​ Houdini's Challenge | 18th October 1902 - Blackburn Standard | 21st October 1902 - Northern Daily Telegraph 24th October 1902 - Northern Daily Telegraph | 25th October 1902 - Blackburn Standard


It was a strange encounter, an unpredictable clash, an unlikely coming together of two remarkable men in the unlikely setting of  Blackburn's Palace Theatre.
Houdini, who's real name was Erich Weiss, was born in Budapest on March 24th 1874.  When he was 4 the family emigrated to America.  He was a small man, only 5' 5" high, but he was athletic and had a hunger to succeed. He began his career as a magician and called himself Houdini  after the famous magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.  Success eluded him until he came up with the handcuff challenge. He offered to escape from any handcuffs that members of the audience could produce.
William Hope Hodgson was born on November 15th 1877 at Blackmore End in Essex. In 1891 he became a cabin boy.  He suffered from ill-treatment by other crew members and took up body-building as a means of self defence.  He left the sea in 1902 and joined his family who were then living in Blackburn.  He set up a school of phyical culture, teaching body-building and weight training.
 It was on Friday October 24th 1902 that the two men met. At the time neither could have known how their careers would develop, that Houdini was to become the greatest escapologist the world had ever known, performing seemingly impossible escapes from sealed brass coffins under water and from strait jackets while suspended upside down, and that Hodgson was to become a writer of ghost stories and would attain cult status as the man who penned The House on the Borderland, claimed by many as the greatest occult novel ever written.
Houdini had been performing at the Palace all week.  Maybe Hodgson waited until the Friday for the greatest impact, the biggest crowd, but he turned up at the Palace with his sets of handcuffs and accepted Houdini's challenge. At stake was £25, but more than that there was prestige, there was reputation.  Hodgson trussed Houdini up with professional competence and stood with arms folded to await the outcome.
After half an hour Houdini asked for the cuffs to be removed so that his circulation could be restored.  Dr Bradley, who was in attendance, gave his opinion that this should be done.  Hodgson refused, saying Houdini should give in.  The audience were incensed at what they perceived as Hodgson's cruelty. Hodgson was advised by the police to leave the theatre. More time elapsed and Houdini at last freed himself.  It was turned midnight before the audience left.
All kinds of questions could be asked about the evening.  Was Houdini milking the situation, prolonging it for dramatic effect? Had Houdini and Hodgson colluded?  Were the handcuffs of a regular pattern?  Did Houdini's brother assist in the escape? The answers are unlikely to emerge now, but Houdini did admit it was the severest test he'd ever faced.   Hodgson became an artillery officer during the First World War and was killed on April 17th 1918 near Ypres.  Houdini died of peritonitis on October 31st 1926, after collapsing on stage in Detroit.
Proprietor............. Mr. FRANK MACNAGHTEN.
Manager..............Mr CHARLES SCHUBERTH.
MONDAY NEXT, Oct 20th, 1902 and Every evening during the week:
Special Expensive Engagement of
World-famous Jail Breaker and Handcuff King.
He is the originator of this Act.
JOSIE JONGHMANS.  Soprano Vocalist,
TOM LLOYD, Exponent of Quaint Comedy.
FLORENCE and LILLIAN, in Artistic Musical Act.
PASSMORE BROS. Comedians, Vocalists & Dancers.
(of the Celebrated Johnson Family) Swimmers.
The Gentle Bros. LANG
DOT McCARTHY, Vocalist and Step Dancer.
Xxxxxxxxx   Engagement of one of the Century’s Marvels
CHINKO, the astounding Boy Juggler.

21st October 1902 - Nort​​​hern Daily Telegraph 

The excellent programme billed at the Palace Theatre of Varieties, Blackburn, this week, attracted two unusually large houses to that place of amusement last evening. A great amount of interest was centred in the exhibition of Houdini, described on the programme as the famous gaol breaker and handcuff king. Last night he gave a wonderful exhibition of his powers to defy “locks, bolts and bars”. In response to his invitation some half dozen members of the audience in turn locked him in various patterns of handcuffs, but in each case he was freed again in ¨a very short time. He concluded his turn with an exhibition of the famous “box trick”. Houdini, however is not the only “star” at the Palace this week, for Chinko, who is probably the cleverest juggler now on the stage, gave ¨ display which quite maintained the reputation gained at his previous visit. A¨ special feature of the turn is the juggling with nine billiard balls- a¨ feat which he says, no other juggler has achieved. The Passmore Brothers, the Brothers Lang, and Tom Lloyd, all render excellent turns, and ably sustain the lighter side of the evening’s entertainment. Josie Jonghman’s singing elicited considerable applause, which was also gained by Florence and Lillian for a capital musical act; Dot McCarthy, vocalist and dancer; and Dickinson and Johnson, scientific swimmers.
This morning, Houdini gave a “private sitting” on the stage of the Palace theatre to a number of Blackburn Townsmen. Divested of every article of clothing he was manacled with three sets of handcuffs of different patterns, the keys being retained by various spectators, and a pair of massive leg irons were locked around his ankles. Thus secured hand and foot, he moved behind a curtain which the audience satisfied  themselves concealed no confederate, and in about five minutes had freed himself from his fetters, throwing down each pair, unlocked , as he took them off.. The demonstration was satisfactory in all but one particular- how is it done.. This is Houdini’s secret, and is worth to him something like a Prime Ministers salary per annum. As a preliminary to this performance, the artist swallowed in four doses ¨a packet of needles, and produced them again, apparently from his throat, nicely strung on a¨ piece of sewing cotton.

