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Did you know: Houdini grew up in Appleton and Wisconsin

Posted at 6:05 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 19:05:43-04

MILWAUKEE — Did you know that Houdini grew up in Appleton and Milwaukee back in the 1880s? On March 24, 2021, the day this article was published, the magician would have been 147 years old.

On March 27, there is a special magic and variety show performance at Waukesha West High School from noon to 4 p.m. that honors this legendary magician for just $20.

Erik Weisz, later known as Ehrich Weiss, later known as Harry Houdini, later known as Houdini, was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1874. A few years later he moved to Appleton, Wisconsin with his family after his dad accepted a job as rabbi there.

Photo of Houdini taken of a picture at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee during it's 'Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini' exhibit.

Eventually, the family moved to Milwaukee. This all happened in the 1880s. Various historians and museums have explored Houdini's somewhat unclear history in Wisconsin. However, a few things are known about the masterful magician's time in the Badger State.

"Houdini and his brothers, when they were young, used to deliver the local paper," Glen Gerard, a magician, illusionist, and local Houdini historian from Germantown, said.

As a paperboy, Houdini discovered the importance of good promotion and getting into the press. It's part of the reason he did such public and death-defying stunts, Gerard said. It also paved the way for to him becoming an excellent promoter of his shows.

However, before the promotion could happen, Houdini needed to find his love for magic and escapes. He found that in southeast Wisconsin.

"Really, here in Milwaukee, he saw his first magician. He saw his first circus. He became interested in magic. Escapes. He learned how to swim in the Milwaukee River," Gerard said.

Young Houdini
A picture of a young Harry Houdini from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee's exhibit on Houdini.

Houdini would move to New York City towards the end of the 1880s, and that would eventually become his home.

He died on Halloween night in Detroit, 1926. As legend goes, before a show, a student asked if he could punch Houdini in the stomach, since the magician said he could withstand punches to the abdomen.

The student did punch Houdini a few times before the magician stopped him, saying that he was not ready for the hits. He felt sick for a few days, but continued to perform. He later died from peritonitis, which can occur after an appendicitis.

Weekend Magic Show

One of the most influential and famous magicians of all time lived in Wisconsin. Now to honor his legacy, a group of magicians, illusionists, and other performers are hosting a show at Waukesha West on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. It's a drive-through show that features jugglers, stilt walkers, and other variety performers. The show benefits the Waukesha West athletic boosters. Tickets are just $20. Find more information here.

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