The Great Escape
John D. Ritchie
On Wall Street, a steel-walled bank vault stands empty, awaiting the
arrival, by truck, of Harry Houdini.
Scheduled for today, Thanksgiving, 1918, just over a fortnight after
the Armistice was declared, the escapologist's latest stunt is being
feted as metaphor for the world's escape from the horrors of The Great
Preparations for the event have been going on for a month, and now, on
wind-swept Pier One, eight stevedores have just lifted a padlocked
steel chest onto a truck. Earlier, four of the men lifted Houdini,
wrapped in a strait jacket and heavy chains, padlocked by 'Perils of
Pauline' movie star, Pearl White, into the chest.
Houdini's manager and his assistant bustle about on the truck bed
covering the chest with a tarpaulin, while Miss White, swathed in mink,
poses against the truck's tail-gate for the newspaper photographers. In
the cab a heavy great-coat, and a cap pulled low against a bitterly
cold New York November are the only evidence of a driver.
The two men jump to the ground. The assistant moving to swing the
truck's starting handle and Houdini's manager to knock on the driver's
side cab window. The engine oil is cold and it takes a stevedore six
attempts to get the engine running. As the truck rattles into life the
greatcoat shifts and stirs. The manager and his assistant climb into
the cab and a few moments later the truck drives slowly away.
"Fooled 'em again, Harry." says the manager.
The truck driver grins.
First published: November 2005
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