'Happy Halloween, Harry!' Winnipegger escapes from tomb

In a nod to the 80th anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, a man escaped from two tonnes of wet cement, padlocks and handcuffs in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

In a nod to the 80th anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, a man escaped from two tonnes of wet cement, padlocks and handcuffs in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Dean Gunnarson was encased in cement as he stood in a Plexiglas and steel box. A crowd of about 100 cheering supporters surrounded him yelling: "Come on, Dean!"
Winnipeg escape artist Dean Gunnarson, with chains in hand, emerged from a concrete-filled box on Tuesday. ((Donna Lee/CBC))

He emerged aftermore than two minutes,covered in wet cement, throwing his unchained arms in the air as he stood on top of the box.

"The best concrete in the world," he yelled. "Happy Halloween, Harry."

Gunnarson planned the stunt to occur at the exact moment of Houdini's death.

"Being that it's Halloween and it's the 80th anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, who died on Halloween in 1926 at exactly 1:26 p.m., what I want to do is to commemorate that because Houdini had a huge impact on my life," Gunnarson said before his stunt.

Gunnarson, whose past performanceshave thrilled audiences in Canada, the United States, China and Japan, escaped from what he called his cement "tomb"at exactly 1:26 p.m. CT in a parking lot.

'Houdini must've come down to help me'

Before entering the box, Gunnarsonwas handcuffed several times, and had padlocked chains wound around his body and neck. The cell was locked by six heavy-duty padlockswhen the cement encased him.

He had estimated that he would have about a minute to 90 seconds to escape before he could be crushed or suffocated by the sheer weight of the cement.
Gunnarson showed off the chains that bound him before being encased with wet concrete Tuesday. ((Donna Lee/CBC))

Paramedics and a man with lock cutters stood by the box during Gunnarson's stunt. But heemerged from thebox's locked lidafterabout two minutes and 43 seconds, red-faced and gasping for air.

"I knew this was going to be hard, difficult, even more than I imagined," he told reporters and cheering fans. "It was sucking me in, couldn't get out, like quicksand. Houdini must've come down to help me. We did it, baby!"

Twelve-year-old aspiring magician Jennifer Antonio, who came to see Gunnarson with her brother Zachary, 10, said she was impressed with the escape.

"That was amazing. I was afraid he was going to die, but he made it," she said.

Not a magic trick

Gunnarson nearly died from his last Halloween Houdini tribute. In 1983,he was handcuffed and chained andput into a coffin, that was nailed closed,wrapped in chains and submerged in the Red River in Winnipeg. He was underwater for 3½ minutes before the coffin was pulled to the surface and he wastaken to hospital.

On Tuesday, Gunnarson recalled that incident as "an escape from death." By comparison, he called his latest stunt a more fitting tribute toHoudini.

Several factors affected Tuesday's escape, including a recent blast of winter weather Monday, Gunnarson said.

"That's what makes this an escape rather than a magic trick, because there are so many unknown variables: the weight of the cement, the weather," he said.

Gunnarson acknowledged that he felt a little nervous but stressed that he wasn't afraid.

"I never get afraid before an escape because I think when you are afraid it creates a negative energy and it prevents you from doing what you want to do," he said.

"But I always get a little nervous because nervousness gives you that edginess, it makes you try harder.

"That's what I have to do… I have to succeed at all costs."