Hungary opens 'Houdini museum'

Ninety years after his death, the secrets of famed Jewish illusionist Harry Houdini have been unlocked in a Hungarian museum.


Jews in Hungary
Jews in Hungary
Yoni Kempinski

Ninety years after his death, the secrets of the world's greatest escape artist, Harry Houdini, have been unlocked in a recently opened Hungarian museum devoted to the Budapest-born illusionist.

Set high in the capital's lofty Castle district, the House of Houdini lifts the veil on the box of tricks used by the famous magician, who lived most of his life in the United States.

Amid gleaming chandeliers and old Chesterfield seats, the red-painted rooms showcase handcuffs and padlocks used by Houdini in performances.

Visitors can also see props from a recent television production on him such as a box from an illusion where a woman appears to be cut in half.

There's even a stage where budding magicians charm visitors with card tricks.

"I had an urge to pay tribute to Houdini," said museum owner and fellow escapologist David Merlini who has dedicated his life to collecting the items on display.

"We are all Houdinis. Everyone has a secret desire sometimes to get out of a certain situation, to be somewhere else, in a different pair of shoes, that is his enduring universal appeal," he told AFP.

Born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, Houdini and his family left for Appleton, Wisconsin, when he was just four years old.

By his late teens, he was performing stunts and using the stage-name "Houdini", a nod to the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.

Fame arrived thanks to his feats with handcuffs and straitjackets, and sensational escapes from sealed water-filled milk urns, and caskets buried underground.

"The world's handcuff king, nothing on earth can hold Houdini a prisoner!" read a contemporary publicity poster.

Although Houdini extensively toured Europe, he never put on a show in Budapest.

Hungary represented a "dark side" for Houdini, says Merlini.

"He was not proud of his Hungarian background because he was a poor Jewish immigrant from Europe (in the US)," he noted.

"But we are trying to keep the legend alive."