By Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer
Houdini 100, a special event held exclusively for the city of Pittsburgh, was an imitation act. What act was it trying to imitate? Houdini’s death defying upside down.
This was a trick Houdini performed all-around the world. He would suspend himself from a building with a rope tied to his feet and hang upside down in a straightjacket. Houdini would then proceed to escape the straightjacket and drop it on the ground below to signify the act was complete. He would do this in about ten minutes.
This past weekend, Pittsburgh native Lee Terbosic replicated this act in the very spot Houdini performed his magic trick one hundred years to the day, on November 6, 1916. Houdini came to Pittsburgh 11 times during his life, but by far the most memorable was when he performed the death defying upside down.
One hundred years ago, Houdini was hanging from what was then the Sun Times building on the corner of Liberty Avenue and Wood Street. Terbosic, needless to say, tapped into the nostalgia of a Pittsburgh many weren’t alive to experience.
It was an event that was as much a celebration of Houdini as it was a celebration of Pittsburgh and its culture. Before the event, Pittsburgh local DJ Scottro hyped the crowd up for the impending performance, informing the crowd that 2016 is Pittsburgh’s two-hundredth birthday, and this would be just the beginning of the cultural impact this event would have.
Houdini never meant to leave a cultural impact. He did the original act to promote his show when he was in town. Terbosic had a different idea in mind.
The crowd way back in 1916 was made up of thousands of people. Houdini being in town was big news, and his death defying display bigger news still. This can even be seen in a photo from that historic day on the Houdini 100 website that inspired Terbosic to perform the trick.
The crowd in 2016 was in the hundreds, possibly even a thousand people, but paled in comparison to 1916. Why? Maybe because Terbosic isn’t as big of a name, maybe the fact that there was a live stream on Facebook or maybe because Terbosic was more concerned about the city of PIttsburgh than promoting his brand.
For the hundreds of onlookers, the sense of fear for Terbosic was very real. The audience was blasted with images from the announcer. His family looked really scared, the announcer said, trying to give the audience a sense that there was a real danger. This wasn’t all smoke and mirrors — he could die.
The announcer continued, explaining that there was a stretcher and ambulance ready. The statement rang throughout the crowd, solidifying the idea that death was not an impossibility.
The announcer had, at this point, thoroughly called into question the safety of the trick for the magician. However, Lee Terbosic would tell you, as is his slogan, that “Anything is Possible.”
The trick was preceded by the announcer welcoming “three princes of Pittsburgh” on stage with Terbosic. The three princes were Steelers legend Rocky Bleier, fellow Steelers legend Franco Harris and last but not least Pittsburgh-born stuntman, make-up artist and director Tom Savini.
Together the “three princes” secured Terbosic into a straightjacket. This was where Franco Harris proceeded to cast doubt as to whether Terbosic could truly escape the straightjacket with comments like, “There’s no way he’s getting out of this,” and, “Looks like these two guys know their stuff very well, do you guys do this stuff often? Rocky?”
The fear only really set in when Terbosic was being raised into the air, much higher than Houdini ever went. A crane physically suspended Terbosic 90 feet above the crowd. If Terbosic were to fall it would be certain death.
The crane swung back and forth as he wiggled and writhed against his straightjacket to free himself. However, in a little over four minutes, Terbosic was free, and the straightjacket plummeted to the crowd below. Just like Houdini one hundred years ago, the straightjacket was a symbol of a job well done, and a day to remember.
Mayor Bill Peduto declared that Sunday to be Lee Terbosic day: A day where Terbosic defied expectations by taking more risks than Houdini himself, and a day where the Pittsburgh magician proved “Anything is Possible.”