HOW TO: ESCAPE A STRAITJACKET
Here’s one for the foolhardy: the secrets to Houdini’s signature escape trick
… UPSIDE DOWN
On November 6, 1916, a huge crowd gathered on a Pittsburgh street corner. Five stories up, dangling by his ankles, a man struggled to free himself from a straitjacket.
That man was famed escapologist Harry Houdini, and minutes later, to rapturous applause, he’d done it. The next day, Houdini was on the newspaper front pages, just as his show opened in town.
The same trick still draws crowds, and on its 100th anniversary, magician Lee Terbosic will be re-enacting the feat on that very street corner. But first he’s going to tell you how it’s done. Buckle up!
1 Learn how to get dressed
“As they’re putting you in the straitjacket, fill your lungs with air. That way, when they’re buckling the straps, they don’t go to the last notch and you gain that extra half inch of slack. The other way to resist is with your arms, which are strapped across your body as if you’re hugging yourself. While this is being done, push them out a little—the place you need the most slack is in the arms, and the start of the process is getting them free.”
2 Remember to use your head
“People have a tendency to freak out at this point, but you must stay calm; fighting the jacket will wear you out. With your arms strapped, get your right hand up to your left shoulder. This creates a gap you can put your head through, but be warned: Twisting your neck is uncomfortable, and I’ve pulled muscles multiple times. Thrust your head through the opening and your hands become free. Feel for the buckles around your butt and neck and undo them through the canvas. Then it’s just a matter of pulling the jacket off your body.”
3 The upside of down
“Hanging upside down from a height makes the trick more impressive. There’s a little strain on your ankles, but it’s the same process, and you have the aid of gravity to maneuver through the positions—watch old videos of Harry and he’s like a guppy on a line, wiggling to get slack. But you have to condition your body to be upside down for long periods without blacking out. I jump on an inversion table and stay there for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.”
4 Get in shape for your escape
“You don’t have to be double-jointed—that was made up by Hollywood—but flexibility definitely helps. It’s way easier if you’re in shape, because it’s kind of a workout getting out of the damn thing. It was a lot harder when I was heftier, mainly because of all the huffing and puffing. I knew the process, but I was winded.”
5 If all other methods fail, just cheat
“There are gimmick straitjackets that give you control when the straps are being buckled and allow you to let out the slack. The beauty is, most people wouldn’t notice. I’d be able to spot something, but it’d be very slight—like, if their hands moved in the sleeves in a certain way, I’d know they were doing something they shouldn’t. Most people who use trick jackets are still learning; they’re like stabilizers. I use a regulation hospital straitjacket. They don’t mass-produce them anymore, but you can have one custom-made for your size, height and weight. There are no gimmicks with those.”