The legendary magician Harry Houdini died on Halloween 90 years ago at the age of 52. Known for his dramatic escapes, Houdini was ultimately killed by a punch to the gut from a college student.
In October 1926, Houdini lectured a group of college students in Montreal, Canada. Staying past the lecture to talk more intimately with the students, he bragged about the strength of his stomach muscles. Without giving Houdini any time to prepare his muscles, J. Gordon Whitehead, a McGill University student, punched him twice in the stomach in quick succession.
Soldiering on, Houdini continued to Detroit after the incident where he performed for the very last time Oct. 24, 1926, at the Garrick Theater. He complained of pain, and according to some reports passed out multiple times during the show, but Houdini finished the performance before heading back to his room at the Statler and meeting with doctors. The doctors diagnosed him with appendicitis but his condition quickly deteriorated and the magician was taken to Grace Hospital in downtown Detroit.
Houdini remained in the hospital for a week where he had two operations to repair his ruptured appendix. But he had developed peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal cavity caused by a ruptured appendix. Houdini died in room 401 of Grace Hospital on Halloween 1926.
Houdini’s wife, Bess, conducted several séances to contact her husband’s spirit after he died, following an agreement the two had made earlier in life. She was never able to contact him and eventually condemned the whole experiment as a failure.
Houdini was born Mar. 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. The magician concentrated on lock picking and traditional magic early in his career before becoming known for his elaborate and daring escapes. His better-remembered tricks included breaking free of a box underwater while bound upside down and hanging from a skyscraper in a straightjacket.