The Chinese Water Torture Cell is a predicament escape made famous by Hungarian-American magician Harry Houdini. The illusion consists of three parts: first, the magician's feet are locked in stocks; next, he is suspended in mid-air from his ankles with a restraint brace; finally, he is lowered into a glass tank overflowing with water and the restraint is locked to the top of the cell.
The original Chinese Water Torture Cell was built in England in 1911. Houdini first performed the escape for an audience of one person as part of a one-act play he called ''Houdini Upside Down!''. This was so he could copyright the new escape (having learned with his Milk Can escape that patents failed to stop imitators). The first public performance was at the Circus Busch in Berlin, Germany, on September 21, 1912.〔(Mastronet ).〕 In letters Houdini referred to the effect as "the Upside Down" or "USD." Houdini continued to perform the escape until his death in 1926. Despite two Hollywood movies depicting Houdini dying in the Torture Cell, the escape had nothing to do with his demise.
After Houdini's death, the cell was willed to his brother Theodore Hardeen. Hardeen never performed the cell himself, and despite Houdini's instructions for it to be "burned and destroyed" upon Hardeen's death, his brother gave the cell to Houdini collector Sidney Hollis Radner in the 1940s. The cell remained in the Radner basement until 1971 when it was put on display at The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. Here the cell suffered from neglect and theft. At one point, the museum owners put a fish tank inside the cell to achieve an aquarium effect. The leaky tank caused mold and damage to the cell wood and structure.
In 1995, the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame burned to the ground. It was initially reported that the cell was completely destroyed, but the metal frame survived and the cell was restored by illusion builder John Gaughan. In 2004, the restored cell was sold at auction to magician David Copperfield. It now resides as part of his massive private magic collection in his home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Sidney Radner gave the burned wood, screws, nails, metal straps and many other unused pieces of the original Water Torture Cell to Geno Munari. In August 1998, John Gaughan subsequently sent those items to Geno Munari, owner of Houdini's Magic Shops, in Las Vegas. Additionally, Geno Munari provided John Gaughan an original back-up Water Torture Cell glass plate from The Houdini Museum in Las Vegas. This backup glass traveled with Houdini as a spare in case the Water Torture Cell had to be axed to save Houdini's life.
In 2003, an exact duplicate of the Water Torture Cell was discovered, leading to controversy over the authenticity of the restored cell.〔(【引用サイトリンク】 The Mystery of the Two Torture Cells )〕
Sidney Radner filed suit against John Gaughan. The lawsuit can be viewed at this link: http://www.houdini.com/en/content/28-chinese-water-torture-cell
In 2011, Richard Sherry of Richard Sherry's Magic and Escapes created the only exact working replica of Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell. In 2012 a never-before-seen photo of Houdini performing his Water Torture Cell in 1920 was unearthed and put on display in Scotland. The photo shows two horizontal bands wrapped around the cell.〔(【引用サイトリンク】 NEW photo of Houdini and his Water Torture Cell unearthed in Scotland )〕
On March 24 2012, female escape artist Dayle Krall of Sherry and Krall Magic became the only person in history since Houdini`s death to perform this escape in an exact working replica of his infamous Chinese Water Torture Cell. Harry Houdini had different versions of his Water Torture Cell. His original included an inner cage and two outer cross bars which were later removed from the performance. This original version with the inner cage and cross bars has not been seen since Houdini and was performed by Dayle Krall on September 21, 2012 to celebrate the exact 100th Anniversary.
Dayle Krall and Richard Sherry can also be seen performing Houdini's Water Torture Cell on the new ITV documentary Perspectives: The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies which aired April 20 2014.
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