Houdini Straitjacket

Not For Sale

Special thanks to Mick Perry for the challenge, which led to this wonderful discovery of an actual Houdini Straitjacket which, with his kind help, I was able to purchase from a Los Angeles auction to benefit the Magic Castle!

Here are some photos of Harry Houdini performing the straitjacket escape with a later "humane" style leather jacket without the 6-foot long double-wrap arm restraints.

My original intention was to perform a standard escape from this jacket.

Here are my reasons for altering that first intent:

  1. The Houdini Jacket is in good condition, but the straps are leather, and are ready to disintegrate under heavy repeated stress. I would not want to destroy this jacket -- it has too much historical value and audience draw appeal. I plan to use it only a few times, and keep it on display as a reputation-builder. It's better used in photos, and I believe we'll see interest in the jacket leading to interest in Beta-Blockers.
  2. The Houdini Jacket was made long before the Posey, which is the absolute standard for any Guinness World Record attempt. The Houdini Jacket is far beyond the Posey, which was made to adhere to humane requirements. The Houdini is NOT a humane jacket, and severe injury can occur when attempting an escape from it.
  3. The Houdini Jacket has the extra-long sleeves, making it virtually impossible to utilize the standard techniques of escape.
  4. This jacket is quite painful to wear for any length of time. It chokes at the collar, blood tends to pool at the elbows after a while, causing extreme and painful swelling. Hands quickly become numb from lack of circulation, and upper arms and shoulders rapidly become stiff and immovable. Thrashing about in this jacket just causes the self-tightening clasps to become even firmer and more painful.
  5. The world record for escape from this jacket stands at just over 5 minutes, while the modern jacket escape record is at just over 16 seconds. The reason for this is that the Houdini Jacket was not, as mentioned above, made to "humane" standards and is a good deal tighter and more restrictive than are the modern jackets.
  6. Standard escape technique requires that I use my teeth to release the buckles. My teeth are not in good shape, and can barely handle chewing a Ritz cracker, let alone open five self-tightening steel buckles.
  7. To really make the jacket escape look good to spectators, it needs the upside-down approach, meaning I'd be hanging head-down from a hook. Problem is, I'm currently under medical care for separated retina, and my head absolutely cannot go below the heart even for a few moments without danger of further retinal separation, so upside down escapes or water tank escapes are out of the question.
  8. Early on, Houdini used a curtain to escape from straitjackets. He later discovered that audiences enjoyed watching him thrash about on the floor for several gripping minutes...even though the actual escape took less than half a minute.
  9. Straitjackets were originally designed to replace chains, fetters, leg-irons and stocks to prevent patients from acting out, at a time when the causes of psychotic behavior were completely unknown. It takes two or more attendants to restrain a struggling patient. Straitjackets were never intended to hold someone without observation and drug-induced weakness.
  10. Contrary to a persistent Urban Legend, you don't actually need to dislocate the right shoulder in order to gain the slack necessary to pull the right arm out of the sleeves. Harry Houdini started this rumor to make his escape seem impossible for ordinary mortals, mainly competitors.

Without dislocating the shoulder, it is easy for a relaxed person to gain enough slack hoist the arms over the head and simply peel the jacket off. It's actually not much of an escape. My chain and rope escapes are actually much more challenging and most escape artists cannot successfully escape from my combination rope & chain...I use many short lengths instead of one easily escapable long one.

So where does that leave us?

  1. I can use the Houdini name to draw a crowd.
  2. I can use humor to entertain, and at the same time, cause excitement with the challenge itself. It SOUNDS and LOOKS good, even if the straitjacket escape is no big deal in itself. It's all about the showmanship, not the difficulty.
  3. I can use my own method of escape to avoid injury to this old body, and comedy will help me put it over.
  4. Using my own comedy routine for the escape will allow me to preserve this historic jacket, hopefully with very little damage, although some damage will inevitably occur just by affixing and releasing the leather straps.
  5. I believe that I can set a new standard for straitjacket escapes merely by adding the humor element into it, which definitely fits my style...and speaking of "fit", the jacket is just a bit too small for me...Houdini was 20 pounds lighter, and the jacket was made for him, so I'm sorta squeezed in a bit tightly, and must release rapidly or suffer serious consequences from the neck and lung-area restriction.

I hope you enjoy what I am able, as a senior with a body that is not quite up to the standards of physical endurance and strength of Houdini or even of my own younger years, to perform...and don't forget that even the most strenuous straitjacket escape is no less a performance than TV wrestling, with an equal amount of theatrical drama. The actual escape is easy. Making the audience believe it's hard is the real trick.

Here's rare silent footage of Harry Houdini escaping from this very jacket I have here. You'll notice that the actual escape is easy...he merely loosens the jacket until he has enough room to pull his arm over his head, then slips out of the jacket entirely.