The true story of a man from the mirror, a Birmingham blacksmith, and the handcuff king…
A mirror reporter and a Birmingham blacksmith gave legendary escape artist, “One of the hardest tests” he ever had.
(Not to dampen the spirit, but he’s infamous for saying that for most acts.)
Mirror Cuffs was a Harry Houdini challenge escape first performed in 1904. The London Daily Mirror newspaper challenged Houdini to escape from special handcuffs that it claimed had taken Nathaniel Hart, a locksmith from Birmingham, five years to make.
And although “no ropes and chains can keep Houdini from his freedom…”
This one came pretty darn close too.
In this blog, I’ll tell you the full story of exactly what happened in this famous escape so you can truly appreciate Houdini’s greatness.
So without further ado…
Let’s go back 114 years…
Houdini was at the height of his fame.
It was March 1904 and Houdini had issued his customary invitation for challenges to spectators at a packed Hippodrome Theatre in London’s West End.
Dozens had come forward, each handing him shackles that the self-styled “Handcuff King” slipped out of with ease.
Then came a reporter from the mirror. He presented the star with a pair of steel cuffs. The legendary showman was stumped by the challenge – to free himself from a pair of handcuffs with a supposedly un pickable lock. Houdini took one look at the lock and refused three times to take up the challenge.
He was eventually persuaded to return for a matinee show five days later, where he would pit his wits against the best of British craftsmanship which had produced the sturdy shackles.
It set the scene for an epic showdown.
The Mirror handcuffs were made by a Birmingham blacksmith with a lock he spent five years perfecting and believed “no mortal man” could pick.
A string of London’s leading locksmiths had inspected the solid steel shackles and all collectively agreed…
That they had never seen such a magnificent yet fiendish mechanism.
At first Houdini tried to duck the challenge, claiming he only attempted to escape from regulation police cuffs. But he relented and on March 17 – a week before the entertainer’s 30th birthday – he took to the stage at the sold-out Hippodrome to a standing ovation from 4,000 fans.
He told them: “I do not know whether I am going to get out or not. But I can assure you I am going to try my best.”
Houdini disappeared into his stage cabinet, which he called his “ghost house”, to embark on his escape as the band began to play. After 22 minutes the star’s face poked out – but only to get a better look at the lock in the strong electric light.
As the clock reached 35 minutes Houdini emerged again, his collar broken and sweat pouring down his face, complaining that his knees hurt.
The cuffs remained in place, but he insisted he was not done. Admiring his resolve, the Mirror offered the magician a cushion to kneel on.
After another 35 minutes he emerged again, to groans – the shackles were still on. Houdini asked the Mirror man to remove the cuffs so he could take off his coat.
The reporter refused, so the escapologist took a penknife from his pocket, flipped the garment over his head and cut it to ribbons. Paul said: “It broke the tension and was a bit of comic relief. It was top showmanship and that was what made his name.”
Determined Houdini went back into the ghost house for a final time. And 10 minutes later, with the band reaching a stirring crescendo, he emerged triumphant – with the cuffs held aloft. After an hour and 10 minutes, he had escaped.
The crowd erupted, waving their hats and handkerchiefs, before one man dashed forward, lifted Houdini onto his shoulders and carried him around the arena.
Believe it or not.
It was all too much for the star.
He started sobbing.
The Mirror later presented him with a silver replica of the cuffs and he responded by sending the paper a grateful telegram.
He wrote: “I must say it was one of the hardest, but at the same time one of the fairest, tests I ever had.”
The Handcuff King had emerged victorious.
114 Years Later…
Pretty cool story, huh?
There was actually a fresh new mystery surrounding Houdini’s famous Mirror Handcuff challenge of 1904 that had some of the best minds scratching their heads a few years back.
Just take this internet portal, and you can be on your way to the investigation.
P.S. Recently I wrote a blog on Harry Houdini’s 15 Most Audacious Tricks and Escapes Ranked. Go find out where this is ranked.
Thank you for reading the Mirror Handcuff vs The Handcuff King.
Hope you enjoyed it 🙂