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Matinee: 'Handcuffed, Leaps into Canal' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

4 September 2021

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 412th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Handcuffed, Leaps into Canal.

This four-minute clip is not new and not titled Handcuffed, Leaps into Canal either. That was the headline in the 1907 Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., after Harry Houdini jumped from the Weighlock Bridge in two pairs of handcuffs and, moment later, emerged from the chilly May waters with his hands free wearing the cuffs on his head like a crown.

He had come to settle a bet on the matter with Al Buckenberger, who managed the Rochester baseball club. Buckenberger had bet $1,000 Houdini couldn't do it.

Houdini spent a week preparing for the jump, acclimating himself to cold water with a series of ice baths, and even rehearsed it once from the bridge.

It may not look like a death-defying feat to our jaded eyes but it had his mother worried enough that she came to Rochester to be with him. In fact, that was how Houdini remembered the day in his diary. "Ma saw me jump!" he wrote.

You are seeing a colorized restoration that owes something to artificial intelligence, according to Ian Buckland, who is the Australian photdocumentary artist behind this.

The uncolorized footage, exposed by Kodak cameramen at Houdini's behest and shown two days later at the Cook Opera House, looks like this:

No doubt some of the 10,000 who saw the actual event were anxious to see the moving pictures of the feat. It was as close as they got to instant replay 114 years ago.

Ciné film was giving George Eastman fits at the time. It was as big as his still film business but was consuming his resources at the same time he was battling Thomas Edison for control of the nascent technology.

It was dangerous stuff, the nitrate erupting into flames spontaneously. Eastman tried to get the stuff outlawed in favor of his more expensive but more fragile acetate film. But that didn't happen.

He could have used an escape artist like Houdini.

Houdini had those handcuffs specially made so they looked legitimate upon inspection but opened with a quick jerk of the wrists. He was never in danger.

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