Harry Houdini in Aberdeen
Houdini, was the entertainment phenomenon of his era. He escaped from chains,
locks, ropes and sacks. They strapped him in and hung him upside down from high
building and he somehow freed himself. They locked him in a packing case and
sank him in Liverpool docks and minutes later he surfaced smiling.
Houdini would usually allow his equipment to be examined by the
audience. The chains, locks and packing cases all seemed fine. and it was
tempting to conclude that he possessed
However, there was something
about Houdini admired for his
bravery, dexterity and fitness.
His nerve was so cool that he could relax when buried six feet underground till
they came to dig him up. His fingers were so strong that he could. undo a
strap or manipulate keys through the
canvas of a mail bag.
He made a comprehensive study of locks and was able to conceal tools about his
person in a way that fooled even the doctors who examined him.
As an entertainer, he combined all this strength and ingenuity with a lot
His stage escapes took place behind a curtain with an
to disguise any banging, rattling and sawing. All Houdini's feats can easily be
explained but he belonged to that band of mythical supermen who, we are led to
believe, were capable of miracles.
one of the many other Scottish cities he visited,
he gave shoes to all the poor
On his arrival he was struck by the number of waifs walking around barefoot in
chilly weather. A long-time benefactor to orphans, he announced a special show
and doled out
300 pairs of boots,
the members of his stage troupe all helping with the fittings. This wasn’t
nearly enough footwear for the gathering mob of children on hand so
trotted the rest en
the nearest cobbler shop and had
more shoes made to order.
world-famous escape artist
Harry Houdini also visited
Aberdeen. This photo
shows him visiting the grave of John Anderson, 'Wizard of
the North' at
St Nicholas churchyard
in Aberdeen City Centre.
Photographed here probably with
a near relative of the Wizard of the North - John Anderson.
who was born in the same year as
John Henry Anderson's death.
Harry revered Anderson
as one of his inspirations and in
arranged for the upkeep of the gravesite which had fallen into disrepair.
still exists at
St Nicholas Kirk
- though the background
has long since gone - replaced by part of
St Nicholas Shopping Centre
- a very poor substitute in
compared to the thrifty honesty of a washing line of
and the corrugated Iron Roof of the wash-hoose the former being invented
in 1820 by Henry Palmer of the London Dock Company..
Houdini in Fittie
The greatest drama that Houdini encountered on a tour of Scotland was in
Aberdeen Harbour, where on
July 1, 1909,
a large crowd braved a northeaster gale to see him chained and handcuffed and
thrown into the sea.
This episode opens in a self publicity gripping style. Because a prevailing
storm, the Aberdeen Police were ready to stop him from doing his death defying
escape attempt. Only after he had personally viewed the treacherous
surging ocean waves, into which he was advised no rescue boats would venture.
He was convinced instead, to perform his audience grabbing stunt
within the breakwater and Navigation Channel.
was murky and laced with who knew what filth and poisons, (sewage) and yet
ready to enter the vortex, to venture boldly, perhaps foolishly, behind death’s
dark curtain. Every single moment he was underwater, out of sight,
the thousands of people were wondering what he was enduring, and was he now on 'the
other side', could any man come back from such a fate?
He was duly shackled and then he dove from the
bridge of the same tugboat that had taken him into the maw of the gale, and
though the harbour was churning even behind the Pier barriers, he duly
resurfaced remarkably unscathed. His stage appearances that week at the
Bridge Place were, needless to
say, jam packed.
Such was the the
headline grabbing and public celebration sensation of this self publicity
stunt by the master .Music Hall Entertainer, Escapologist and
Illusionist. Harry Houdini
John Henry Anderson -
Wizard of the North
Anderson, a showman in the grand manner, was said to be the first conjuror to
produce rabbits from a hat. His tricks and illusions included the Inexhaustible
Bottle, which appeared to produce any drink requested by the members of the
The Great Gun Trick,
described as ‘the most wonderful feat ever attempted by man’ – in which Anderson
was seemingly able to catch a bullet fired at him from a musket – was always
kept as the finale of his act in order that ‘ladies might withdraw, to avoid
witnessing it’. At the Wood Green Empire, London
in March 1918,
that the ‘Chinese’ magician Chung Ling Soo (real name William Robinson) received
a fatal injury while performing his (in)famous trick of catching a bullet
between his teeth.
put much of the profits from his tours into the building of the new
Theatre, in the Saltmarket on Glasgow Green. This enormous structure was “the
biggest and most magnificent that Glasgow had ever seen”. It could hold 5,000
people and was said to be unequalled in the country for its interior splendour.
The opening of the theatre coincided with the start of the city fair in July
1845 and the pit, which could hold 3,000 customers, was “crammed even to
inconvenience”. Its success was short lived, however, because after five months
disaster struck. On 18 November the theatre was burned to the ground. Anderson
was under-insured and despite help from subscriptions and benefit performances
held by friendly Theatre owners, he was badly in debt and had to start touring
again in order to revive his fortunes.
Undeterred, he continued to tour with his magic show as successfully as ever, as
an article from a London magazine of the day, The Era, testified in September
‘Professor Anderson continues to cajole watches from boxes securely locked, and
to bewilder the admiring public in the most inexplicable manner’. John
Henry Anderson toured right up until his death in
on 3 February
He was brought back to his beloved native Scotland, and lies buried in
St Nicholas Churchyard
1842, Anderson married Hannah Longherst from Aberdeen,
an assistant with his show. The following year their son John Henry Jr. was
1845, Anderson's mistress Miss Prentice gave birth to Philip Prentice
Anderson, but died in childbirth.
Anderson, however, supported the child for his entire life. Anderson would also
have two daughters who assisted in their father's show and later became
successful magicians, and a second illegitimate son
with a member of his touring troupe.
John Henry held a farewell performance in
The success of this show was enough to inspire Anderson not to retire. Rather,
he began to concentrate his efforts on exposing
Spiritualism fraud. In his shows, he used his daughters to duplicate
spiritualist effects. Anderson was one of the magicians of his day who exposed
the Frauds of the Davenport
Brothers. The show played at the
Lyceum in London and then moved to
Covent Garden in
1855. The following year, after a gala performance, the
Royal caught fire, destroying all of Anderson's
properties and bankrupting him for
the second time in his professional career.
In 1859, after a brief period as an Actor,
Anderson began another world tour. In 1862, at the age of eighteen, John Henry
Anderson Jr. left his father's troupe and began his own independent career as a
conjurer. This started a bitter feud between father and son and the two
never spoke again.
struck when another fire, at the Covent Garden
in London which he had leased in
plunged Anderson even more deeply into debt.
Anderson, the " Wizard of the North," was
exhibiting legerdemain tricks in Aberdeen, and to draw a large house he offered
prizes for the best and the worst conundrums which Aberdeen could produce. The
one which gained the prize for badness was : — "Why is a pig like a potato?"
and the answer was : — " Because neither of them knows anything about the
Circumbendibus Railway." No doubt the same might be said now about half of the
inhabitants of Aberdeen.