It seems we all love some form of magic. We want to believe that someone is showing us something truly sensational and beyond the bounds of human comprehension. The truth is, it’s all smoke and mirrors.
Even the great Houdini was nothing more than an illusionist. He was really, really good at it, but he tricked us into believing that he was doing something no one else could do.
One of his more famous tricks involved being buried in a casket underground for a significant period of time. Many others tried but failed, unfortunately fatally ending their acts. So how did Harry survive when others failed? Well, for months prior to attempting the trick he spent time learning to control his breathing. Learning out to put his body into a state that it required, and consumed, very small amounts of oxygen. He also chose an over sized coffin so that he could have the largest air supply available to him. While others tried with small coffins that ran out of air, did no special conditioning prior to their unsuccessful attempts and even selected coffins that could not hold the weight of the earth piled on top of it, Harry had it all planned. There was no magic.
In another trick he was able to get out of a safe that was specifically built to hold him. The trick here was to get the safe a day ahead of time pretending to need to stage it. Well, stage it indeed his crew did. They removed the springs in the safe and replaced them with softer springs, easier to manipulate. He would have legitimate safe inspector come up to see that it had not been tampered with. (Nobody checked the springs because this was not an obvious, or easily done, job.) They would check the safe and Houdini himself and walk away satisfied all was on the up and up. To reassure the audience he would also select a guest to come up with the safe people to check out everything as well. The odd thing, that no one ever caught on to, was that the audience guest member would always be the last to leave before Houdini would be locked up in the safe. This “Guest” was always a plant that slid Houdini the tool required to “spring” the lock and get out. The safe was then covered by a curtain that allowed the sides to be seen so that no one could accuse him of going on or off stage. Then hours would pass, long after the oxygen should have run out in the airtight enclosure. The truth is, Houdini had been out of the safe within fifteen minutes of being locked up. He would sit on top of the safe and wait for others to doubt anyone could survive this ordeal before revealing his great escape.
His third great escape was one that had him, handcuffed, sealed in a crate and the crate lowered into the water. Houdini would first be handcuffed, making sure that only his “special” handcuffs were used. They were real, and anyone trying them could not get out of them, unless you knew where the release was, which of course, Harry did. Once he was in the crate, his crew would nail the lid down. People would watch them, inspect the nails and verify that they were real. They were, and equal to them was the nail trimmer that Houdini had inside the crate with him. A boat would be brought along side with a crane and lift he crate up, moving out away from the dock slightly so the crate could be lowered into the water without interference. By the time the crate hit the water, Houdini would already be free of the handcuffs and have started clipping away the nails he need to get out of the crate. Now remembering he learned to control his breathing, he could stay under water for quite some time, when the crate was raised by the crane, Houdini would be sitting on top of the boards he had clipped away the nails from so that they would appear to still be in place. The crate would be lowered onto the deck of the ship and while everyone paid attention to the Great Houdini, his crew would drive new nails in to replace the broken ones he had freed himself of.
It was all smoke and mirrors, and even Houdini told everyone that, though few believed him. We see what we want to see, or in some cases, what a truly great performer wants us to see. It is, more than often, not a true representation of what has actually taken place.
To celebrate: try learning a few card tricks to dazzle your friends! Learn how to pull a rabbit from a hat! Run for a political office and try to make people think you are sincere!