Escapology is the practice of escaping from restraints or other traps. Escapologists (also classified as escape artists) escape from handcuffs, straitjackets, cages, coffins, steel boxes, barrels, bags, burning buildings, fish-tanks and other perils, often in combination.
The art of escaping from restraints and confined spaces has been a skill employed by performers for a very long time. It was not originally displayed as an overt act in itself but was instead used secretly to create illusions such as a disappearance or transmutation. In the 1860s, the Davenport Brothers, who were skilled at releasing themselves from rope ties, used the art to convey the impression they were restrained while they created spirit phenomena.
Other illusionists, including John Nevil Maskelyne, worked out how the Davenports did their act and re-created the tricks to debunk the brothers' claims of psychic power. However the re-creations did not involve overt escape, merely a replication of tricks with the statement that they were accomplished by secret magicians' skills rather than spirits. It took another thirty years before the pure skill of escape began to be displayed as an act in itself. The figure most responsible for making escapology a recognized entertainment was Harry Houdini, who built his career on demonstrating the ability to escape from a huge variety of restraints and difficult situations.
Houdini made no secret of the fact that he was an expert on restraints and the skills needed to overcome them but he often concealed the exact details of his escapes to maintain an air of mystery and suspense. Although many of his escapes relied on technical skills such as lock-picking and contortion, he also performed tricks such as Metamorphosis and the Chinese Water Torture Cell, which are essentially classic stage illusions reliant on cleverly designed props. Houdini's feats helped to define the basic repertoire of escapology, including escapes from handcuffs, padlocks, straitjackets, mail bags, beer barrels and prison cells.
The actual term 'escapology' is reputed to have been coined originally by Australian escapologist and illusionist Murray (Norman Murray Walters), a Houdini contemporary.
A succession of performers have added new ideas and created variations on old stunts, but it is common for even the best contemporary escapologists to be dubbed modern day "Houdinis".
Because of St. Nicholas Owen's exploits of having successfully escaped the Tower of London and arranged the escape of two Jesuit inmates of the prison, this 16th-century Christian martyr is considered by Catholic escapologists as their patron saint. Along with St. John Don Bosco, the two are considered the primary patrons of Catholic Gospel Magicians.
Escapology Societies 
The UKEA was formed in 2004 and is currently the only organisation in the United Kingdom devoted to the promotion of UK escape artists and the preservation of escapology within the UK. Its members are made up of professional escapologists, restraint collectors, master locksmiths and historians. The UKEA meet once a year for their AGM.
The International Escapologists Society is an online society with its own monthly newsletter that is dedicated to the art of escape on an international level.
Escape Masters (The International Association of Escape Artists) formed in 1985 by renowned escape artist Norman Bigelow has been run by Thomas Blacke as International President of the Organization and Editor/Publisher of the magazine since 2001.
Forms of escape performance 
- Hidden: A style of escape performance popularised by the late Harry Houdini that involved much of the performance taking place behind some form of screen or inside a cabinet in order to protect the secrets of the performer. This style of escape performance was popular with the majority of escape artists until the end of the 20th Century and is still preferred by many performers today.
- Full View: This form of escape performance was popularised by Norman Bigelow Sr. during the 1970s. He presented his escapes as pure tests of human skill and endurance and the audience could actually see everything from start to finish. His signature escape, The Doors of Death, inspired many escape artists to adopt this style of performance in their own shows.
- Escape or Die: This form of escape performance was originated by Houdini and is the standard for top of the line escape artists. Death by drowning, as in water escapes pioneered by Houdini; Death by falling, as a straitjacket escape hanging from a burning rope hundreds of feet in the air, as created by UK escape artist Alan Alan. This type of escapology does go wrong and has resulted in escape artists losing their lives.
Escapology in fiction 
- The Grim Game, a 1919 film, stars Harry Houdini as a young man who is bound and imprisoned on numerous occasions by a gang who have kidnapped his fiancée.
- The novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon (winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize), features escapology as an important plot point.
- Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow, features Harry Houdini as a major character, and uses escapology as a metaphor for the struggles faced by the American immigrant.
- In American superhero comic books, many superheroes like Batman are trained in escapology which is invaluable when dealing with deathtraps. However, superheroes who are escape artists by profession include Mister Miracle, Ms. Liberty and The Escapist (interestingly, Mister Miracle and The Escapist were both based on escape artist-turned-comic artist Jim Steranko). Houdini himself appeared as a time/space traveler in the comic book series Daring Escapes featuring Houdini.
- The 1953 biographical film, Houdini, starring Tony Curtis in the title role, depicted many of Houdini's escapology performances.
- In 1971, Christopher George played an escape artist named Cameron Steele in the TV movie/unsold series pilot, Escape. Steele was a non-performing escapologist and night-club owner who, like Bill Bixby's Anthony Blake (The Magician), habitually helped people in trouble.
- In 1982, Griffin O'Neal played a junior escapologist named "Danny Masters" in the film, The Escape Artist.
- In 1983, real-life escape artist Bill Shirk played himself in a film called The Escapist.
- Yorick, the main character of the comic book Y: The Last Man is an escape artist.
- The novels Specific Gravity and Ontario Lacus by J. Matthew Neal (2007 and 2008) features a female scientist who is also a master escape artist.
- Paul Adam's Escape from Shadow Island, first published in 2009, features young escapologist Max Cassidy. Two further books in the series, Jaws of Death and Dead Man's Bay, will be released in April 2011[dated info] and 2012 respectively.
- Adam Phillips' essay "Houdini's Box" uses Houdini himself, as well as a young victim of sexual abuse and other examples to discuss escapology.
- The console video game Exit focuses around the exploits of the self-proclaimed escapologist known as Mr. ESC.
List of escape artists 
- Harry Houdini
- James Randi
- Dean Gunnarson
- Norman Bigelow Sr
- Mario Manzini
- Bill Shirk
- Mark Cannon
- Arthur Coghlan
- Alan Alan
- Nick Janson
- Murray (Norman Murray Walters)
- Jonathan Goodwin
- Kristen Johnson
- Theo 'Dash' Hardeen
- Spencer Horsman (World's youngest escape artist)
- Roslyn Walker
See also 
- Dawes, Edwin A (1979), The Great Illusionists, Chartwell Books (New Jersey), p. 193, ISBN 0-89009-240-0.
- Dawes, 'The Great Illusionists', p. 157.
- Dawes, 'The Great Illusionists', p. 193.
- Cannell, J. C. (1973). The Secrets of Houdini. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 36–41. ISBN 0486229130. Retrieved August 17, 2012. ISBN 9780486229133
- Houdini Museum Tour * Magic Show
- Escapology — the magic art of escape
- Busker Central - Rare and historic videos of Escapologists.