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HOUDINI AND THE PORT

The famous escapologist Harry Houdini visited Newport on a number of occasions. The first time he met Newport police, in 1905, Harry Houdini ended up in jail. No crime had been committed - he was merely accepting their challenge to escape from a police cell. Of course this was all good publicity for Houdini who was appearing at the Lyceum Theatre. He duly arrived at the police station, was stripped of his clothing, and double-locked into cell number 9. Five and half minutes later he reappeared fully clothed having escaped his cell, opened the adjacent one to retrieve his togs, and unlocked the door to the corridor where he met an astonished Chief Constable.

During a week long stint at the Empire Houdini announced to the audience he would be leap from Newport Bridge with hands manacled and feet shackled. The Newport Council of the time promptly banned the jump. On 5th March 1913, Houdini's date for the leap, the Bridge was packed with onlookers and police. Knowing the police were planning to prevent the jump Houdini created a diversion while police apprehended a look a like he emerged from a taxi in a bathing suit and having descended the bridge to a buttress below leapt into the Usk. The crowd cheered as he dived in but were silenced as he disappeared under the water only to cheer again as he emerged from the water to be picked up by an assistant in a nearby boat.

Newport Police would not let the matter rest there. Houdini announced to the Empire audience on the Saturday night that he had been served summonses to appear in court charged with obstructing the highway and holding a public entertainment on the Bridge. A packed Magistrates Court heard the case on 12th March. The police said that Houdini had given his word that he would not jump, Houdini strenuously denied this. The magistrates dismissed the case.

Harry Houdini is historically probably the best known escapologist of all time. Born in 1874 in Hungary his name was originally Erik Weisz and he emigrated to the USA with his family as a child. Houdini's first role in the entertainment world was as a child trapeze artist before he moved to working as a magician at which point he changed his name to Houdini. After a partnership on stage with his brother Dash he met and married Bess Rahner and they started working as an act known as The Houdinis. In the late 1890s he was taken over by the manager Martin Beck who advised him to concentrate on escapology. By the 1900s his act was so successful that he had started touring outside of America in Europe where he became known as The Handcuff King. Houdini's success was such that he is thought to be have been the highest paid artist on the US vaudeville circuit. Houdini died in 1926 from complications resulting from a ruptured appendix.