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The Escape Artist

- Abstract

A photograph of Harry Houdini in middle age. Handsome Houdini: the dignified nose, the shapely lips. His forehead is bold, his hair thinning, white at the temples, wizard-winged over the ears. Sternly he frowns at you, arms crossed, sleeves pushed back. Houdini rolled up his sleeves when he got down to work, to show he was hiding nothing there; but he’s not working now. He stands before bookshelves in frock coat and clerical collar, a watch on his vest, a pin in his lapel—emblem of one of his many fraternal organizations. He was a great civic booster, in the American way.

What kind of picture is this? Not Houdini the showman, the publicity-hound; it’s too intimate for that. This could be a self-portrait: citizen Houdini, preacher, professor, judge. Except for the hands: tough skin, prehensile thumbs, the wrists linked by a charm-bracelet padlock on a single chain.

About the Author

Bette Howland is the author of W-3, Blue in Chicago, and Things to Come and Go. She is currently working on a novel, City of Refuge.