24th October 190​2 - Northern Daily Telegraph 

To-Night and every evening during the week,
Do not confuse Houdini with any other so –called Hand-cuff king. He is the originator of this Act, all others are very poor imitators. Must be seen to be believed. Jorde Jonghmans. Tom Lloyd  Florence and Lillian Passmore Bros. Prof. A. Dickinson and Miss Maud Johnson Bros.Dot Mccarthy. Chinko, Boy Juggler.
TWICE  NIGHTLY, at 7 and 9.
Interest in the visit of Houdini, the handcuff magician, to the palace Theatre, Blackburn this week is intensified by the acceptance of his challenge by Mr W.H Hodgson,of the school of Physical Culture, Blackburn. Letters have passed between the parties to the following effect:
                                                         The School of Physical Culture,
Ainsworth–Street, Blackburn.
Mr Harry Houdini.
Sir –
Being interested in your apparently anatomically impossible handcuff test, I have decided to take up your challenge to-night (Friday)on the following conditions:
1st  I bring and use my own irons (so look out).
2nd  I iron you myself.
3rd If you are unable to free yourself, the £25 to be given to the Blackburn Infirmary .
Should you succeed, I shall be the first to offer to offer congratulations. If not, then the Infirmary will benefit.
P.S. Naturally, if your challenge is bona-fide, I shall expect the money to be deposited .
I, Harry Houdini, accept the above challenge, and will deposit the £25 at the “Telegraph” office. Match to take place to-night (Friday).

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Never in the history of the Blackburn Palace Theatre, if not in the history music hall life has there been witnessed so remarkable scene as that which took place in the local hall last night, when Houdini, the Handcuff King, who has been performing at the theatre during the week, set himself the task of justifying his challenge to free himself from any irons that could be brought to fasten him, the challenge having been taken up be Mr. W. H. Hodgson, of the School of Physical Culture.  Houdini deposited £25, which, had he failed to accomplish the task, would have been handed over to the infirmary.
Needless to say, with such a tit-bit offered them, the Blackburn public turned up in large numbers, and the theatre was literally packed from pit to gallery.  Shortly before half-past ten when Houdini appeared, he was met on the stage by Mr. Hodgson, who proceeded to produce quite an armoury of cuffs and irons.  Houdini at the outset raised a protest against the irons which wore to make him a prisoner, as he urged that the locks had been tampered with and had been wrapped with twine, which was against the spirit of his challenge and its conditions, which stipulated that regulation irons be used.  Mr Hodgson, however, replied that he had said he would bring his own irons and use them himself.
Houdini, thereupon allowed the contest to go on, and Mr. Hodgson proceeded with the work of fastening up his challenger.  He handcuffed his wrists which he bound across his chest: and then by the aid of an assistant, forced his elbows backwards to his side and pinioned them, after which he coupled them up in a very tight manner to leg irons, and Houdini looked for all the world like a  like a trussed fowl.  Some objections were taken by the audience to Mr. Hodgson receiving assistance, which was in direct violation of the terms of the challenge, but Houdini signified his readiness to allow the battle to proceed.  The artiste was then placed in his cabinet and the struggle commenced.  After about a quarter of an hour had elapsed it was found that Houdini had fallen on his side, and it was thought that he had fainted. But such was not the case, and after another three-quarters of an hour had elapsed, Houdini asked that his wrists might be free for a¨ few seconds as his hands were numbed. Mr. Hodgson, however refused this concession, although Dr. Bradley, who was in attendance said it was cruel for the performance to continue. Shortly afterwards Houdini announced that he had got his legs free and he would take ¨ short rest before proceeding further.
There were encouraging cheers raised by the audience, but there were several hostile voices raised which caused Houdini to ejaculate; “You must remember, ladies and gentlemen, I did not state the time it would take me to take them off.  These handcuffs have been plugged.”
It was evident that Houdini had the sympathies of the audience, who waited very patiently the issue, the orchestra gallantly enlivening the tedium of waiting by supplying up-to-date musical selections.
As time went on the huge crowd began to get impatient, and in the hearts of most people it was felt that Houdini had more than met his match.  But again out popped Houdini’s heads and he announced that he had got his hands free, and it would not be long before he had got his hands free altogether.
The crowd, however, was fast losing patience, and they loudly hooted as Hardean, brother of Houdini, approached the cabinet to give ¨a word of cheer, or maybe advice, to his imprisoned relative. On receiving a¨ refreshing drink Houdini, after again calling upon the people to have a¨little more patience, exclaimed that every lock had been changed, and that made it all the more difficult for him to get free.
At ten minutes to twelve a¨ huge shout went up when it was seen that Houdini was free, and as he staggered from his cabinet and appeared panting and weak before the audience, the cheers that went up were most deafening.
The cheers were renewed again and again and Houdini, whose shirt dad been torn from cuff to shoulder, and whose wrists and biceps were raw in places, thus addressed the audience: Ladies and gentlemen, I have been in the handcuff business for fourteen years but never have I been so brutally and cruelly illtreated. I would just like to say that the locks have been plugged.
A voice: Where's Hodgson? Why is he not here to offer his congratulations?
Mr Hodgson had some time before left the theatre, and after another rousing cheer had been given to Houdini, the crowd rapidly dispersed, eagerly commenting on the performance that is certainly unique in the in the experience of local play-goers.
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