turn over a new moon

Why would anyone change their name from Henry Moon to Henry Smith? Especially if they were a magician and an escapologist?

Henry was imprisoned in a New Brunswick jail for horse stealing. During his incarceration he feigned illness and escaped though was recaptured shortly afterwards.

strong man

This time he was forced to wear handcuffs and neck and leg irons. These were connected to each other and attached to an iron ring in the wall, so he couldn’t move at all. The iron collar was made of a flat bar of iron over an inch wide, but Smith managed to twist it from his neck and broke it in half.


One night the jailer investigated a noise coming from Smith’s cell. At first he found nothing. But then he noticed that the bars of the cell had been practically sawn through and that the prisoner had somehow freed himself completely from his chains. On another occasion, despite new window bars and heavy-duty door locks on his cell, the prisoner was discovered with a woman kneeling at his bed. It was an extraordinarily convincing figure of his wife, and the magical scene was made in the pitch dark from scraps of cloth and straw, and a three-foot wooden trough that had contained his drinking water. He was chained with heavier irons, but next morning was found to be free again. After a thorough search a minute saw was found that Smith had made by cutting microscopic serrations in a steel watch spring.


image by Araki

One morning the jailor found that Henry had again freed himself from his chains. The links were found to be separated, but they had been somehow broken and not cut. Thinking they had some kind of magican on their hands they replaced these chains with seven feet long ox chains stapled to the floorboards, which Henry also managed to break into pieces.

Later, again handcuffed in total darkness and without any tools, he made an entire troupe of full-size puppets using straw, rags, burnt wood and his own blood for colour. The incredibly life-like group consisted of ten players – men, women and children – who danced with motion, ease and exactness. Word spread and Smith soon had visitors for his extraordinary magic show from all over; there was even one gentleman from Ireland.


Ann Pennington (click photo to make Felix dance with Ann)

Smith also seems to have had the ability to make fire at any time, and proved it by starting fires in his cell with no apparent means. Telling fortunes using tea-leaves was another of his skills. He left the jail a free man, but a few months later, was arrested again. Apparently he’d crept into a young lady’s bedroom and stolen one of her earrings as she slept.


When this term of imprisonment was up, he presented his prison keeper with a pocket knife, into the handle of which he’d set a tiny watch which kept perfect time.


watch found here

Published in: on November 10, 2009 at 7:29 am  Comments (29)  
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29 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m going to have to do some research on him now. He sounds fascinating, a real life MacGyver!

    I like the expression on the woman’s face in the bondage pic. She’s like, “Yea, what?”

  2. If you’re looking to buy me something for Xmas, I’ll have one of those watches ! 😉 😆

  3. Very interesting man.

    Blast from the Past

  4. I wonder how much was true and how much was added to his story afterwards. There must have been some remarkable efforts in his life but the skeptic in me fears there may have been embellishments. Somewhat like the embellishments about my prowess as a youngster – – –

    • I suspect embellishments galore

  5. such a character in the modern world would have his own reality tv show, as well as a line of tools at the hardware store…

  6. Thanks NM! You’ve given me someone to Google at work today.

    I wonder what the guy from Ireland thought…

  7. Talented man!! I would be a bit worried if all the prisoners were building puppets and life like replica’s of their wives.

  8. Hell, i can’t figure out the plastic shrink wrap on stuff i buy. This guy makes me feel incompetent.

  9. I heard a story of a prisoner breaking out of jail using salsa, aluminum foil, and a 9 volt battery to somehow break down the chemistry of the steel bars. But even that guy has nothing on Mr. Smith.

  10. Poor Hartley.

  11. He probably dumped Henry Moon right after deciding to become a horse thief. It’s easier to hide amongst the Henry Smith’s of the world.

  12. Great story, and for some reason it reminded me of this song. Cheers!

  13. Guess that was before they did cavity searches

  14. Great story NM! I think I will check him out as well.

  15. Araki apparently knows what I want for Christmas.

  16. hell, this guy makes me feel incompetent. i can’t even get stuff out of the plastic shrink wrap they’re packaged in…

  17. Ingenious fellow! It almost sounds as if he kept on getting caught just to demonstrate said ingenuity.

  18. He was a witch I tell you, a witch! BURN HIM!

  19. Felix wouldn’t dance!

    • I just tried and it works for me. Maybe it’s a browser issue? When you click on the photo it should go to another larger screen first, then after a second or two the gyrations begin…..

  20. Fascinating story about Henry Smith. But did he really present the prison keeper with that watch? Kinda sends the wrong message …?

  21. I actually have a few photo books or Araki’s work BTW.

    this guy was the ultimate escape artist. And yes the name change was a poor choice.

    • You have a few of his books? I’m envious – they’re usually really expensive 😦

      • Yeah in better times I was able to afford them.

  22. Oh look! Twelve minutes past ten – time for a ride. I used to have a watch with a heat sensitive illustration on the face. Temperature up and a girl appeared along with the phrase ‘time to fuck’.

    • I’d love a watch like that!

  23. yes cool watch!

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