Mu­seum un­locks Hou­dini’s se­crets

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Bu­dapest

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.”

ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

David Mer­lini and Tara O'Grady with Hou­dini's bi­ble in the mu­seum in Bu­dapest.

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