Our show closed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I thereon determined to proceed by myself, and give the whole show. While in St. Johns I met a Dr. Steves, who then was in charge of a large insane asylum, and received an invitation from him to visit his institution, which I accepted. After showing me the various wards, he eventually showed me the padded cells, in one of which, through the small bars of the cell door, I saw a maniac struggling on the canvas padded floor, rolling about and straining each and every muscle in a vain attempt to get his hands over his head and striving in every conceivable manner to free himself from his canvas restraint, which I later on learned was called a strait-jacket.
Entranced, I watched the efforts of this man, whose struggles caused the beads of perspiration to roll off from him, and from where I stood, I noted that were he able to dislocate his arms at the shoulder joint, he would have been able to cause his restraint to become slack in certain parts, and so al-low him to free his arms. But as it was that the straps were drawn tight, the more he struggled, the tighter his restraint encircled him, and eventually he lay exhausted, panting and powerless to move.
Previous to this incident I had seen and used various restraints such as insane restraint muffs, belts, bed-straps, etc., but this was the first time I saw a strait-jacket and it left so vivid an impression on my mind that I hardly slept that night, and in such moments as I slept I saw nothing but strait-jackets, maniacs and padded cells! In the wakeful part of the night I wondered what the effect would be to an audience to have them see a man placed in a strait-jacket and watch him force himself free therefrom.
The very next morning I obtained permission to try to escape from one
and during one entire week I practised steadily and then presented it
on the stage, and made rny escape there from behind a curtain. I
pur-sued this method for some time, but as it was so often repeated to
me that people seeing me emerge from the cabinet after my release, with
hair disheveled, countenance covered with perspiration, trousers covered
with dust and ofttimes even my clothes being torn, remarked, "Oh, he is
faking, it did not take all that effort to make his escape," that eventually
I determined to show to the audience exactly what means I resorted to,
to effect my release, and so did the strait-jacket release in full view
METHOD OF ESCAPE
The two accompanying illustrations show a front view and a back view of strapping on a strait-jacket, such as is used on the murderous insane. It is made of strong brown canvas or sail cloth and has a deep leather collar and leather cuffs; there cuffs are sewn up at the ends, making a sort of bag into which each arm is placed; the seams are covered with leather bands, attached to which are leather straps and steel buckles which, when strapped upon a person, fit and buckle up in back (see illustration No. 2), The sleeves of this jacket are made so long that when the arms of the wearer are placed in them and folded across the chest (see illustration No. 1), the leather cuffs of the sleeves, to which are attached straps and buckles, meet at the back of the body, one overlapping the other (see illustration No. 2). The opening of the strait-jacket is at the back, where several straps and buckles are sewn, which are fastened at the back as is shown in illustration No. 2.
The first step necessary to free yourself is to place the elbow, which has the continuous hand under the opposite elt>ow, on some solid foundation, and by sheer strength, exert sufficient force at this elbow so as to gradually force it up toward the head, and by further persistent straining you eventually force the head under the lower arm, which results in bringing both of the encased arms in front of the body. (it is very important that these instructions be followed closely step by step, and when plac-ing the arms across the chest sufficient care must be observed to simply place one arm on top of the other, and not have them interlocked.)
Once having freed your arms to such an extent as to get them in front of your body, you can now undo the buckles of the straps of the cuffs with your teeth, after which you open the buckles at the back with your hands, which are still encased in the canvas sleeves, and then you remove' the strait-jacket from your body.
There are various different kinds of strait-jackets, made from different ma-terials, some beigig entirely made of leather, and, of course, the more inflexible the material the more difficult and longer the time necessary for making your release.
In 1901, Count Schwerin, then chief of police of Hanover, Germany, had his warders place me in a strait-jacket from which it took me one hour and twenty-nine minutes to effect my release. The pain, torture, agony and misery of that struggIe will forever live in my mind.
There is a peregrinating imposter in Germany, who escapes from a strait-jacket from which any child could make its escape. He has it made of pliable white canvas, with very long sleeves and short body, though when strapped on him, it seems as if he were firmly secured, and in making his escape he goes through fantastic gyrations and eventually wriggles out of his fastenings.
The American imitators, as a rule, improvise a strait-jacket that they
can pull over their heads. Of course, these latter two are trick
strait-jackets and should not be confounded with the genuine ones.
This article originally appeared in the The Conjurers' Magazine,