By Tom Interval
On March 24, 1874, Erik Weisz was born in Budapest, Hungary. After moving to the United States four years later, the spelling of his name would be anglicized to Ehrich Weiss.
From the early 1880s to the 1890s, young Ehrich, who grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, and New York City, became fascinated with show business, participated as a trapeze artist in a neighborhood five-cent circus as “Ehrich Prince of the Air,” took up running, and eventually read the book that would change the rest of his life: Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, an autobiography of the pioneering French conjurer who is often referred to as “the father of modern magic.”
Ehrich’s interest and skill in magic advanced, and when he was ready to perform publicly, he changed his name to Harry Houdini (the first name derived from his childhood nickname of “Ehrie” and the last name borrowed from his hero, Robert-Houdin).
Houdini got his first big break in 1899 and, by the early 1900s was internationally known as an escape artist. Throughout his career, he escaped from virtually every conceivable contraption known in that era and performed grand illusions such as making an elephant disappear.
Houdini devoted his later life to debunking both well-intentioned and fraudulent spiritualistic mediums. He died on Halloween in 1926 from peritonitis.
Happy 145th, Harry.