On This Day - August 5th

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On August 5th 1926, Harry Houdini performed his greatest feat — at the age of 52 and just months before he died

In July of the same year, magician Rahman Bey performed a stunt which rivalled any by Houdini. He was enclosed in a metal box, which was submerged in a swimming pool in New York's Dalton Hotel for an hour. Bey challenged Houdini to replicate the stunt.

Houdini practiced for weeks to regulate his breathing, taking shallow breaths in the hopes of conserving oxygen within an airtight container. In practice runs in a glass case he managed one hour and 10 minutes before emerging gasping.

Houdini performed the stunt on August 5th in front of journalists at the Hotel Shelton in New York. Entering a metal casket, his assistants lowered him into a swimming pool.

The box had telephone line installed via which Houdini's assistant, James Collins, called down every few minutes to inform him how much time had passed. Houdini chose to stay in after Collins called and told him he had exceeded Bey's timing before finally bussing to be let out after 91 minutes.

Houdini had consulted with Dr. W. J. McConnell, a former surgeon at the U.S. Bureau of Mines, who researched survival techniques for trapped miners. McConnell was present at the stunt, and a few hours after freeing himself Houdini typed him a letter, outlining his experiences including what he'd had for breakfast that morning ("a fruit salad and half a cup of coffee")--in the hopes they'd be of use to McConnell.

"After one hour and twenty-eight minutes, I commenced to see yellow lights and carefully watched myself not to go to sleep," the magician wrote. "I kept my eyes wide open. Moved on the broad of my back, so as to not take all the weight off my lungs, my left arm was across my chest. I laid on my right side, my left buttock against the coffin so that I could keep the telephone receiver against my ear without holding it."

Houdini died three months after the stunt. What was the cause?

Find out here...

He boasted to a college student, J. Gordon Whitehead, that he could take any punch in the stomach and suffer no ill-effect. Taking up the challenge, the student's punch ruptured Houdini's spleen and he succumbed from complications.

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