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Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini
September 26, 2019 – January 5, 2020 

Harry Houdini wasn’t born. He was invented. 

The world’s most famous magician began life as Erik Weisz, the son of a Hungarian rabbi. In 1878 immigration to the U.S. transformed Erik Weisz into Ehrich Weiss. It was the first of many transformations for the man who would become the first international superstar. 

Inescapable, curated by performer and magician David London, tells the story of how Ehrich Weiss became Harry Houdini and investigates the technologies, marketing prowess and entertainment trends that transformed him into a superstar. On one level, the exhibit is pure fun – incorporating magic, escapes, séances, films, rare artifacts and hands-on illusions.  On a deeper level, the exhibit pulls back the curtain, revealing the story of the man behind the image. 

In addition to the exploration of his early life, visitors will find sections illuminating stages of his life and career: 
– Setting the Stage describing the struggles of Houdini’s early life and the difficulties faced by his father and includes his father’s Rabbinical Ordination certificate.
– The Self Liberator features a spectacular display of reproduction posters, photos and press clippings, as well as original handcuffs and lockpicking tools that Houdini used in his performances. 
– On the Cutting Edge investigates his exploration of new technologies, features clips from his film career and a chance to listen to a rare recording of his voice. 
– Houdini’s Third Act: Exposes Frauds showcases his crusade against deceptive spiritual mediums. 
– The Final Bow/Curtain Call sets the record straight on the events that led to his death and explores the séances to contact him by his wife, Bess. 

“Houdini in Wisconsin” shines a spotlight on his time in Milwaukee, how it impacted his myth-creation, and the many times he returned to perform in the State.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors also will have the opportunity to try out some of Houdini’s magic tricks, including the Milk Can Escape and Metamorphosis.

Click here to learn more about booking your Group Tour.

Inspired by Houdini’s great escapes and stunts, search for clues and solve puzzles to see if you can escape from our Escape Room before time runs out! The Escape Room Challenge gives you 10 minutes to find your way out of handcuffs like the great Harry “Handcuff” Houdini. The Challenge is first come, first serve. Sign up at the front desk for your chance to escape!
*3-4 people can comfortably fit in the Escape Room at once
*Ages 12 and up

Thank you to our generous exhibit sponsors: Anonymous Fund*, Anonymous Individual, Suzy B. Ettinger*, Gerald & Louise Stein Family*, Sam & Peggy Dickman, Dorothy Inbusch Foundation, Inc, Neena & Rick Florsheim, Linda & Eli Frank, Ralph & Margaret Hollmon, Elana & Aaron Karan Charitable Fund*, Felicia & Jamie Miller, Ketten/Miringoff Family*,  Annalee Sosman, Dr. and Mrs. Bernard Staller, and the Young Leadership Division of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation (*Donor Advised Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation) / Media Sponsor: Shepherd Express and Wisconsin Public Radio

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini was created by the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and is made possible, in part, by the generous support of: The Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds; Larry Boltansky; Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education; PNC Greater Maryland; The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, creator of the Baker Artist Awards,; Gert & Izzy Freedman. 


Opening Preview
Wednesday, September 25, 7:00 – 9:00 PM 
Get a taste of the jaw-dropping magic that made Houdini famous with roving magicians, imbibe a signature Houdini cocktail from the mixologists at Central Standard Distillery, and break out of our specially curated escape room created by Breakout Games. Experience guided tours of Inescapable including information on Houdini’s youth spent in Wisconsin.  

Haunted MKE: A Forest Home Cemetery Tour 
Sunday, October 13, 2:00 – 3:30 PM 
Forest Home Cemetery (2405 West Forest Home Avenue) 
Join a Forest Home historian and JMM curator, Molly Dubin, for a haunted tour of Milwaukee’s most important movers and shakers who lived during Houdini’s time in Milwaukee. Learn about our forefathers and mothers on this Houdini-inspired walk in Milwaukee’s only garden cemetery.

Linking Houdini: A Halloween Séance 
Thursday, October 31, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Houdini died on Halloween of 1926. Every year since his death, a séance has been held to see if he could cross the veil and prove the spiritual afterlife existed. This year, Jewish Museum Milwaukee will try to connect with Houdini in the state where he learned the literal tricks of his trade, and perhaps he will once again make an appearance! 
Compete for “Best-In-Show” and “Best Houdini Look-Alike” costumes as you learn your fortune from roving tarot card readers. Imbibe in a signature Houdini cocktail from the mixologists at Central Standard Distillery, get your spook on with a moody museum tour, and, of course, conjure Houdini at the séance!  Prizes will be selected for “Best in Show” and “Best Houdini” costumes. 

The American Dream: A Century of Eastern European Immigration
Thursday, November 14, 7:00 – 8:30 PM 
Explore the odyssey of American Jews including the Weisz family (Houdini’s family name) through the immigrant experience with Tony Michels, Director of the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies at the UW-Madison. Why did Jews like the Weisz family come to the US? What kinds of challenges confronted them? How did America shape them and how did they shape America? Sponsored by Felicia & James Miller.

Houdini Hocus-Pocus with Glen Gerard
Sunday, December 1, 3:00 – 4:00 pm 
Join magician and Houdini historian, Glen Gerard, for this family-friendly combination magic show and history lesson featuring some of Houdini’s original magic tricks including Metamorphosis and the East Indian Needle Trick. Be entertained by mystery, comedy and a great opportunity to discover things you never knew about the amazing life of legendary Milwaukee illusionist, Harry Houdini.

Houdini and the Cult of Celebrity
Thursday, December 5, 7:00 – 8:30 PM 
Houdini was the last of the steam-age celebrities, whose fame grew from many of the same developments that transformed American life in the industrial age. Explore how the notion of celebrity has evolved between Harry Houdini’s time and today with Rick Popp, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies at UWM.

Annual Christmas Cinema: Houdini 
Wednesday, December 25, 12:00 – 4:00 pm
Looking for something fun to do Christmas Day? Come to Jewish Museum Milwaukee to enjoy Houdini, the 1953 biopic starring then husband-and-wife Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh as Harry and Bess Houdini.