Even almost 100 years after his death, the name Harry Houdini is synonymous with escapology, but less is known about his first great escape – how he left his Hungarian home as a child for a new life in the United States.
The House of Houdini, a museum in Budapest’s historic Castle district, seeks to shed light on the illusionist’s roots with a display of memorabilia and a research team tracking down documents about his life.
“He was of course the greatest escape artist history ever had … but I believe his secret lies from deep inside from his Hungarian roots, when as a poor Jewish family they escaped Hungary,” said museum founder David Merlini.
“That was maybe his first escape: to America, in the hope of a better life.”
For Merlini, 38, himself a Hungarian escape artist who advised actor Adrien Brody about Houdini for a mini-series in 2014, Houdini has been a major inspiration.
Merlini opened the museum this year as a tribute to the artist who was born in Budapest as Erik Weisz into a Jewish family in 1874.
He left with his family for the United States in 1878 and became an American citizen.
When he became a magician, Houdini started to call himself Harry Houdini after the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.
He went on to become the most famous escape artist of his day, captivating massive audiences with his daring escapes. He died in 1926 from a ruptured appendix.
“We are all a little bit Houdinis because everybody has a secret dream that is just waiting to be fulfilled,” said Merlini.
The museum displays Houdini’s handcuffs and other artefacts, many photographs about his life and performances, and also a Bible from 1883, which belonged to his family.
“We grew up hearing stories of Houdini and his escaping,” said David Orenstein, a tourist from Israel.
Six magicians take turns in entertaining visitors in a small theatre within the museum. – Reuters