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Harry Houdini Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112386).

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Houdini, Harry (24 March 1874–31 October 1926), magician and escape artist, was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss and Cecelia Steiner. In 1878 the family immigrated to Appleton, Wisconsin. The town’s small Jewish congregation hired Mayer Samuel as its rabbi but released him after four years. He began a hapless twelve-year search for a settled rabbinical post to support his wife and seven children and was reduced to accepting provisions from a relief society and selling part of his scholarly library. Young Ehrich once ran away from home and later recalled the period as “hard and cruel years when I rarely had the bare necessities of life.”...