I built this virtually exact working replica of Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell.
I was able to examine the original Cell. When I was a kid I lived in Toronto which was 70 minutes away from Niagara Falls. Between 1973 and 1980 I had visited the museum multiple times and taken dozens and dozens of pictures of the Cell. So I had a very good reference from my experience. However when I was starting to build the Torture Cell with my pictures being over 30 years old, they weren’t very clear anymore. So I also relied on pictures of John Gaughan’s rebuilt Torture Cell from the internet as further reference.
This, however, proved to be problematic because I started to notice that Gaughan’s rebuilt cell was missing some of the finer details that were in the original. The biggest difference was that the screws that were on the wood portions of the original Cell were missing on the rebuilt version. I went back to photos of the original that I was able to find on the internet and I used those, along with my own reference material to create this replica. Even the lifting frame was incorrect in some of the photos of the original Cell because in the museum it was put on upside down.
For materials, my research indicated that it was built from Honduran mahogany. This wood was very difficult to source and when I did find it, it was only ¾” thick. Houdini’s Cell had wood that was 1” thick so it cost thousands of dollars to obtain the proper amount of wood that I needed for the project.
All the screws used on Houdini’s Cell were slotted which were incredibly difficult to find in Canada. There are hundreds of screws used in this recreation as Houdini had in his.
The building was meticulous. There were things that Houdini did in his Water Torture Cell that didn’t make sense to me in the beginning but they all made sense to me in the end. When building, there were certain parts where I wondered why Houdini did this or that but it really came together in the end and made me appreciate Houdini’s genius even more.
All metal was formed and shaped in my shop. I created the drain plugs, which were no where to be found, on my metal lathe.
It was an excruciating 2 years to create this virtually exact replica of Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell but absolutely fulfilling.
We are currently in negotiations to perform this at a magic convention. We should know in the next day or two if it is a go so I will keep you posted! We want to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the creation of the Chinese Water Torture Cell with a tribute to Harry Houdini in our performance.