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Houdini Copyrighted His Water Torture Trick

Sacramento, California, USA - March 21, 2012: A 2002 USA postage stamp with a portrait of master magician Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Houdini's magic acts, especially his feats of escape, helped his name become synonymous with the word 'magician' to many Americans of that era.

April 8, 2021

Ehrich Weiss aka Harry Houdini copyrighted three of his “illusions” as short plays or “playlets.” They were registered as dramatic compositions, and are held in the Reader’s Collection, Library of Congress. His first registration, from 1911, is for “Challenged: or, Houdini upside down.” It features his Water Torture Cell trick, an escape from a water-filled cabinet while his ankles are shackled and the lid is locked. The registration describes the work as a “magical dramatic playlet” in sixteen typewritten pages. Act one: A group of men talking about Houdini’s amazing abilities, integrity, and willingness to take on challenges. Act two: The Great Houdini accepts their challenge and, MAKES HIS ESCAPE (caps in original application) followed by three cheers from the crowd, “Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah.” Houdini did the water torture trick for 17 years, finally abandoning it when a foot shackle broke and he fractured his ankle. He registered his last playlet, “Buried Alive,” in 1914. When he died in 1926 he was buried dead in the bronze casket he used for the trick.

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