Museum unlocks Houdini’s secrets
Ninety years after his death, the secrets of the world’s greatest escape artist, Harry Houdini, have been unlocked in a recently opened Hungarian museum devoted to the Budapest-born illusionist.
Set high in the capital’s lofty Castle district, the House of Houdini lifts the veil on the box of tricks used by the famous magician, who lived most of his life in the United States.
Amid gleaming chandeliers and old Chesterfield seats, the red-painted rooms showcase handcuffs and padlocks used by Houdini in performances.
Visitors can also see props from a recent television production on him such as a box from an illusion where a woman appears to be cut in half.
There’s even a stage where budding magicians charm visitors with card tricks.
“I had an urge to pay trib- ute to Houdini,” said museum owner and fellow escapologist David Merlini, who has dedicated his life to collecting the items on display.
At the start of December, the museum pulled a new rarity out of its hat — a Bible once owned by Houdini.
The book, which he signed as a 19-year-old, was delivered to the museum by its previous owner, New Yorkbased jazz-blues singer Tara O’Grady.
“I feel like it has come home,” O’Grady, whose family had owned the book since the late 1970s, told AFP after the artifact’s handover.
The Bible had been gifted by Houdini’s brother to a nurse in the 1960s who then gave it to her Irish immigrant neighbor, Tara’s mother.
When Merlini first heard about the Bible’s reemergence on a Houdini historian’s website, “Wild about Harry”, he knew he had to have “this special collector’s item”.
“My friends tell me I spend too much on these artifacts, but what is of real value today? Real estate? A diamond ring or a nice car? I believe it is what makes you happy,” he said.
Like his hero, Merlini has performed stunts around the world.
He has held his breath underwater for a world record of around 21 minutes and coached Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody on the 2014 Houdini television miniseries.
He said it bothered him that Houdini, despite his Hungarian roots, was not publicly acknowledged in his home country and never put on a show in Budapest.
“He was not proud of his Hungarian background because he was a poor Jewish immigrant from Europe (in the US),” Merlini said.
“But we are trying to keep the legend alive.”
David Merlini and Tara O'Grady with Houdini's bible in the museum in Budapest.