t h e g r e at e s c a pe s

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“It does seem strange,” Harry said of his experiences in Europe, “that
the people over here . . . fear the police so much. In fact, the police are all mighty, and I am the first man that has ever dared them. That is my success.” It was true that Europeans were more frightened of the police than North Americans were. In many European countries at that time, the police were very powerful, and people had the idea that they could be arrested for the most minor offenses. In places like Germany, France, and Russia, escape acts were popular because they seemed to represent ordinary people getting the better of the authorities. Houdini understood this only too well, and he made it the focus of his act. “I am the greatest of the jail-breakers and handcuff kings,” he would tell each new audience he faced. “I defy the police departments of the world to hold me.” All over Europe, Harry put his words to the test. In Berlin, he accepted a challenge to try to escape at police headquarters in front of more than three hundred assembled officers. He was stripped naked and secured with handcuffs, leg irons, and thumbscrews. His mouth was sealed with tape—so that if he had a key hidden there, he wouldn’t be able to retrieve it. A blanket was thrown over his head to conceal what he was doing. Just six minutes later, he shrugged it off and dropped the shackles to the floor in front of the astonished crowd.

26

RIGHT: The King of Handcuffs never found a pair of shackles that could hold him.

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