Famous Escapes Houdini and the Water Torture Cell Part 2

About the famous escape of Harry Houdini from the water torture cell, history of the stunt.


Houdini Escapes the Water Torture Cell-1912

The grille was lowered into the tank; then Houdini was raised above it, head downward. He was lowered into the water, and the steel frame of the stocks was padlocked to the cell. The glass front was then covered to hide Houdini's method of escape.

The escape was extremely efficient and took 20 minutes to perform. Houdini eventually tired of it and repeatedly tried to come up with more spectacular feats-making an elephant vanish onstage, walking through a solid brick wall built before the audience by local masons, dismembering and reassembling a male assistant-but nothing drew crowds like the Water Torture Cell. He was forced to present it continually, no matter where he performed.

But despite all the hoopla, the Water Torture Cell was not Houdini's most difficult escape. While he had to depend on his superb physical conditioning and training to effect the escape, the cell was rigged, unlike all the prisons, manacles, straitjackets, and handcuffs he routinely slipped out of. This doesn't mean the feat was simple, however. In fact, there were two plugs in the bottom of the tank that Houdini could pull to drain the water in an emergency-a precaution he never would have considered if the rigged mechanism guaranteed escape.

The secret of the Water Torture Cell was in false rivets. By using the steel grille as a ladder, Houdini could pull himself into a fetal position. Though the tank had been filled to the brim, the immersion of his body had caused much of the water to flow out of the tank before the stocks were locked in place. Thus, when he curled up with his head at the top, the water level would drop by the amount of water displaced by his head and shoulders, an amount sufficient to allow him to breathe. Then he would work out the false rivets with his fingers. Removing these rivets would allow the frame around the stocks to come open, and Houdini could then free his feet, remove the stocks, and climb out without picking so much as one lock. Then he would replace the false rivets in the reassembled frame and wait until enough time had passed to make his escape dramatic.

Harry Houdini did not die in the Water Torture Cell-as shown in one popular movie about him. He died on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1926, from an advanced case of appendicitis.

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