“The easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place someone is going to attempt something that in the event of failure will mean sudden death.” – Harry Houdini.
Alright I know I keep saying each stunt is crazy, and they are, and I also know that this isn’t the only escape that almost killed him, but this stunt is insanity to an unprecedented level.
The routine was basically this:
Within 57 seconds, Houdini would escape from a packing crate weighed down by two hundred pounds of lead in New York’s East River.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a classic Houdini trick without handcuffs, leg-irons and a crate with its lid nailed shut. When the crate was pulled out of the water, observers found it to be completely intact with Houdini’s discarded manacles inside.
This post will be giving you all the information you need to know to truly appreciate the danger, guts, and lunacy of this mad act.
Let’s get started.
The Overboard Box Escape:
Houdini prepares to do the overboard box escape.
Let’s go over what exactly this routine would usually look like. Picture this:
On the day of the escape, an ever-growing crowd would gather around in excitement. For they were going to see the ‘Handcuff King’, the great Harry Houdini himself be nailed in a box and thrown into a cold, dirty river. Sometimes the crowd would grow to such a colossal size that the police had to interfere, and drive Houdini away in the boat with his beloved box.
In the preparation of the escape, Houdini’s wrists were firmly clasped with two pairs of regulation police handcuffs, and his ankles bound together by a pair of ugly-looking leg irons, the “The Handcuff King” allowed himself to be nailed up in what appeared on closest inspection to be an ordinary, substantial packing box.
The box was used for underwater escape acts and had a hinged lid. It measured twenty-eight by twenty-eight by thirty-six inches. The sides were covered with round half-inch holes and the bottom is a trap door. The top was held down by three padlocks.
After Houdini was shacked and nailed into a heavy packing crate. The crate would be wound in ropes and weighed down with steel weights. It would then be sent down a plank or lowered via block and tackle into the water.
In a few minutes, Houdini would come to the surface free. The box would be retrieved and found to still be sealed.
The Three Doctors
After seeing how incredible the Overboard Box escape was, three doctors – Frank Abbott of Jamaica, George Gregory, and J A Winter – challenged Houdini to what he says was the hardest task he has ever undertaken (he says that quite a lot).
The physicians said their curiosity had been aroused and wanted Houdini to submit to the following terms:
“We will send an extra heavy operating table with broad straps, and strap you down in as helpless a position and condition as possible. Crossing your arms over your chest and strapping your hands to the side of the table, your neck will be held down with a broad, heavy neck strap to eliminate the danger of strangulation. Your thighs, knees, and feet will be held down by heavy straps along the sides and at the extreme end of the table.”
The doctors said they wanted to study the methods by which he gets loose, and made a condition that he would do the “stunt” in full view of the audience.
Houdini accepted and of course, succeeded.
But honestly, by that bloody length of a list, one would assume they were trying to get him killed.
Speaking of which, he almost did one time…
How Houdini almost died during one of the escapes…
In recounting… In some of his narrow escapes, Houdini once told of an experience with his Overboard box trick.
On one of his underwater expeditions (being tossed into a lake manacled inside a locked box), the box sank so rapidly and stuck on a muddy bottom panel side down.
It was only through the most desperate efforts that Houdini was able to force the panel through the sticky mud and avoid, no escape, drowning.
In an autobiographical article Houdini wrote in 1919 called “Dying For A Living,” he related what had happened that day under the water:
“Some of you who read this may have been at the Battery in New York on July 15, 1912 [sic]. The date is seared on my memory, and so is the picture of the crowd that I saw just before I lowered myself, manacled, and handcuffed into a packing box that stood at the water’s edge. Into this box had been placed 200 pounds of lead so that it would quickly sink, and with the top securely nailed it was bound about with ropes, and held for a moment until I gave the word, and then thrown overboard.
Whatever happened I don’t know until this day. It may have been that a passing boat disturbed the water, for as the box was sinking it seemed to be thrown about roughly. What I had to do to make my escape from the box had to be done in seconds, and even as I write of it now there comes to me a feeling of suffocation and I recall the moment of my discovery that the ropes had become entangled and I was face to face with the dreaded one chance of the thousand.
Always when underwater, and of necessity holding my breath, my mind works just as freely and clearly as under normal conditions. On this day, down there under many feet of water, it became necessary for me to work faster than I had ever worked in my life before and my mental apparatus proved equal to the task. However, I did it. I am not quite sure how, but my time hadn’t come and the thousands of people who watched cheered loudly as I came to the surface free of the manacles and handcuffs.”
Here’s Houdini’s reflection on the near-miss…
“That gave me a lesson. Thereafter I made it a point to have the panel partway open before
the bottom was reached. Sometimes I would be out and have the panel shifted back in place without reaching the bottom.”
Since we’re reaching the end of this blog I think it’s time to show you…
A video with some priceless footage of Houdini performing the Overboard Box escape.
If you’re still interested I’ll send you over to one of the few faithful Houdini followers driven mad upon raising awareness of the fallen legend. There’s a blog written on Houdini’s first overboard box escape. Just click the link below.
Thank you for reading the OverBoard Box Escape.
Hope you enjoyed it.