Houdini, Glasgow, 1920

28 May

HoudiniOne of the earliest international stars to be photographed during a visit to Glasgow was the legendary Harry Houdini, pictured here about to embark on his famous “Water Torture Cell” escape onstage at the Pavilion Theatre on Thursday, June 3, 1920.

The daring escapologist (or “self-liberator”, as the publicity described him) and master showman was known to audiences the world over thanks to his extensive touring and to the films he had begun making to showcase his exploits. Glasgow had played host to Houdini several times from 1904; his 1920 visit was part of his “Farewell Visit to Scotland”.

A brilliant self-publicist, Houdini had developed a unique form of advertising his shows: he would accept challenges issued by local businesses while he was in town. Among the challenges issued to the 46-year-old in 1920 was this one, published in the Evening TImes.


“We, the undersigned shipwrights, employees of Lithgow, Ltd, Glen Yard, Port-Glasgow, having heard that the authorities have refused permission to permit yourself to be nailed in a box which is to be weighted and thrown into the Clyde River, naturally, you not being super-human, must admit that the box is of your own construction, and we HEREBY CHALLENGE you to escape from a heavy wooden packing case which we will specially construct for the challenge.

“We will send it to the Pavilion Theatre for examination, but before you enter, we will thoroughly renail each board to prevent you having manipulated same. If you accept our challenge, it is understood you must not demolish it in your efforts to escape. If you are afraid to try this in public, will you try it privately?”

The letter was signed by five men and below it ran the statement: “Houdini accepts above challenge. Test to take place at the second performance tonight, June 2nd, 1920, under the condition that the box must not be airtight.”

Houdini escaped death for another six years – but never returned to Glasgow.

Text (c) Alison Kerr, 2012; photograph (c) Herald and Times

To order a print of this photograph from The Herald’s photo sales website, click here


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