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


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.”...


Patch, Samuel (1799–13 November 1829), daredevil, was born in Reading, Massachusetts, the son of Mayo Greenleaf Patch, a landless farmer and cottage shoemaker, and Abigail McIntire, a daughter of a prominent landowner. Patch’s eccentric adult life was a clear reflection of the failure of his father—a shiftless, contentious, conniving, ne’er-do-well—to prevent the family’s descent into social and economic marginality during the transition of New England from an agrarian to an industrial society after the American Revolution....


Zacchini, Hugo (20 October 1898–20 October 1975), circus daredevil, was born in Peru, the son of Idebrando Zacchini and Nina Dal Paos, Italian circus performers. Zacchini was born while his family was on tour, and he and his eight siblings performed in the circus, most of them, eventually, as human cannonballs. The oldest son, Edmundo, was first a famous clown, known throughout Italy and North Africa as ...