Harry Houdini Gets Married

Legendary magician and escape artist Harry Houdini married Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner on June 22, 1894.

When they met, she was performing as one of the Floral Sisters at the Sea Beach Palace, in West Brighton Beach, New York; he was a virtually unknown magician. Partners in work and life for the next thirty-two years, the Houdinis never attempted escape from the bonds of matrimony.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, as Ehrich Weisz in 1874, the future Houdini emigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, when he was just a few years old. His father had been hired as the rabbi of a Jewish congregation there, but the job lasted only a few years. As the family struggled to make ends meet young Erich Weiss, as his name was now spelled, held a variety of low-skilled jobs and ran away from home at least once. Many stories, some of them fanciful, surround the early days of his performing career. In about 1890, in New York City, he adopted the name Harry Houdini as part of a Houdini Brothers magic act. The name was chosen to invoke the reputation of Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic. In his solo performances as a magician, Houdini appeared in amusement parks, sideshows, and vaudeville. He also began to augment his act with handcuff tricks.

Initially, Houdini's magic career resulted in little success. He performed in dime museums and sideshows, and even doubled as "the Wild Man" at a circus. Houdini initially focused on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the "King of Cards". But he soon began experimenting with escape acts. In 1893, while performing with his brother "Dash" at Coney Island as "The Houdini Brothers", Harry met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner, whom he married. Bess replaced Dash in the act, which became known as "The Houdinis". For the rest of Houdini's performing career, Bess would work as his stage assistant.

Harry Houdini's "big break" came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in rural Woodstock, Illinois. Impressed by Houdini's handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900, Beck arranged for Houdini to tour Europe.

Houdini: houdinize, vt. To release or extricate oneself from confinement, bonds, or the like, as by wiggling out.”

— Funk and Wagnall's New Dictionary as quoted on Houdini Letterhead