The great escape: Lady Houdini at the ECA Fair

JOHN D. RUSSELL, Morning News
FLORENCE, S.C. — Some of us try to escape aspects of our lives.

Kristen Johnson makes a living of it.

Johnson, known more commonly by her stage name, Lady Houdini, is bringing her escape show throughout the week at the Eastern Carolina Agricultural Fair.

And similar to her namesake, famed illusionist Harry Houdini, she makes her bones with a water torture routine. Unlike Houdini, though, she does not cover the water tank with a curtain, instead showing the 140-gallon tank in full view, eliminating skepticism.

Once submerged in the water, she escapes from handcuffs, chains, leg irons, shackles, chains and locks, all the while holding her breath for more than three minutes.

“Sometimes we run the risk of people thinking it’s easier than it is because we make it look easy,” she said. “It’s a constant mind battle, holding my breath isn’t the hard part. It’s a psychological thing of being locked in the cell and not panicking.”

Although Johnson has only been an escape artist for 13 years, she already has surpassed Houdini’s 1,000 rumored water torture cell escapes. The waters, however, haven’t always made for smooth sailing.

She went unconscious twice, once while performing for the halftime show of an National Basketball Association game. Her body shut down due to a hypoxic seizure caused by lack of oxygen.

“The lights go out and you don’t remember anything,” she said. “I think out of more than 1,100 attempts. Two failures isn’t too bad.”

Her entry into being an escapologist started when she wanted to play a more active role in her husband’s illusion show. She was his assistant and soon felt the desire to be a more equal partner.

Today her husband, Kevin Ridgeway, keeps the show going between her escapes with his interactive mind tricks.

He said being together 24/7 is a blessing for both of them.

“She’s truly the star of the show and I have no problem with that,” he said. “I’m always concerned. Fortunately I know how hard she trains and is always prepared. There’s a big trust factor, and I know she’ll be prepared for what she has to do.”

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