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Detroit, Michigan, USA
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The Great American Escape Artist
Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz in Budapest, later Ehrich Weiss or Harry Weiss; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice as "Harry Handcuff Houdini" on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to hold his breath inside a sealed milk can.
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Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary. A copy of his birth certificate was found and published in The Houdini Birth Research Committee`s Report. (1972). As to his birth date, from 1907 onwards, Houdini claimed in interviews to have been born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on April 6, 1873. Houdini`s father was Mayer (Mayo) Samuel Weiss (1829–1892), a rabbi; his mother was Cecilia Steiner (1841–1913). Ehrich had six siblings: Herman M. (1863-1885); Nathan J. Weiss (1870–1927); Gottfried William Weiss (1872–1925); Theodore Weiss (Dash) (1876–1945); Leopold D. Weiss (1879–1962); and Gladys Carrie Weiss (1882-?). He immigrated with his family to the United States on July 3, 1878, at the age of four, on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers. Houdini`s name was listed as Ehrich Weiss. Friends called him "Ehrie" or "Harry". At first, they lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. In 1880, the family was living on Appleton Street. On June 6, 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen. After losing his tenure, he moved to New York City with Ehrich in 1887. They lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. Rabbi Weiss later was joined by the rest of the family once he found more permanent housing. As a child, Ehrich took several jobs, then became a champion cross country runner. He made his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself "Ehrich, the prince of the air". Weiss became a professional magician and began calling himself "Harry Houdini" because he was heavily influenced by the French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, and his friend Jack Hayman told him that in French, adding an "i" to Houdin would mean "like Houdin" the great magician. In later life, Houdini would claim that the first part of his new name, Harry, was an homage to Harry Kellar, whom Houdini admired a great deal. However, it`s more likely Harry derived naturally from his childhood nickname "Ehrie".
Harry Houdini died of peritonitis secondary to a ruptured appendix. It has been speculated that Houdini was killed accidentally by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who delivered multiple blows to Houdini`s abdomen (with permission) while he was in Montreal. These repetitive blows are thought to have been a stunt, in which Houdini displayed his dexterity.
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