Throughout history magicians have been performing amazing tricks for our entertainment, as time went on, the tricks got better and better. They continued to push the boundaries, Combining danger with illusion, resulting with more and more ridiculous feats being performed to this very day. But everyone knows it’s all smoke and mirrors right? Well this is not always the case; Magicians have stretched the limits right to the edge, where sometimes the danger is very real. I think we should take a look at a ten of the most dangerous tricks that have been performed throughout history, some of these are illusion, and some are just plain crazy!
“Nobody wants a man to fall to his death but they want to be there when it happens.” -Houdini
Everyone has seen or at least heard of a magician sawing a woman in half, and everyone has their own little theory on how it works, but the truth is that the methods of this trick vary considerably which has lead to some of the greatest versions of the illusion emerging today. One of my personal favorite versions is performed by rock star magician Criss Angel, where there are no funny boxes or giant saws, just a magician and a spectator…
Award winning magician Lance Burton, while shackled and handcuffed to roller coaster tracks, with the roller coaster zooming along, has to pick the locks and escape before he’s little more than roadkill. The only thing I can think of to make this more dangerous is if the roller coaster was on fire. Enjoy!
Here is another great classic of magic, the sword cabinet! The assistant climbs into a tiny little box which is then sealed shut. The magician then proceeds to thrust swords through every conceivable angle, leaving no apparent room to hide, The swords are then removed and the assistant reveals herself unharmed. But it is all a trick right? Not unlike the sawing in half illusion, there were many versions of this trick in history. Some of these versions do rely purely on calculated sword thrusts and a contortionist assistant, so the danger can be very real depending on who is performing it. There have been many injuries over the years. In the clip above, we see Hans Moretti performing this trick in a cardboard box.
Escape artist Harry Houdini was touring through a mental institution, when he spotted a man strapped in a straight jacket. He was struggling with all his strength and energy to get free of this device but to no avail. Houdini was fascinated at the effectiveness of this jacket and this was just the challenge that he had been looking for, thus giving birth to one of the most popular escapes to date. Since then it has grown more and more dangerous, such as being performed under water, hanging upside down from a crane, and being dragged behind a boat. If you can think of a stupid thing to do with a straight jacket, magicians have probably done it. There are no illusionary elements here, just good old escapology. The video above shows the original footage of Houdini performing this trick.
At 9 a.m, Monday November 27, 2000, in Manhattan’s Time Square, Magician David Blaine decided it was a good idea to freeze himself inside a solid 6 ton block of ice for 63 hours. He was encased in two halves, in which his body contour had been cut, so he had a small amount of room to scratch his nose (yeah, an itchy nose is the primary danger here Dave!). He also had life lines to monitor his health and a catheter to urinate. In my opinion this is one of the craziest feats in magic to date.
This nasty little number may not be the most Dangerous, or even the most impressive, but it has caused a lot of people a lot pain in the last couple of years! It is a variation on the old three shell game where the magician places a pea under one of three shells, then mixes them up at which point you try to identify the shell with the pea.
Modern magicians have given this classic a dangerous new spin by replacing the the pea, with a large spike, and the shells with styrofoam cups. The magician (blindfolded, or in another room) lets The spectator cover all the wooden blocks with the cups. He then walks over to the three cups and instantly smashes his hand on two, leaving the cup with the spike underneath untouched! Sounds amazing? Here’s what happens when it goes wrong with a spectator involved.
In 2001 David Copperfield stood in the center of a 2000 degree tornado of fire, and survived. This trick makes the list just on the name alone!
Another crazy feat invented by Houdini was the water torture cell. The magician is handcuffed, his ankles are locked into a Restraint brace, he is suspended upside down in mid air, and then lowered into a glass tank of ice water, with the restraint locked at the top of the tank. Dangerous enough? Houdini wasn’t killed in the water torture cell, despite popular belief.
Here is a very old and Very dangerous trick, being buried alive. Originally performed by the Fakirs of India, this trick found its way onto Houdini’s “to do list”, but due to his sudden death this trick was cut short. That didn’t stop magicians performing the trick years later, Notably the late Joe Burrus.
Joe was an upcoming magician in California when he decided to tackle the buried alive feat, shackled up inside a plexiglass coffin and lowered into the earth. Assistants then covered him with seven tons of soil and concrete, however when they were almost complete, the level suddenly dropped 18 inches which indicated something had gone wrong. After fifteen minutes of excavating he was found crushed. Since then it has been performed time and time again by contemporary magicians such as David Blaine and Criss Angel, but it doesn’t hide the fact that there is always a very real danger with these kinds of tricks.
Interesting Fact: Although Houdini never got round to performing it, he did have a specially designed coffin made for the trick. with his sudden death, he was later buried in that very coffin. Kind of ironic that the escape artist lies trapped forever in a coffin he once planned to escape from!
The most dangerous magic trick ever performed is undoubtedly the Fabled Bullet Catch. This fatal trick has claimed the lives of many magicians, assistants, spectators, and wounded countless others over the years. The basic effect is a bullet (usually signed or marked) loaded into a gun and shot at the magician, who then usually catches it in his hand or teeth. This trick contains illusionary elements, but the danger is still very real, as has been proven over the years.
According to legend, this trick dates back to the 1600′s, where a magician named Coullew was claiming to successfully catch bullets, This however didn’t last long as he was beaten to death with his own gun by an angry spectator, who probably thought he was some kind of demon. Next was Torrini De Grisy, who accidently shot his son on stage. Another magician of the time De Linsky took the life of his wife when a real bullet was accidently loaded into the gun. Magician Arnold Buck was killed when a spectator secretly loaded nails into the gun.
Michael Hatal and Otto Blumenfeld were both killed from forgetting to switch the real bullets for blanks. The Black Wizard of the West was killed when his wife purposely loaded real bullets into the gun. But Perhaps the most famous bullet catch performer was Chung Ling soo, who was a very famous oriental style magician who was shot when a piece of shrapnel from the gun was accidently fired at him live onstage. he was rushed to hospital and upon removal of his clothes they discovered he was actually an american who had been secretly pretending to be Asian to distinguish himself. Estimates say this trick has claimed the lives of around 15 magicians, not counting assistants or spectators.
After such a bloody history this trick has earned the reputation of being cursed, as very little professional magicians perform it today. In the video clip above we see a more recent version performed by Penn and Teller
Contributor: Kyran Wray