While he was born in Hungary as Eric Weisz in 1874, Eric, who later called himself Harry Houdini, came to America with his family when he was five living first in Wisconsin but moving to NYC in 1887 when he was thirteen. From then on NYC was his permanent home.
He started as a performer of card tricks and didn’t do particularly well but began experimenting with ‘escape’ tricks and in 1899 met a manager who saw the promise in his abilities and got him to concentrate on these acts. From then on he prospered touring Europe to increasing acclaim and by 1904 he had made sufficient money to purchase his own house in NYC, a brownstone at 278 W 113th Street for $25,000 which was his permanent home until his death in 1926.
He became the highest paid vaudeville performer in the nation and his success was not only because of his incredible magic skilss but also because he was a born showman and skilled marketer of his abilities. he specialized in putting himself in imposssible postions and then escaping, though he never claimed any special paranormal abilities. His most famous non escape act was when he ‘vanished’ a full grown elephant and its trainer from the stage of the Hippodrome in NYC while it had a full size swimming pool beneath the stage.
His impossible escape acts included the ‘Upside Down’ act the ‘Suspended Straightjacket Escape’, the ‘Overboard Box’ eccape and the ‘Buried Alive’ stunt constantly adding new elements to keep his acts fresh and ever more amazing.
He devoted a huge amount of time and effort to professionalizing the craft of magic, endlessly addressing magic societies, writing books about how to perform his escapes for the magic brotherhood and he singlehandedly revived and promoted the Society of American Magicians (SAM) which went on to become a wealthy and still surviving organization.
He also waged a life long battle against spiritualists, psychics and mediums and those people he regarded as charlatans, those who used magic but pretended things happened because of divine intervention. He himself never explained to the public how he could do what he did, instead cloaking his skills and exceptional hard work in mystery which provoked fevered specualtion about him.
He died in Detroit in 1926 from appendicits but was brought back to NYC and is buried in the Jewish Machpelah Cemetary in Glendale Queens. Today there is a Houdini Museum in NYC, see the video, and go to Houdini Museum . He was an extraordinary man, almost entirely self made, studying and learning his craft until he was a master and then using extaordinary showmanship and insight to capitalize on his skills