This section is from the book "The Adventurous Life Of A Versatile Artist: Houdini", by Harry Houdini. Also available from Amazon: The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist; Houdini.
All these cells are brick structures with their doors sunk into the walls fully three feet from the face of the outer corridor wall. When the heavily barred door is closed, an armlike bar runs out to the corridor wall and then angles to the right and slips over a steel catch which sets a spring that fastens the lock. T]ie latter is only opened by a key, and there are no less than five tumblers in the lock. One key opens all the doors in the corridor.
With Houdini there, it was very natural that everybody should express the ardent desire to have him then and there go into a cell and see if he could release himself, and Houdini, with his accustomed courtesy, yielded a ready acquiescence. He insisted, however, that he preferred to try cell No. 2, for the reason that it is the hardest one there to get out of alive, as he expressed it, and because of the notorious murderers who have spent their last moments on earth within its whitewashed walls.
This was agreed upon, and then he was stripped to the skin and locked into No. 2 with Hamilton, the negro, who crouched in the far corner of the cell, presumably laboring under the belief that one of the arch-fiends was already there to get him for a red-hot furnace. In two minutes Houdini was out of that cell, free, the lock holding him hardly longer than it took him to get into the place and get his bearings. Then, without the knowledge of the waiting officials who had retired from view, Houdini quickly ran to the cells of Chase, Whitney, Mercer, Ferguson, Donovan, Gaskins, Backus, and Howlett. To each occupant the unclad cell-breaker seemed like an apparition from some other world, and the astonishment he created when he commanded each to come out and follow him can be better imagined than described.