Houdini’s Escape from the 10th Precinct

Houdini c1905, courtesy of the Library of Congress

One of the more exciting headliners in Washington for the start of the 1906 New Year was Harry Houdini, who was staring at Chase’s Theater. Among his boasts was that he could release himself from any prison cells and manacles of the most modern make. This claim was put to the test in Washington on January 1, 1906, at the Tenth Precinct, 625 Park Road, NW.

Chief of police, Major Richard Sylvester, agreed to do his utmost to keep Houdini a prisoner and chose his modern station house on Park Road. The facility had cells with the latest lock-proof construction. Each opened at the sides and top, with steel bars strongly set.

In this January 7, 1906, interview, Houdini states that of all the cities that had tested their cells against him, only Washington had treated him like a common criminal

Upon Houdini’s arrival at the precinct, he was stripped and treated as if he were a common murderer. Houdini was then handcuffed with an “invincible bracelet,” the cuffs used by the Secret Service. Lastly, the escape artist was locked in cell No. 3, with his clothes locked in an adjoining cell.

With Houdini securely locked in his cell, the party adjourned to the outer corridor at 10:42 a.m. and waited. Within the span if 18 minutes, Houdini defeated the five locks securing his cell, opened the locks of the cell containing his clothing, and stood before the assembly fully dress in his street clothes.

This was the 62nd cell that had failed to hold Houdini.

In searching the cell immediately after Houdini’s escape, Lieut. H. B. Elliott discovered a stout needle which he contended had not been there previously.  He postulated that Houdini mush have hidden the needle in his mouth and used it to pick the locks. As the locks of the cell were within Houdini’s reach, Maj. Sylvester decided that locks on the cell doors of the station houses be placed out of reach from within the cells.


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9 Comments on “Houdini’s Escape from the 10th Precinct”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    What a cool story! I love Houdini and had no idea about this piece of DC history in his life.

  2. Newtonite Says:

    Thanks for sharing! What a cool story.

  3. db Says:

    My favorite part… is that they learned something from it and improved their facility.

  4. ~~~mh Says:

    Great neighborhood lore!

  5. […] on the early days of policing the sparsely populated 10th precinct with mounted police or even Harry Houdini’s escape from a locked jail cell here. Information on Judge William C. Hueston would also be appropriate […]

  6. Thomas Trolia Says:

    I have put a couple of prisoner in that same cell. We normally searched prisoners before they were put in any of the cells. The only failure that I know of, one prisoner concealed a toy gun that was not found on the initial search by the arresting officer or by the transporting officer and lastly by the booking officer in the station house.. On being released a prisoner from an adjoining cell gave us the information about the gun which he believed to be real. Several officers surrounded the cell block and recovered the Toy Gun. One that could have got him killed. Needless to say there were new instruction on how to preform searches.

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