Unlocking the secrets of Houdini's enduring magic

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Though he died nearly a century ago, the legendary illusionist Harry Houdini remains one of the best-known magicians of all time.

His infamous escapes -- from straitjackets while suspended high in the air, and from coffins, locked trunks and outsize milk cans -- made him a household name across the world at the beginning of the 20th century.

On view at the Jewish Museum are two diaries kept by Houdini, both of which are from private collections and have never been displayed publicly before.

One is from the period just before he became famous, in 1898, and one from 1916, after he had achieved fame for his astonishing escapes.

They include lowering himself into New York's East River in a crate wrapped in chains, from which he escaped and then swam to the surface, escaping from a glass-fronted box filled with water known as the "Water Torture Cell," into which he had been inserted upside down and manacled bridge jumps.

A skilful user of the new media of the time, Houdini made sure that his exploits were captured on camera and later on film. According to Taylor, his public stunts -- which attracted crowds of thousands -- were really a way of drumming up publicity for his shows....

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