Capturing Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini by the Numbers

Posted on February 15th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts is from School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


“[It] Opened my eyes to the many things I never knew about Harry Houdini. Best of all, it showed that he was a smart man, along with his star power.” – Comment left in our Visitor Feedback Book for Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini

 

It is no illusion that Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, a JMM original exhibit, captured the attention of many while on display for the past six months (June 24th, 2018 to January 21st, 2019). In fact, over 8,900 visitors came to experience this magical exhibit. So now, after the exhibit has hit the road – next appearing at the Breman Museum in Atlanta and then, if things go according to plan, at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, let’s look at some of the numbers that capture this monumental success.

Of the 8,900 people who visited, general attendance made up 4,600 of these visitors (that is, individuals who did not come as a part of a school group, adult group, or for a public program). You may have been one of the many Houdini enthusiasts, magicians-in-training, history lovers, or those learning for the first time that Houdini was Jewish, who joined us to explore Houdini’s life and legacy. In fact, you may have been part of the 58% of people who visited the JMM for the first time during this exhibit! If so, welcome! Please come back and see what we have in store next.

Visitors Immersed in the history of Houdini

People came from all over the world, including Ireland, Australia, Mexico, and Japan. While only 2% of our visitors were from other countries, this exhibit captivated our home audience, with 72% of people coming from Maryland and 26% from other States.

Dai Andrews performing a great escape at the Magic of Jonestown Festival in July (Photo by Will Kirk).

From films and book talks to escape artists and magicians, the Museum hosted an array of Houdini-related public programs for 1,900 visitors. Highlights included the Magic of Jonestown Festival, the 91st Official Houdini Seance hosted on Halloween and A Fantastical Farewell to Houdini where Magician Brian Curry performed to a standing room only crowd of 180 people.

A Fantastical Farewell to Houdini. Brian Curry and audience assistant performing for the crowd.

Thirty-eight public, private, and Jewish schools and camps made up of over 1,800 students, teachers, and chaperones who visited to learn about the story of young Erik Weisz immigrating to the U.S and transforming himself into Harry Houdini. Students worked together to crack the code and reveal one of Houdini’s famous illusions — the disappearing elephant. They were immersed in a personal story of immigration, the performing arts, and the technologies and entertainment trends surrounding the turn of the 19th century.

Students from the National Academy Foundation tried out the Spirit Photograph to see if Houdini would appear during their visit in October.

Students didn’t just engage with Houdini while at the JMM, over 2,400 students, teachers, and chaperones had a visit from Harry Houdini himself at their school or camp. David London, magician and guest curator of the exhibit, performed as the Museum’s newest Living History Character. Harry Houdini didn’t just perform for schools, he also entertained adult groups and public programs at the JMM, performing 27 times for over 3,100 audience members in total. This dramatic performance hasn’t come to an end yet. Just as Houdini’s legacy lives on, our Living History Character of Harry Houdini has another 9 performances scheduled before the end of April.

250 campers at Habimah Arts Camp waited for Harry Houdini to take the stage at one of his many performances at Jewish Camps and Schools. 

David London Performing as Houdini at the JMM.

Schools were not the only groups enjoying the opportunity to try out some of Houdini’s magic tricks on display, 640 attendees from 39 adult groups explored the hands-on illusions and rare artifacts on display.

Residents from Brightview enjoyed a tour by our Director of Learning and Visitor Experience, Ilene, in July.

With numbers like these, it is no surprise that the month of December 2018 was the highest single-month onsite attendance in the last seven years with 1,909 visitors to the Museum.

While these numbers are incredibly thrilling for those of us who are data-lovers, it’s what you, the JMM visitor, had to say about the exhibit that really hits home. At the JMM, we share stories to inspire, to create conversations, and to empower you to discover something new. One visitor shared, “the connection between Houdini’s popularity and immigrant striving is a well-done story.”

We aim to create memorable experiences and it is truly exciting when we inspire action. That is why this comment left in our visitor feedback book is a favorite:

 “I really enjoyed what I read and the interactive play of tricks. I am from Appleton, Wisconsin, and will now visit the Houdini Museum in my town.”

Whether it was trying out magic tricks from Esther’s Place, conducting more research on Harry Houdini after your visit, sharing something new your learned with a friend, or visiting another Museum (or coming back to visit us again!), we hope that Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini was not just a success as determined by the numbers, but a memorable experience that inspired you after your visit.


 

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