Ask any magician, street performer, or daredevil — escaping restraints is not for the faint-hearted — and this is what makes Escapology Day, held on September 21, so special. Escapology, defined as the art of escaping any and all restraints, including straitjackets, handcuffs, and cages — was what made master illusionist and magician Harry Houdini a household name. That’s also probably why this event is held on the day when Houdini first publicly performed his famous Water Torture Cell escape in Berlin, Germany, in 1912.
History of Escapology Day
Escaping from restraints and confined spaces is a handy tool many performers have in their arsenal, which they use to utterly captivate their audience. But, this is in no way a new skill. Street performers, magicians, and others have been using this skill for many years. In the early days of performing arts, escapology was not an act in itself. Instead, performers used it as a part of their original act to sneakily create illusions, disappear and reappear in another place, and convince people they had magical powers. A sibling pair of American magicians, publicly called the Davenport brothers, was so skilled at getting out of rope ties that they managed to convince people they had supernatural powers. This claim was later debunked by other illusionists, who not only worked out how the Davenports performed their acts but also re-created them for the audience. However, these recreations were still not the elaborate and awe-inducing escape acts of today, but merely replicated the magicians’ tricks.
And then, out of the woodwork came a performer like no other, one who would make escaping into an art form that is still celebrated today. When Harry Houdini began his career, he initially only focused on sleight-of-hands tricks and magic. When Houdini began experimenting with escape acts after a not-as-glittering career as a magician, little did he know that it would catapult him into instant stardom. He quickly became a breakout escape artist, performing his acts at major entertainment houses around the world.
Houdini’s mastery of breaking out of restraints manifested itself in world-famous acts like Metamorphosis and the Chinese Water Torture Cell, the latter of which inspired celebrations for Escapology Day. In this act, Houdini had to escape a locked tank of water, in which he was hung upside down, and his feet were weighed down with heavy stocks. Houdini went on to perform this particular feat multiple times over the years, and his acts have inspired and challenged escape artists for generations now.
Escapology Day timeline
“Mister Miracle,” which is about a fictional superhero who is also an escapologist, is the latest comic book series published by DC Comics.
Many of Harry Houdini's artifacts, including his famous Chinese Water Torture Cell, are almost completely destroyed as a fire engulfs the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls.
Magician David Copperfield purchases Houdini's restored Chinese Water Torture Cell, and it currently resides in the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts.
Canadian illusionist Lucas Wilson escapes from a straightjacket while hanging upside down from his ankles, in just 8.4 seconds, creating a new record.
Escapology Day FAQs
What does an escapologist do?
Escapologists — also called escape artists — escape from restraints, handcuffs, straitjackets, cages, coffins, steel boxes, barrels, bags, or burning buildings, for street performances, magic shows, and more.
Who was the first escapologist?
No official records specify who was the first escapologist. But, Harry Houdini is well-known for being the one who made escapology world famous.
Are escape artists in real danger?
Escape artists perform under a fair bit of danger, although they use a lot of misdirection and skill to get out of their restraints safely.
Escapology Day Activities
See an escape artist in person
Support local escape artists by checking out their shows. See which events have featured performances by such artists, and make sure you visit them.
Visit an escapologist-focused museum
There's plenty to choose from starting with Houdini himself — the American Museum of Magic, the Houdini Museum, and the Houdini Museum of New York. Pick one you particularly want to visit, then make a trip out of it.
Learn basic escapology
Check out tutorials and classes taken by trained escapologists, and try your hand at some basic acts. Make sure you've got appropriate supervision while escaping your restraints, however.
5 Interesting Facts About Escapology And Houdini
One expensive escape act
Houdini's famous water cell cost well over $10,000 to build and had nickel-plated steel with brass fixtures and a half-inch tempered glass at the front.
Houdini was possessive over his acts
He argued his main acts were copyrighted and sued competitors who used them in their own shows.
Houdini didn't get to celebrate our day
Escapology Day came about only after Houdini died in 1926 — exactly a year later, in fact.
From magicians to escape artists
Many escape artists train as magicians before entering the world of escapology.
A patron of Catholic Gospel Magicians
16th-century creative builder Saint Nicholas Owen's successful escape from the Tower of London — and subsequent assistance in the escape of two Jesuit inmates from the same prison, lead to him becoming the patron saint of Catholic escapologists.
Why We Love Escapology Day
Harry Houdini's influence is still going strong
The magician revived an old art form to such an extent that people still talk about him. He was one of the first to see the potential in escapology, and this day is a fun reminder of his most famous performances.
It’s all magic to us
People love escape acts because of the wonder it inspires. We know it's all an act, yet we can't help but be absolutely amazed at how humans can get out of almost anything!
Who doesn't love entertainment?
Escape artists and their acts are a fun break from reality. Who doesn't love a little entertainment?
Escapology Day dates