Houdini Performs The Mirror Handcuff Challenge
In 1904, the London Daily Mirror newspaper challenged Houdini to escape from a special handcuff that it claimed had taken Nathaniel Hart, a locksmith from Birmingham, seven years to make.
Houdini accepted the challenge for March 17 during a matinée performance at London's Hippodrome theater. It was reported that 4000 people and more than 100 journalists turned out for the much-hyped event. The escape attempt dragged on for over an hour, during which Houdini emerged from his "ghost house" (a small screen used to conceal the method of his escape) several times. On one occasion, he asked if the cuff could be removed so he could take off his coat. The Mirror representative, Frank Parker, refused, saying Houdini could gain an advantage if he saw how the cuff was unlocked. Houdini promptly took out a pen-knife and, holding the knife in his teeth, used it to cut his coat from his body. Some 56 minutes later, Houdini's wife appeared on stage and gave him a kiss. It is believed that in her mouth was the key to unlock the special handcuff. Houdini then went back behind the curtain. After an hour and ten minutes, Houdini emerged free. As he was paraded on the shoulders of the cheering crowd, he broke down and wept. Houdini later said it was the most difficult escape of his career.
After Houdini's death, his friend, Martin Beck , published in his book, Sensational Tales of Mystery Men, that Houdini was bested that day and appealed to his wife, Bess, for help. Goldstone goes on to claim that Bess begged the key from the Mirror representative, then slipped it to Houdini in a glass of water. However, it was stated in the book "The Secret Life of Houdini" that the key required to open the specially designed Mirror handcuffs was 6" long, and so could not be smuggled to Houdini via a glass or his wife's mouth.
Goldstone offered no proof of his account, and many modern biographers have found evidence (notably in the custom design of the handcuff itself) that the entire Mirror challenge was pre-arranged by Houdini and the newspaper, and that his long struggle to escape was pure showmanship. In support of this, it has been reported that the sterling silver replica of the Mirror cuffs presented to Houdini in honor of his escape was actually made the year before the escape actually took place (again from "The Secret Life of Houdini").