Houdini Water Torture Cell Collectible
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Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell was used from 1912 thru his death in 1926. The Chinese Water Torture Cell became his legacy. He was lowered, upside-down, into a formidable contrivance of steel and glass through which he said 'good-bye' as the curtain closed. But he would emerge within minutes, as always, with the water filled chamber intact and standing next to it. Although other models were made over a period of time, the only surviving chamber, 5'h x 2'w, was sold at auction to magician David Copperfield. The chamber is made of a glass front enclosure with three wooden sides with edges and corners made of brass and chrome plated fixtures and four caster wheels on the bottom of the chamber enabling the chamber to be moved around. The wood parts were burned in a major fire in 1996 at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame, Niagra Falls, Ontario, Canada and was restored in 2000. The glass was from the original spare replacements panes.
Houdini Chinese Water Torture Cell Artifact
The Chinese Water Torture Cell is a predicament escape made famous by Hungarian-American magician Harry Houdini. The illusion consists of three parts: first, the magician's feet are locked in stocks; next, he is suspended in mid-air from his ankles with a restraint brace; finally, he is lowered into a glass tank overflowing with water and the restraint is locked to the top of the cell.
The original Chinese Water Torture Cell was built in England in 1911. Houdini first performed the escape for an audience of one person as part of a one-act play he called Houdini Upside Down!. This was so he could copyright the new escape (having learned with his Milk Can escape that patents failed to stop imitators). The first public performance was at the Circus Busch in Berlin, Germany, on September 21, 1912. In letters Houdini referred to the effect as "the Upside Down" or "USD". Houdini continued to perform the escape until his death in 1926. Despite two Hollywood movies depicting Houdini dying in the Torture Cell, the escape had nothing to do with his demise.
After Houdini's death, the cell was willed to his brother Theodore Hardeen. Hardeen never performed the cell himself, and despite Houdini's instructions for it to be "burnt and destroyed" upon Hardeen's death, his brother gave the cell to Houdini collector Sidney Hollis Radner in the 1940s. The cell remained in the Radner basement until 1971 when it was put on display at The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. Here the cell suffered from neglect and theft. At one point, the museum owners put a fish tank inside the cell to achieve an aquarium effect. The leaky tank caused mold and damage to the cell wood and structure.
In 1995, the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame burned to the ground. It was initially reported that the cell was completely destroyed, but the metal frame survived and the cell was restored by illusion builder John Gaughan. In 2004, the restored cell was sold at auction to magician David Copperfield. It now resides as part of his massive private magic collection in his home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Sidney Radner gave the burned wood, screws, nails, metal straps and many other unused pieces of the original Water Torture Cell to Geno Munari. In August 1998, John Gaughan subsequently sent those items to Geno Munari, owner of Houdini's Magic Shops, in Las Vegas. Additionally, Geno Munari provided John Gaughan an original back-up Water Torture Cell glass plate from The Houdini Museum in Las Vegas. This backup glass traveled with Houdini as a spare in case the Water Torture Cell had to be axed to save Houdini's life.
A piece of wood and nail from the burned remains of the original Cell is framed (24½'h x 11'w x 2½'d) for your appreciation. As there are a few pieces still available the pine pictured is an exact and each one is different:
- A 6' x 5' mounted photograph depicting Houdini suspended in the Chinese Water Torture Cell.
Photo by E. Gregson, Bedford Cottage, 70 Lister Lane, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
- Wood piece and nail from the original burned Cell
- Certificate of Authenticity signed by both Sidney Hollis Radner and Geno Munari
For more information on the Chinese Water Torture Cell please check out this page here.
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