Blog: Paul Nielsen

Do we need to run around in a rabbit suit to conjure up our region's lost wealth? Dr. Paul Nielsen, entrepreneurial owner of the Wunderground Magic Shop, amuses us this Halloween's Eve with spirited tales pulled from his hat. Learn to make coin from castoffs and marvel at Houdini's winter freestyle under Detroit River ice caps.

Post 2: Houdini, Halloween, and the Importance of Wonder

It's Halloween.  I was going to regale you with scary stories about ghosts and monsters, but I decided to creep you out even more by discussing the Southeast Michigan region and its economic future.  Sorry about that.

Today we're going to delve into Southeast Michigan's past.  We have a case study of one man who began with nothing, then went on to die, of course.  In between that time, though, he became the most famous name in magic and in show business – Harry Houdini.

Harry Houdini's rise to fame graphically demonstrated that nothing could hold us down and no restraints were too confining. No obstacles, even solid walls, could hold us back; nothing was impossible, even the production of a live elephant.  At 5'5", he was bigger than life, a superhero, if you will, that nothing on earth could hold prisoner.

Houdini was a master of marketing and promoted himself through spectacular publicity stunts, like escaping from a strait jacket while hanging upside down over a crowd of people.  More recently, local magician Jasen Magic has recreated this stunt with equally spectacular results, but in an entirely different way.  You’ll have to see the video for yourself.  Such publicity stunts are a great way to draw massive crowds to your establishment.  Everyone wants to see some idiot risk their life for your entertainment.

During one such stunt Houdini was bound in chains and lowered by a rope from the Belle Isle Bridge into the Detroit River.  To hear him tell the story, the river was frozen over that day, so they had to cut a hole in the ice to lower him through.  Even though he managed to free himself from his chains, the swift current carried him far downriver away from his hole in the ice and the only chance of escape.  He survived for hours by breathing air trapped in the small gaps between the water and the ice until he could find his safety rope that lead to the hole to free himself.  Of course, the Detroit News, which covered the story that day, reported the weather was above freezing.  Houdini wasn't above using embellishment to market his ability.

The reason I'm telling you this is that Houdini died right here in Detroit at Grace Hospital.  He died on Halloween, October 31, 1926, from peritonitis resulting from a ruptured appendix.  This may or may not have been aggravated by a blow to the stomach he received from a student, but don't let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

Every year on October 31 séances are conducted to try to contact the spirit of Houdini.  His wife, Bess, was given a secret code, and Houdini said that if it were possible he would send a message to her from beyond.

What are you doing to create a sense of wonder?  Will people still remember you long after you are gone?  How can you ignite that excitement and sense of empowerment that inspires those around you to believe all things are possible and that together we will turn these tough times in Detroit around?