Secrets of Houdini’s disappearing elephant trick

Houdini performed this act only once – on January 7, 1918 at the Hippodrome Theater in New York. The magician led the elephant around the circle and drove it into a special cage.

The assistants threw a white blanket over her, Houdini fired a pistol, the blanket was removed, the cage doors opened – and the elephant was no longer there.

This illusion was difficult to explain because it was only shown once and the cage was lost. For many years, the mystery of the disappearing elephant remained unsolved.

The Great Harry Houdini website says that the Hippodrome Theater has been defunct for a long time, but photographs show a huge hall with 5,697 seats. The seats were arranged in three semicircular tiers. None of the spectators could fully see the elephant cage, which was located far from the edge of the stage.

The appearance of the cell is also controversial. Props engineer R. D. Adams claimed that the bottom of her frame concealed a bolt of fabric identical to the curtains that hung at the back of the cage. The fabric was attached to the roller by a spring so strong that it had to be wound by two men. At just the right moment, Houdini fired his gun, causing the audience to blink. As they blinked, the roll of cloth suddenly unrolled in front of the elephant, making it appear as if it had instantly disappeared.