Harry Houdini called Appleton home
The man who grew up to become Houdini wasn't born in Wisconsin, or even the United States. But like so many things in his life, it was an illusion he created. As an adult, he claimed Appleton as his hometown.
He was actually born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary in 1874. Four years later, after his father got hired as a rabbi, his family moved to Appleton and lived on College Avenue. The site of their home is now called Houdini Plaza.
"I always chuckle because people see the Houdini Historical Center down the road, and I'll meet people and they'll say 'oh, that's Houdini's house,' and they don't realize, no, that wasn't Houdini's house. It wasn't his mansion. Houdini's family was very dirt poor here when they were in Appleton," said magician Ron Lindberg.
Despite the poverty, Erik's four years in Appleton produced good memories in what would otherwise prove to be a difficult childhood.
"That's why I think he called it his hometown because it was a time in his life when his family was stable," said Emily Rock, curator at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton.
But it didn't last. His father was fired, and had a tough time finding other work. So the family was on the move again; this time to Milwaukee where Erik was forced to help the family financially.
"Houdini and his brothers had to shine shoes, sell newspapers, anything to get some income for their family," Rock said.
But Erik had much bigger dreams. And as a 12-year-old, he started to chase them.
"Houdini actually ran away from home for a while, moved to Delavan, Wisconsin and already at that time was so fascinated with life in the circus and performance so he went to Delavan to try and be a part of that," said Nick Hoffman, Chief Curator of the History Museum at the Castle.
Eventually teen-aged Erik reunited with his family, who by this time had moved to New York. And it was in New York, and later Europe, where Erik would really make a name for himself and that name was Harry Houdini.