- Historical event:
- 6 August 1926
- On this day, the legendary illusionist Harry Houdini spent a total of 91 minutes trapped underwater in an iron coffin. He claimed that his feat had not been a trick, but performed only using controlled breathing techniques. Unfortunately, it proved to be Houdini’s last great appearance – he died less than three months later, aged 52.
On this day the legendary illusionist Harry Houdini, a Hungarian Jew by birth and whose real name was Erich Weisz, performed one of his greatest feats – spending 91 minutes trapped underwater.
In doing this he surpassed the Egyptian fakir Rahman Bey, who in July the same year managed to survive exactly one hour in an iron container in the Dalton hotel swimming pool in New York.
Houdini enclosed himself in an iron coffin weighing 320 kg and made his own “funeral” in the Shelton hotel swimming pool in New York. The airtight coffin was lowered into the water.
Every couple of minutes, Houdini pressed a button, informing his assistants that everything is OK via a telephone wire. He later described his experience in the coffin: he felt very hot, started seeing yellow lights, and had to fight hard to keep awake.
Houdini got out of the coffin after 91 minutes, looking as pale as a corpse. He claimed that his feat had not been a trick, but performed only using controlled breathing techniques. Namely, the coffin could have contained air for no more than five minutes of normal breathing.
It is interesting that Houdini’s feat was not only intended as a sensation, but also had a practical purpose. Namely, Houdini claimed that it could serve as an example to miners who remain trapped in mine shafts with only limited oxygen.
“The important thing is to believe that you are safe, don’t breathe deeply and don’t make any unnecessary movements,” he later told journalists. He even forwarded his suggestions to the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
It is not widely known that Houdini repeated his feat on 28 September 1926 in Worchester, but that time he held out for “only” 71 minutes.
That “underwater funeral” was Houdini’s last great appearance. He died already on 31 October than same year, aged 52, from complications after his appendix was ruptured by a punch to the stomach.
There are still many controversies surrounding his death, including suspicions that he was assassinated.