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10 Epic Magic Trick Failures

Joseph Burrus' Coffin Escape
Harry Houdini prepares for a coffin escape stunt in 1926. © Bettmann/Corbis
Harry Houdini prepares for a coffin escape stunt in 1926. © Bettmann/Corbis

Joseph Burrus was the self-proclaimed "Next Harry Houdini." There's one thing he ended up having in common with Houdini: They both died on Halloween. Unlike Houdini, though, who died after a punch to the gut ruptured internal organs, Burrus died in front of an audience while performing a stunt. On Oct. 31, 1990, he was crushed to death while performing a coffin escape trick [source: UPI]. It's a common trick among escape artists, and it's also an incredibly dangerous one.

This is another trick that is what it says it is. The magician – often in chains – gets into a coffin. A team lowers the coffin into the ground and fills the hole up with dirt. The idea is to escape both the chains and the grave before running out of air.

A recovering drug addict, Burrus was performing as part of a benefit for the recovery clinic that helped him overcome his own addiction. This was not his first coffin escape, but it was his first one using cement as well as dirt [source: UPI]. He was chained up, placed in a coffin made of glass and plastic, and lowered into a hole in the ground. A truck began covering the coffin with wet cement. So far, everything was going according to plan.

After a few minutes, Burrus essentially called for a time out, because one of the chains was choking him. Once he'd adjusted the chains, he climbed back into the coffin and resumed the act. He should never have gotten back in. Almost as soon as the hole was full, the audience – which included small children – heard a crash. The coffin had caved in under the combined weight of the dirt and cement. Rescuers weren't able to dig Burrus out in time to save his life.