In 1892, Weiss became a professional magician, and began calling himself "Harry Houdini" because he was influenced by French magician Jean Eugene Robert -Houdin and his friend Jack Hayman told him that in French adding an "i" to Houdin would mean "like Houdini the great magician". Thfirst part of his new name, Harry, was an homage to Harry Kellar, another of Weiss' largest influences. Initially, his magic career resulted in little success, though he met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner in 1893, and married her three weeks later. For the rest of his performing career, Bess would work as his stage assistant.
Houdini initially focused on traditional card acts. At one point he billed himself as the "King of Cards" and "King of Handcuffs." One of his most notable non-escape stage illusions was performed in London's hippodrome: he vanished a full-grown elephant (with its trainer) from a stage, beneath which was a swimming pool.
He soon began experimenting with escape acts. From 1904 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. Because of imitators and a dwindling audience, on January 25, 1908, Houdini began escaping from a locked water filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Rather than promote the idea he was assisted by spirits, as did the Davenport Brothers and others, Houdini advertised to the public that he made his escapes by dematerializing. In 1913, he introduced perhaps his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water. He held his breath for more than three minutes.
Houdini's last performance was at the Garrik Theater in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 1926. The next day he was hospitalized at Detroit's Grace Hospital. Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 p.m. on Halloween, 1926 at the age of 52.
Fearing spiritualists would exploit his legacy by pretending to contact him after his death, Houdini left his wife a secret code — ten words chosen at random from a letter written by Doyle — that he would use to contact her from the afterlife. His wife held yearly séances on Halloween for ten years after his death, but Houdini never appeared. In 1936, after a last unsuccessful séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel , she put out the candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini since his death, later (1943) saying "ten years is long enough to wait for any man."
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