- The master magician, the great illusionist, the stellar escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926), was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary. When he came to America and became an American citizen, he adopted his stage name, after Jean Eugene Robert Houdin (1805-1871), who had been considered the foremost French magician.Houdini became world-famous in 1900 after a performance in London at which he demonstrated an unusual talent of freeing himself from "impossible traps," such as handcuffs, locks, and straitjackets, even when suspended in the air or submerged in water. No lock could hold him, not even that of the condemned cell at the Washington jail. In October 1926, some students were invited by Houdini to his dressing room. Houdini sat on his couch to check his mail at which time a J. Gordon Whitehead, an amateur boxer, asked whether it was true that Houdini could withstand any body blow not below the belt or on his face. When Houdini agreed, Whitehead, while Houdini was rising from the couch, struck him three times on the stomach. Houdini had not tensed his muscles. He fell back on his couch, subsequently developing gangrene in his appendix and then peritonitis. In the 1920s that latter affliction was a virtual sentence of death.The cultlike adoration, almost worship, of necromancers followed him to his grave. Because he once said that if anyone can break the shackles of death, he can, his devotees hold an annual seance at his gravesite in the Machpelah Cemetery, in Glendale, Long Island. The Houdini Room in the Library of Congress houses the extensive library that Houdini donated.To "pull a Houdini" is to make an amazing escape, and a Houdini is anyone with seemingly magical powers in any field.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.