Ask any magician, street performer, or daredevil: escaping confinement is not for the faint of heart. This is what makes Escapology Day, celebrated on September 21, so unique. Escapology — the art of escaping any and all restraints, including straitjackets, shackles, and cages — is what made Harry Houdini a household name. This event is also likely conducted on the day in 1912 when Houdini first performed his famous Water Torture Cell escape in Berlin, Germany.
The background of Escapology Day
Escaping from restraints and confined spaces is a handy tool many performers have in their arsenal, which they use to thoroughly captivate their audience. However, this is not a novel talent. Since many years ago, street performers, magicians, and others have utilized this skill. In the early days of the performing arts, escapology did not constitute a separate act. Instead, they incorporated it into their original act to create illusions, vanish and reappear in another location, and persuade the audience that they possessed magical powers. A pair of American magicians known as the Davenport brothers were so adept at escaping from rope binds that they convinced people they possessed preternatural powers. Later, this claim was discredited by other illusionists who not only figured out how the Davenports performed their tricks, but also recreated them for the audience. However, these recreations were not the elaborate and awe-inspiring escape acts of today; rather, they were simple replications of magicians’ feats.
Then, a performer unlike any other appeared, one who would transform escaping into an art form that is still celebrated today. When Harry Houdini first began his career, he focused solely on sleight-of-hand and magic. When Houdini began experimenting with escape acts following a less-than-stellar career as a magician, he had no idea that it would propel him to immediate fame. He rapidly rose to prominence as an escape artist, performing at major entertainment venues around the globe.
Houdini’s mastery of escaping constraints manifested itself in world-renowned acts such as Metamorphosis and the Chinese Water Torture Cell, the latter of which inspired Escapology Day celebrations. In this act, Houdini was required to escape from a sealed water tank in which he was suspended upside down and his feet were weighted down with heavy stocks. Houdini repeated this feat numerous times throughout his career, and his performances have inspired and challenged escape artists for generations.
DAY OF ESCAPOLOGY ACTIVITIES
Observe a master of evasion in person
Support local escape artists by attending their performances. Determine which events have featured these artists, and be sure to attend them.
Explore a museum devoted to escapology
Beginning with Houdini himself, there are numerous options, including the American Museum of Magic, the Houdini Museum, and the Houdini Museum in New York. Choose one that you are particularly interested in visiting, then make a trip of it.
Learn elementary escapology
Examine tutorials and classes taught by trained escapologists, and attempt simple acts. Ensure that you have adequate supervision while evading your restraints.
ESCAPOLOGY AND HOUDINI: 5 INTERESTING FACTS
The construction of Houdini’s famous water cell cost well over $10,000 and included nickel-plated steel, brass fixtures, and a front panel of tempered glass measuring half an inch thick.
He asserted that his primary acts were protected by copyright and sued rivals who used them in their own performances.
Escapology Day was not established until 1927, precisely one year after Houdini’s death in 1926.
Prior to entering the realm of escapology, many escape artists train as magicians.
Saint Nicholas Owen’s successful escape from the Tower of London and subsequent assistance in the flight of two Jesuit prisoners from the same prison earned him the title of patron saint of Catholic escapologists in the 16th century.
ESCAPOLOGY DAY DATES