Burnley Express archive sheds light on rare Houdini film shown at Burnley Empire

A recently unearthed Burnley Express article from 1905 may have shed light on a legendary lost film featuring world famous escape artists Harry Houdini.

Monday, 17th August 2020, 8:40 pm

The film, Houdini Defeats Hackenschmidt, apparently shown in March 1906 after Houdini’s performance in Boston, focuses on Houdini's miraculous escapes from manacles fastened on him by the legendary wrestler George Hackenschmidt, a.k.a. 'The Russian Lion'.

Shrouded in mystery, as befitting the legendary escapologist, the has been a mythical quest for scholars of the escapologist, with no real references seemed to exist to the film itself. Until now.

The blog wildabouthoudini.com have found a reference in the Burnley Express to the film being played at the Burnley Empire in March 1905, a year before it was even known to exist.

The legendary Harry Houdini

Houdini researcher John Cox, who runs the website and has been searching for references to the lost film for 10 years, said: "There can be no doubt that this is the same film that played in Boston, here playing a year earlier in England.

"This confirms that it existed, that it was indeed a film, and, most excitingly, it featured Houdini doing an escape at the hands of challenger George Hackenschmidt."

The Burnley Express review of the film on March 22nd, 1905, reads: "The performance is closed by the Empire Biograph, by which are reproduced 'An office boy's revenge' and Houdini extricating himself from manacles placed on him by Hackenschmidt, who appears to enjoy the fun immensely."

Professional Magician and Burnley Empire Trust director, Shaun McCree, said: "This is an amazing find, the Empire has proven to be the key that unlocks a mystery that Houdini scholars have hoped to find for years.

"The news is very timely as Burnley Empire Trust is in the middle of a Crowdfunder campaign to raise the money for essential stabilisation works to begin the journey to the public once again being able to enjoy the Empire as a gem of the local community.

"We are proud that the heritage of the building is opening up so many secrets and helping take us forward in our vision to restore, revive and reinvigorate the Burnley Empire for future generations."

TV magician and Houdini expert Paul Zenon said: "I was brought up in the Pendle district and I’m a bit of a Houdini buff, in fact a bit of an obsessive, that’s why I was blown away to hear the story that broke this week. It’s blown my mind, because that show took place where? The Burnley Empire!

"Concrete proof that not only did the film exist, but it was actually shown at the Burnley Empire, this is Houdini’s first ever appearance on film, a whole year before the only other mention of it in the States, in Boston. That, to me, is the Empire crying out through history, ’Hello, I’m still here, help!’

"So, I’m taking it as a sign we all need to get behind this Crowdfunder campaign, it’s just too important. It’s incredible that the Empire is still relevant 115 years later and not just affecting local history but history internationally."

To support the theatre and help make a new history for the Burnley Empire search Burnley Empire Trust on Crowdfunder.co.uk to donate by September 2nd and help save the building. Or click https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/burnleyempiretrust Follow @BurnleyEmpire for regular updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.