Sailor sets straitjacket escape world record
By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Aug 15, 2007 17:46:53 EDT

Jonathan Edmiston can escape from a straitjacket in less time than it takes for your garage door to open and close.

Not a homemade straitjacket or a trick straitjacket with a secret buckle, but the sort of straitjacket that mental patients really wore in a less-enlightened era of psychiatric care.

Edmiston, 38, a sonar technician first class with Afloat Training Group Western Pacific, has been officially notified by Guinness World Records that he is the fastest straitjacket escape artist in the world — on July 4 at a Morale, Welfare and Recreation show at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, he slipped out of one in 20.72 seconds, a full 29.96 seconds faster than the previous record.

Edmiston’s day job in the Navy is training sailors in sonar for anti-submarine warfare, but in his other life he’s been escaping from straitjackets for the past 20 years under the stage name “Danger Nate,” inspired by movies he saw as a child of the luminary illusionist Harry Houdini. Edmiston has performed the trick onstage in clubs, at fairs and even on the deck of the cruiser Cowpens while it was at sea.

Even all these years after Houdini, who died in 1926, there are many reasons why people are still captivated by the straitjacket trick, he said.

“It’s amazing, it’s kind of bizarre, it touches on the macabre — in a comical, safe way — its not really dangerous, but it’s kind of creepy — but not really creepy — and anyone can have fun with it,” he said.

For the past 12 years, Edmiston said, he could easily but unofficially beat the old record of 50.68 seconds, but onstage, Danger Nate usually takes about a minute to escape from a straitjacket, aiming more for thrills than speed.

“In performance, you want to drag it out. My normal speed is around 30 seconds and it can be pretty routine. You want to make it entertaining for the audience; this is probably the first time they’ve probably seen a real straitjacket escape. You want to make it a little journey and a little struggle. If they see me struggle to get out of it, they think, ‘Wow, this was incredible.’ If they blink and it’s done, it’s not entertaining.”

He owns the world record, but Edmiston isn’t finished, he said. His next goals are to break the world records for escaping a straitjacket upside down and escape a straitjacket underwater, but it’ll take awhile before he can set everything up to formally challenge the current record-holders.

Breaking those records will involve many more safety considerations, as well as the challenge of being able to get a support team — people to certify he’s tied up correctly; people to officially time and document the escape attempt — that can do it all underwater. (His attendants get to wear scuba gear, but to break the underwater record, Danger Nate will have to hold his breath the whole time, he said.)

“The hardest thing is getting everything arranged. The easiest thing [is] escaping from the straitjacket.”