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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Houdini Swims: 1908

Houdini Swims: 1908

April 30, 1908. The Charles River in Boston. "Houdini in chains and handcuffs before jumping from Harvard Bridge." Photo by John Thurston. View full size.

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I was in the pool!

I think certain parts of this picture would look a lot different AFTER he got out of the cold water.


That water must have been around 45 degrees to 50 degrees at most. How he did he stunts is simply amazing!

Brawny Houdini

I lived a few blocks from here for quite some time. This water would have been cold, and filthy.

Houdini was obviously ahead of the curve from a physical perspective, and extremely flexible. He would be something of a specimen even by today's standards. Trickery and conjuring were no doubt a part of his act, but brute strength certainly helped.

Mr. HouLeani

Not only well developed leg muscles, but you can see he also has a biceps vein going and good definition there. Not only fit, but very, very lean. Probably around 5 to 7 percent body fat, the level of a professional athlete. I wonder if the lack of body fat to insulate him worked against him in cold water? Might have meant he had to get back out very quickly to avoid hypothermia.

Tour de France winner?

With thighs like that he looks like he could take the yellow jersey.
Dude was an in-shape performer for sure. Had to be for what he did for the public.

Magical bundled muscles

Houdini has the impressive thigh and leg muscles of a long distance runner or pro rugby player. Something I would not have expected from an illusionist who spent most of his time on stage.


As someone who lives near this spot, I can tell you that in April this water is cold. Maybe so cold that it explains why his foot appears to be levitating.


It's like the Kliban cartoon "Houdini escaping from New Jersey."

364.4 Smoots ± one ear

Since 1958, Harvard Bridge has been measured in Smoots. Oliver Smoot, an M.I.T. fraternity pledge, lay down repeatedly on bridge so that his fraternity brothers could use his height to measure its length.

Spare Key

Anyone have any clue what that suspiciously rectangular bulge under his suit on his hip is?

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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