Houdini's Sensational Swim in the Rapids of...The Hudson?

SEE him make his sensational swim of the rapids of Niagara!

SEE him accomplish the unparalleled thrill of all times - the rescue of the girl on the very brink of Niagara Falls itself!

The Man From Beyond press book promotes these claims as truth, but did Houdini actually swim the rapids of the Niagara?

In continuing to search for locations from the 1922 silent film classic, I set focus on this dramatic scene to get to the bottom of this one!

From the first viewing of The Man From Beyond, I've had reservations that "the swim" actually took place at Niagara. Being from the region myself, and spending many summers exploring Niagara Falls State Park, something always looked a bit off for that scene to have been shot on the rapids of the mighty Niagara. For starters, the rock formations, geology, and steep gneiss cliffs that we see Houdini climbing over leading up to the swim, just do not exist anywhere along the Niagara River, or at Niagara Falls State Park in New York.


Then came the groundbreaking post from John Cox (here) which revealed a never before seen shot of Houdini with that mysterious bridge in the background. This bridge never spanned the Niagara River. John further updated his post stating in Silverman's Notes to Houdini that "William Lindsay Gresham was told that HH's swim was shot in the rapids of some other river. Information supplied to me by Jerome Beatty Jr." And just like that, a mystery was truly born.


So if it wasn't Niagara, where did the swim take place?

After spending hours surveying hundreds of bridges, miles of rivers, waterways, and tributaries across New York State, I believe the swim took place 90 miles south of Lake Placid, in the sleepy hamlet of Lake Luzerne inside Adirondack State Park in Warren County, New York.

Between the towns of Lake Luzerne and Hadley, lies Rockwell Falls on the Hudson River. It is here where the Hudson reaches its most narrow point in its journey and creates a stunning rapids and 10' waterfall between rocky cliffs, all below a deck-truss style bridge. The Houdini trifecta!


During the spring seasonal runoff, the river here can flood and make from some turbulent waters that favor kayakers, and allow for the more daring, bridge jumping from the Hope Bridge into the black waters of the Hudson some 70' below.

So when did the swim take place?

While we have yet to discover a shooting schedule for The Man From Beyond, one could see Houdini and the film crew passing through this area during their return trip from Niagara Falls to New York City in May of 1921.

With Houdini known to be filming at Niagara Falls on May 2nd - 8th 1921, I'm leaning towards the swim taking place sometime during those middle weeks of May 1921. When looking at the bridge photo John Cox posted from the April 1922 edition of the Motion Picture News, you can see a bit of foliage and bloom on the trees along the gorge. For those unfamiliar with Upstate New York springtime weather, the trees up here typically don't bloom until mid-May (weather depending).

While there is not a single trace of evidence I could find that places Houdini physically at the towns of Luzerne or Hadley in May of '21, I don't find that too surprising. If it would have been known that Houdini shot scenes somewhere outside of Niagara for the climax of The Man From Beyond, I'm sure it would have taken away from touting his daring swim at Niagara Falls.

While it will be some time before I can visit, and attempt to verify this location, I do firmly believe that Houdini's actual swim took place in the rapids of the Hudson River at Rockwell Falls in Lake Luzerne, New York. If the swim actually took place here, it leaves only the rescue scenes showing the canoe and stunt dummies as being filmed at Niagara Falls.

Enjoy some modern-day pictures of Rockwell Falls,  and let the speculation begin!

Is this the location of Houdini's swim?


The original deck-truss bridge seen here was built before 1888 and has been updated continuously over the years.


Early spring seasonal runoff .















Comments

  1. Bravo! Another home run. I think you are onto something and on the brink of rewriting Houdini history. The bridge alone has me sold.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks John! Once we all get through this current pandemic situation, I'm hoping to visit this spot. I have a few emails and voicemails out to the Hadley-Luzerne Historical Society looking for any pictures from the 1920s of this location. With the Historical Society being closed, we're going to have to wait a bit longer!

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  2. Wow! Houdini hid that secret well and had us fooled for almost a 100 years. Well done my friend!

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  3. Good work! Let the rocks, geology, upstream/downstream be your guide. On the picture of Houdini and the bridge, it appears maybe he is down stream (South) of the bridge for it to be at his back and the water flowing away from him (toward the viewer). If you get to this location look to the South of the bridge and see if you can see some stair-step shaped rocks to your right. These would be the same rocks to Houdini's right. Of course, filming could have been done on either the North or South side of the river with certain segments filmed over and over but at different angles to make it appear as different locations.

    At the 56:07 minute mark in the movie Houdini swims after lady in canoe. There is a particular rock that appears several seconds on screen. This is a good clue as to where in the river this took place. Also, it appears Houdini is going down a second smaller falls around this area.

    At the 56:53 mark in the movie, Houdini is struggling in the water and eventually catches up with the canoe. Notice on the opposite river bank there is a light colored band of geologic deposit just above water level. Another clue. This light colored band of deposit only last a couple of seconds in the movie.

    See if there are any small rapids South of the bridge.

    I suspect all the waterfall and struggling in the water shots were the same location filmed from different angles. There are many cuts between Niagara Falls and this location.

    If you can visit this area when the water level is normal or low, then it will give you the best view of all the rocks and geologic features.

    Keep up the good work!

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