He and his brother performed as The Houdini Brothersthe name an homage to the French conjurer Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, whose act he would later debunk.
The eminent authors of the essays in the gorgeous exhibit catalog published by Yale University Press make a good case for seeing Houdini's escape acts as aspirational, for Jews and for all Americans of the era.
But a casual look at the props Houdini used makes it difficult to explain his escapes as only representing power and success; they also hint at what was at times an adversarialeven hostilerelationship with his audiences.
Houdini was aware of the blood-lust in his audience, whom he referred to at least once as a mob.
As Houdini reached middle-age, he began to feel confined by his escape acts.