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.
Houdini, the man of mystery, who is now appearing in our midst, is certainly a peculiar species of a human being. From all accounts, the energy, the work and feats of this man will, sometime in the future, be the finish of this now wonderful and famous performer.
The restless striving to do something better than another human being has brought him to the highest pinnacle of fame, has earned for him princely salaries, and when one considers the risks he has taken, no one can begrudge him the prime minister's salary, which he is earning.
To show the restless craving of this man for excelling in things where it is impossible to be of any value to him in any way or form, an incident regarding this man is well worth relating. He was returning from Australia, and the steamer, after leaving Brisbane touched Suva, on the Fiji Islands, a place infested with the most voracious man-eating sharks, known in the world's history. It is stated that they will not touch a black man, and perhaps, that is why the Fiji Islanders stand in no fear of being devoured by sharks, and whenever a shark enters the harbour, it is one of the sights of the country, same as it is in Colombo or Port Said. The Natives dive for coins that the passengers throw overboard. One big fellow seemed to be a most wonderful diver and would always come up with the coin in his mouth, pretending to the average spectator that he had cought the coin in his mouth.
Houdini, being an observant spectator, claimed that the man caught the coins in his hand, that is, picked the coin in the water with his hand and placed it in his mouth. This was disputed. Houdini, being offered to wager that if the man's hands were tied behind his back, which would not impede him in making his dive, that he could not catch the coin in his mouth, and Houdini agreed that he would allow himself to be handcuffed, with his hands behind his back, and that he would come up with the coin in his mouth.
An interpreter was called and the Black agreed to undergo the test. The dive was to be made oft" the steamer, and the Captain warned Houdini that he stood in grave danger of the sharks.
Undaunted, Houdini went below, donned a bathing suit, had a pair of regulation handcuffs locked behind his back; the Black had his hands tied behind him with a cord-he refused to have the handcuffs placed on him, and he said they were too heavy-two coins were thrown overboard, two splashes were simultaneously heard.
Quick as a tiger's spring the Fiji Islander, with his sleek, glossy body, hurled himself through the air and wras beneath the surface of the water even while Houdini was perched for his spring. But the jumps were so quickly made, one after the other, that unless you saw the men as they entered the water, you would have thought that it was one prolonged splash. Thirty seconds passed; neither one of the two men appeared. One minute passed, and the black head of the Fiji Islander came up, almost livid for want of air. Fifteen seconds passed by, and, feet first, up came Houdini.
The Fiji Islander did not have his coin, and it seems that Houdini had gathered both of them and had them in his mouth.
lie was drawn up with exciting hurry, for the fins of the sharks were seen moving about with rapidity, and, being hauled on deck, Houdini was declared to have won the wager.
The Black's hands were released, were cut apart, the handcuffs were unlocked from Houdini's wrists, and instead of keeping the money, Houdini made it a present to the Black.
In a private interview, on being asked how he defeated the Black, Houdini said w7ith a good-natured smile, "You can pick up a coin in a glass tank with your hands tied behind your back, because you can use your mouth, teeth and tongue lo manipulate the coin, but when you are in an ocean and the coin is falling downwards it is almost next to impossible to catch a coin and bring it up in your mouth."
"You ask me how I did it? I will let you in the secret-I didn't do it at all. When I was under the water I released one of my hands which gave me the use of both of them; I caught my coin and j noticed that the Black was unable to get his coin. 1 swam ~fter him until he had given up trying to get it, and we had gone down to such a distance that my ears rang, my head was splitting, and all I could see was the white shining piece of money-it was an English two-shilling piece. Eventually I grabbed the coin, put it in my mouth and came up. As I came up, I happened to have my hands free and as I could not stop myself with the force I had sent myself up with my hands I turned around and came up feet first, and this allowed me to put my hands behind my back and the regulation handcuff, as you know, being a snap lock, I locked my hands together and to all intents and purposes my hands were locked during the entire feat. That is why I gave the Fiji Islander the entire amount at stake."
"Was I afraid of the sharks?"
"Yes and No! Being able to see under water, I kept a sharp look-out, and a soon as I would have seen anything that looked like a shark I would have done a record swim to the boat."
"No, I would not care to do it again; it was not for the money, it was simply to show that I was as good a swimmer as some of those Fiji Islanders."