Harry Houdini arrived in New York City in 1886, an anonymous Budapest-born newcomer in the frenetic cityscape. By the time he died in 1926, however, he was the city’s most thrilling performer, and the shadow of the great escape artist still remains.
It was while performing in Coney Island that he met his future wife Bess, in Flatbush where he recorded his voice on wax cylinders with Thomas Edison, and in 1917 he performed his straightjacket escape above a Times Square crowd while hanging upside down from a crane being employed to work on the subway. In the East River he survived his first crate escape, tossed in the currents between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and in 1926 he escaped from a coffin at the bottom of a pool in the Shelton Hotel on Lexington (now a Marriott Hotel). In 1918, he even made an elephant vanish at the New York Hippodrome.