’s first name was derived from his boyhood nickname, “Ehri” or “Ehrie.”
Houdini, who, at various times in his life, called himself the “king of cards,” the “king of handcuffs,” the “master mystifier,” and “the greatest necromancer of the age,” among many other things, had much more than a penchant for hyperbole. He forged an unprecedented career as a death-defying escape artist, magician, actor, author, pilot, and debunker of Spiritualism.
But his most extraordinary feat? Molding himself into a legend whose name will live on for eternity. Happy birthday, Erik!
To learn more about Houdini, I highly recommend Ken Silverman’s biography, Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss. There are many others, but I think Silverman’s is the best to date. For younger readers, Harry Houdini: Death-Defying Showman, by Rita Thievon Mullin, Spellbinder: The Life of Harry Houdini, by Tom Lalicki, and Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini, by Sid Fleischman, are good starting points. Young or old, there certainly is no shortage of Houdini biographies. And to thoroughly supplement your reading, be sure the check out John Cox’s outstanding Houdini blog, Wild About Harry.