Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Houdini Nicked in Newport

The first time he met Newport police, in 1905, Harry Houdini ended up in jail. No crime had been committed - he was merely accepting their challenge to escape from a police cell.

Of course this was all good publicity for Houdini who was appearing at the Lyceum Theatre. He duly arrived at the police station, was stripped of his clothing, and double-locked into cell number 9. Five and half minutes later he reappeared fully clothed having escaped his cell, opened the adjacent one to retrieve his togs, and unlocked the door to the corridor where he met an astonished Chief Constable.

Houdini's next run-in with Newport's finest, in 1913, proved to be less amicable. Again he was on tour, this time at the Newport Empire (see pic). Wanting to drum up interest for his show Houdini did what any self-respecting self-liberator would do and decided to throw his manacled body off Newport Bridge into the River Usk!

However the Chief Constable refused to sanction such a stunt and a compromise was reached where it was agreed Houdini would walk to the bridge but be turned back by police at the last moment. Houdini would get his publicity and the authorities wouldn't have a dead escapologist on their hands.

On the day of the pretend jump however a very large crowd had gathered on the bridge and Houdini, ever the showman, decided to go ahead with the stunt. Evading the assembled Peelers he snuck onto the bridge and, heavily manacled and in bathers, leapt up onto the balustrade and threw himself into the Usk. At first there was no sign of the renowned escape artist but to the crowd's great delight he emerged triumphant from the muddy depths sans chains. The police were NOT amused and nicked him for causing an obstruction.

A week later at Newport Police Court the case was heard. What though was the point of banging-up the world's most famous self-liberator - after all, hadn't he escaped from a Newport cell once before? The case was dismissed.