October 24, 1926: Harry Houdini’s last performance
Harry Houdini was a showman with flair to spare and is still the most famous and renowned escape artist in magic. So it came as a shock to his fans all around the world when on October 24, 1926, Houdini couldn’t manage to escape death.
The Last Show
Harry Houdini was 52 years old when he performed before a full house of spectators in Detroit on the 24th of October. What none of them knew was that Houdini was suffering a 104-degree temperature and cold sweats. Ever the performer, he insisted on going onstage at the Garrick Theater.
And he got through the show, but only just. Almost the moment the curtain closed, Houdini collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital. A week later, he died on Halloween night.
String of Bad Luck
Houdini was suffering from appendicitis. Doctors successfully removed the organ, which had ruptured several days earlier. But it was too late. The toxins had spread too far.
He’d been having a pretty bad month. Houdini was injured during his famous Water Torture Cell escape on October 11, when a piece of equipment hit him on the leg. He fractured his left ankle. Just 11 days later, on October 22, he had a fateful encounter.
The Gut Punch
Houdini gave a lecture at McGill University in Montreal on the 22nd and ended up casually chatting with a group of students outside of Cinema l’Amour. One student, J. Gordon Whitehead, asked Houdini about his reported ability to resist hard punches to the stomach. When Houdini said it was true, Whitehead hit him in the stomach several times before Houdini had any chance to prepare or brace himself.
Later that night, Houdini complained of stomach pains. By the time he stepped onto the stage that night in Detroit, he was fatally ill. He died a week later in room 401 of the Grace Hospital. His death certificate is housed with the Archives of Michigan, a grim final page in a celebrated life.
To this day, magicians hold a seance on Halloween night in an attempt to communicate with the spirit of Harry Houdini. The tradition began with his wife Bess, who hosted the event for the first ten years after his death. So far, Houdini has yet to make contact.