Shades of Houdini
An escape in Eureka
By Mike Masterson
LITTLE ROCK — Illusionist Sean-Paul of the Eureka Springs Intrigue Theater stood smiling while cocooned inside a straitjacket facing at least 300 onlookers gathered on the lawn of the 126-year-old Historic Crescent Hotel and Spa last week.
The calliaphone music that provided the pre-show buildup grew silent, as did the speakers and a dozen or more citizens dressed in 1900s period costumes who watched with the rest of the audience.
The 41-year-old showman was about to be hoisted upside down by his ankles where, while suspended in midair by a metal cable capable of holding 4,000 pounds, he would try to repeat an escape made famous during the early 1900s by the late magician and illusionist Harry Houdini.
As a whirring electric motor slowly lifted him to the third-floor balcony of the hotel, billed by some in the media as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,” the crowd watched in silence, wondering how this man born in Minnesota could possibly free himself from the cloth restraint wrapped, belted and tied fully around his arms and body.
After all, the handsome fella looked like a mummy from the waist up as he steadily rose to what looked to be about 100 feet.
The straining motor finally stopped. The only sound was birds chirping in the surrounding trees.
At first, Sean-Paul twisted and turned and managed to work the rear restraint straps over his head. Then he methodically freed his arms and hands to begin releasing each strap that was individually buckled in the back. After only a minute, he was holding the jacket in one hand and victoriously dropping it to the ground. The audience, which also included wide-eyed public-school children, clapped and cheered as he was lowered back to Earth to take a bow.
This outdoor show beneath a pastel blue sky was open to the public. It was part of the Crescent’s effort to call attention during the month of October to the hotel’s national reputation for mysterious and ghostly experiences.
This has been dubbed “The Month of Houdini” in Eureka. And what better time for such sport than the month that ends in Halloween? Chances are you can still watch Sean-Paul’s remarkable escape for yourself on the video page at eurekaspringsonline.com.
But Paul isn’t through escaping this month. His next challenge (like the straitjacket trick, also issued by Don Lee, the editor of the city’s weekly Lovely County Citizen) will be to escape from a flooded, padlocked 40-gallon milk can while handcuffed. That will come on the evening of October 20 at the Basin Park Hotel.
Bill Ott, my former classmate at UCA, who today directs marketing and communications for the Crescent, said Sean-Paul and his wife Julie also plan to spearhead a “paranormal party” aimed at calling up Houdini’s spirit at a midnight seance in the Crystal Ballroom. And what better place to call him over than at the country’s most haunted hotel, Ott says.
Neither Houdini nor P.T. Barnum had anything on the abilities of my jovial friend Mr. Ott.
The milk-can trick is no place for claustrophobics. I examined the metal can Sean-Paul plans to use and I just gotta say, valued readers, that it gives me more willies than the straitjacket in-midair routine. But I also realize that Sean-Paul has got this escaping thing figured out, especially if he’s ready and willing and eager to perform his feats in front of an audience.
From what I could tell, along with other comments from other writers and broadcasters attending his airborne escape at the Crescent, Houdini himself would have been hard pressed to have pulled it off any better. And that’s saying something.During his lifetime, which ended prematurely from a ruptured appendix in 1926, Houdini became the world’s most famous escape artist, finding seemingly miraculous ways to set himself free in a matter of minutes, whether it be from straitjackets, handcuffs, iron bars, submerged wooden chests and even the padlocked and flooded milk can that Sean-Paul soon will enjoy.He traveled the U.S. and Europe dazzling audiences with his mystical ability to work his way free from any container others wrapped, locked or sealed him inside.And so I had been anxious to see Sean-Paul emulate the great one in his famous escape while hanging in the air.
His exploits proved to be big doings in these parts. In fact, it was a big enough event in the arts and entertainment city to be aired on the local cable program. Dan Timbrook, the popular morning show host at KHOZ in my hometown of Harrison, even made the 40-mile drive to broadcast the doings live on his program.
While this grand old lady of lodging high in the Ozarks is proud of its widespread designation as America’s most haunted hotel (national cable shows and websites have featured its reported hauntings) and even hosts a nightly ghost tour, I’ve always found the stately place to be far more serene and relaxing than spooky.
But then, neither am I that easily frightened.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The video of today’s escape can be seen on the video news page of eurekaspringsonline.com. For more information on the upcoming Houdini activities and other paranormal activities at the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, a Historic Hotel of America, one should go to americasmosthauntedhotel.com.