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The performer known world wide as Harry Houdini was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest. Although Houdini often claimed to be born in Appleton, Wisconsin, Houdini actually came to the United States when he was four years old. To this day many connected with the small town of Appleton still claim the untruth that Houdini was born there strictly to attract tourists. It is clear from copies of birth records and early family records on file at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania in the Pocono region, that Houdini was in fact born in Budapest, on March 24, 1874. Historians are now finally agreed on this fact. In later years, in a magazine interview, Houdini said about Appleton, "the greatest escape I ever made was when I left Appleton, Wisconsin."
Houdini's early years.
Houdini's father was Mayer Samuel Weiss. His father was a Rabbi. Mayer was Rabbi for a short time for the German Zoin Jewish Congregation in Appleton. His mother's name was Cecilia Steiner Weiss. Houdini's original family pictures are on display at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania in the Pocono region.
His parents spoke only Yiddish, Hungarian, and German. The family was quite poor so most of the children began to work at an early age. From the age of eight young Ehrich Weiss sold newspapers and worked as a shoe shine boy. Please note that when coming to the United States there were often many spellings of names as people adjusted to English. At the age of 12, young Ehrich left home to make his way in the world in an attempt to help support his family. This was a great sign of independence. This is contrary to those who incorrectly claim he was overly obsessed with his mother. However he did love her very much.
Houdini moves to New York City at the age of 13.
Young Ehrich traveled the country for about a year, always sending money home when he could. Finally he joined up with his father in New York City. His father would die about five years later on October 5, 1892; the move to New York would change his life and introduce him to the world of big time magic. The family moved to New York in the hope of finding a better life there. In New York, Houdini worked as a messenger and as a cutter in a garment center sweatshop, Richter & Sons, a tie factory to help support his family. He was very athletic and won awards in swimming and track. He would use these athletic and swimming talents to great use in his future as an escape artist.
Houdini began performing magic as a teenager first calling himself Eric the Great. Always a reader, two books would change his life. He read, as a teenager in New York, "Revelations of a Spirit Medium" by A. Medium, which exposed the tricks of phony psychics, who after being tied up would secretly release themselves to make ghostly things happen in darkened rooms. The second book was "The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin," the autobiography of one of the greatest magicians of the day. Influenced by what he read and learned about the internationally known magician Robert Houdini, young Ehrich changed his name to Houdini, hoping to be in some way like his new found mentor.
Houdini's first magic shows consisted of card tricks and other simple magic. Houdini early on called himself "The King Of Cards." Soon Houdini began experimenting with handcuffs and using them in his acts. Houdini performed with another young man who worked with him in the tie factory in New York. They called themselves the Houdini Brothers. Soon Houdini's younger brother Theo took the place of the boy from the factory. Houdini's father died when Houdini was a teenager. Together with his brother Theo, they tried to succeed as the Houdini Brothers. Their first performances included shows at amusement parks, beer halls, "dime museums," and at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
In 1894, Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, who was singing and dancing as part of the Floral Sisters. They were working Coney Island at the time.
After knowing each other only two weeks they were married in the month of July. Bess, as she was called,
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