Budapest Museum Lifts Lid on Houdini’s Magic, Hungarian Roots
Even almost 100 years after his death, the name Harry Houdini is synonymous with escapology, but less is known about his first great escape — how he left his Hungarian home as a child for a new life in the United States. The House of Houdini, a museum in Budapest's historic Castle district, seeks to shed light on the illusionist's roots with a display of memorabilia and a research team tracking down documents about his life. "He was, of course, the greatest escape artist history ever had … but I believe his secret lies from deep inside from his Hungarian roots, when as a poor Jewish family they escaped Hungary," museum founder David Merlini said. "That was maybe his first escape: to America, in the hope of a better life." For Merlini, 38, himself a Hungarian escape artist who advised actor Adrien Brody about Houdini for a mini-series in 2014, Houdini has been a major inspiration. Merlini opened the museum this year as a tribute to the artist who was born in Budapest as Erik Weisz into a Jewish family in 1874. He left with his family for the United States in 1878 and became an American citizen. When he became a magician, Houdini started to call himself Harry Houdini after the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. He went on to become the most famous escape artist of his day, captivating massive audiences with his daring escapes. He died in 1926 from a ruptured appendix. "We are all a little bit Houdinis because everybody has a secret dream that is just waiting to be fulfilled," Merlini said. The museum displays Houdini's handcuffs and other artifacts, many photographs about his life and performances, and also a Bible from 1883, which belonged to his family. "We grew up hearing stories of Houdini and his escaping," said David Orenstein, a tourist from Israel. Six magicians take turns entertaining visitors in a small theater within the museum.