APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Before he was the escape artist and magician Harry Houdini, he was simply Ehrich Weiss, a young boy who immigrated with his family to Appleton from Budapest, Hungary.
When Houdini was four years old, his family moved to the second floor of an apartment building, which is now the location of Houdini Plaza on College Avenue.
During his early childhood years, Houdini joined the circus in Appleton. Some believe that is what began his inspiration to perform magic.
Houdini’s stage name was inspired by French magician Robert Houdin.
At the History Museum at the Castle, an exhibit houses artifacts from Houdini’s famous tricks and gives an inside look at how they were performed.
Education and Collection Manager Erin Comer says, “Another really popular Houdini legend based here in Appleton is that one night, he went up and down College Avenue and unlocked the front doors of all the business through his lock picking skills, and all the business owners came in the next morning to their front doors unlocked.”
Despite being born in another country, Houdini considered Appleton his hometown. Comer says that he thought of his time in Appleton “fondly,” and while no one knows for certain why he called the Fox Valley his hometown, “it’s maybe because simply his first memories were from when he lived here.”
When he was 8, his family briefly moved to Milwaukee before settling in New York. Houdini performed magic for many years, wowing Vaudeville audiences with his escape acts with everything from handcuffs to straight jackets.
Houdini passed away at the age of 52, but his legacy still lives on in the Fox Valley.
Comer says, “In the 1980s, Appleton had what we kind of refer to as Houdini fever. It was around a time where people were realizing that he called Appleton his hometown, so various locations throughout town were identified as significant to Houdini. Little plaques were put up, and you can still find some of them around town.”
If you are interested in learning more about Houdini, you can visit the exhibit any day except for Tuesdays between 10 a.m.-4 p.m.