Winnipeg escape artist Dean Gunnarson marked the 94th anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death on Halloween by recreating one of the famed American illusionist and stunt performer’s escapes to raise attention to Parental Alienation on the South Steps of the Manitoba Legislature.
Despite a biting cold wind and snowy conditions, Gunnarson was locked up in eight sets of police handcuffs from different countries and then locked inside a metal coffin that was bound and locked with heavy chains and maximum-security locks. He managed to free himself at around 1:26 p.m. on October 31, the same time Houdini died in 1926.
Due to COVID-19, the event was not publicized to the general public and was held for media members only with safe distancing and other public health orders being observed.
Every year since 1982 when he attempted his first Halloween tribute to Houdini from the old Winnipeg Free Press building in Winnipeg, Gunnarson has done an escape on Halloween. Born Erik Weisz on March 24, 1874, Houdini was known around the world for his sensational escape acts. He performed twice in Winnipeg in 1023 and 1925, once performing the stunt that Gunnarson recreated in 1982, being suspended above the street in a straitjacket.
The Halloween escape was also dedicated to Gunnarson’s mentor and friend James “The Amazing“ Randi who passed away on Oct. 20 at the age of 92. Randi was considered the greatest escape artist to live since Houdini and was a crusader and debunker of psychics, faith healers, and con artists. In 1987, Randi named Gunnarson as his successor to continue his path as the World’s Greatest Escape Artist.
“If it weren’t for Randi, I wouldn’t be the escape artist that I am today,” said Gunnarson, who was inspired to follow in his footsteps after watching Randi on an episode of the sitcom Happy Days.
Gunnarson used the occasion to draw attention to the issue of Parental Alienation which is described in pamphlets handed out at the event as “a destructive family process that occurs in some families during and following a divorce.”