December 20, 2016 / 2:09 PM / a year ago

Budapest museum lifts lid on Houdini's magic, Hungarian roots

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Even almost 100 years after his death, the name Harry Houdini is synonymous with escapology, but less is known about his first great escape - how he left his Hungarian home as a child for a new life in the United States.

Posters are seen in the "House of Houdini" museum in Budapest, Hungary, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

The House of Houdini, a museum in Budapest’s historic Castle district, seeks to shed light on the illusionist’s roots with a display of memorabilia and a research team tracking down documents about his life.

“He was of course the greatest escape artist history ever had ... but I believe his secret lies from deep inside from his Hungarian roots, when as a poor Jewish family they escaped Hungary,” museum founder David Merlini said.

“That was maybe his first escape: to America, in the hope of a better life.”

For Merlini, 38, himself a Hungarian escape artist who advised actor Adrien Brody about Houdini for a mini-series in 2014, Houdini has been a major inspiration.

Merlini opened the museum this year as a tribute to the artist who was born in Budapest as Erik Weisz into a Jewish family in 1874.

A wax statue of Houdini is seen in the "House of Houdini" museum in Budapest, Hungary, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

He left with his family for the United States in 1878 and became an American citizen.

When he became a magician, Houdini started to call himself Harry Houdini after the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.

Slideshow (4 Images)

He went on to become the most famous escape artist of his day, captivating massive audiences with his daring escapes. He died in 1926 from a ruptured appendix.

“We are all a little bit Houdinis because everybody has a secret dream that is just waiting to be fulfilled,” Merlini said.

The museum displays Houdini’s handcuffs and other artefacts, many photographs about his life and performances, and also a Bible from 1883, which belonged to his family.

“We grew up hearing stories of Houdini and his escaping,” said David Orenstein, a tourist from Israel.

Six magicians take turns in entertaining visitors in a small theater within the museum.

Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo and Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams

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