Randolph Osborne Douglas

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Randolph Osborne Douglas (31 March 1895 – 5 December 1956) was a silversmith, artist and amateur escapologist, who worked under the stage name, 'The Great Randini'. Douglas is said to have devised tricks for Harry Houdini. He later created a museum of curios in Castleton in Derbyshire.


Randolph Osborne Douglas was born in 1895 and raised in Endcliffe near Sheffield.[1] Douglas purchased locks and even a strait jacket as a boy to follow in his hero Harry Houdini's footsteps. Douglas had first seen the escapologist and magician at the Sheffield Empire Theatre and they first met whilst Douglas was still a teenager.

Letters from their frequent correspondence[2] kept among Douglas's belongings at Buxton Museum show that the relationship between the two was more than simply that of superstar and fawning fan. Douglas had many ideas for new illusions and novel stage designs. Houdini biographers say that Douglas' upside down escape idea, changed the course of magic's history.[3] The new idea could be an escape that used Houdini's existing expertise with strait jackets created Houdini's iconic escape. Large crowds were attracted to see this performed outside.

The idea was born on one of Houdini's visits to the Douglas family home when he was playing The Empire Theatre in Sheffield. According to Douglas's stepmother,[4] Douglas demonstrated the idea of being suspended upside down in locks, chains and a strait jacket. Douglas who had been an amateur locksmith showed how to free oneself from his predicament. His stepmother said "Due to ill health, made worse by soldier training during World War 1, Randolph's escapologist dreams were cut short. He was discharged from the army unfit for duty and began concentrating on making amazing miniature models and locks, including a padlock made from bullet cases and his army cap badge."[5]

Douglas collected mineral specimens, native spears and locksmith paraphernalia and then moved south to the Derbyshire village of Castleton. Here he turned half of a cottage into a home for himself and his wife Hetty. The remaining half of the cottage was a showcase for his collection. The Douglas Museum - House of Wonders opened at Easter 1926 and visitors were shown around by torchlight for a small fee. Randolph also created tiny models which were on display there. These included the Lord's prayer written on thread that would pass through the eye of a needle, a working motor that would fit under a thimble, and a greenhouse, complete with potted plants, that would fit on your thumbnail.

Other items on show were his locks, some locks given to Randolph by Houdini, and also a photograph of himself and Houdini standing side by side outside the Empire Theatre in Sheffield in 1920.

After Randolph's death in 1956, the museum was run by Hetty until her own death in 1978. The collection is now looked after by Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, in Derbyshire, and is often brought out for display.[1]

The Randolph collection of locks and keys have been selected by Buxton Museum as their contribution to the BBC's A History of the World in 100 Objects.[6]

His son David is also a professional magician[7]


  1. ^ a b "Houdini artifacts now on display". Derby.gov.uk. Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  2. ^ Magic Circle in London
  3. ^ Kalush, William; Sloman, Larry (October 2006). The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-7207-0. 
  4. ^ newspaper interview in The World's Fair, 1938
  5. ^ Randini: The Man who Helped Houdini by Ann Beedham, 2009, pp. 182.
  6. ^ Douglas's locks, bbc.co.uk. accessed January 2011
  7. ^ http://www.randini.com/