Greatest Escapes From History

The triumph of the human spirit against all odds, the weak overcoming the strong, the survival instinct: escape stories have it all. Perhaps that is why they capture the human imagination and grip it tight.

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The triumph of the human spirit against all odds, the weak overcoming the strong, the survival instinct: escape stories have it all. Perhaps that is why they capture the human imagination and grip it tight.

Great Escapes of History uses first-hand accounts to tell the stories of some of the most remarkable feats of human ingenuity ever: from the three astronauts who survived the explosion on Apollo 13 to the 340,000 troops who were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. The programmes feature interviews with ex-prisoners of Alcatraz, accounts of escapes from East Berlin and the gripping story of a remarkable escape from Auschwitz.

Here are a few amazing escapes not featured in the programme:

SWING LOW SWEET CHARIOT

In 1849, a slave name Harriet Tubman escaped from her owners in Maryland and trekked more than 500 miles to freedom in Canada. During her journey, Tubman was in danger of capture and almost certain death had she been caught. Instead of hiding in safety in Canada, she repeatedly returned to the slave states over the next ten years, helping more than 300 slaves to escape via the Underground Railroad. This was a series of secret safe houses that hid escaped slaves as they made the arduous and life-threatening trek to Canada. She was so successful at leading slaves to safety that she became known as "The Moses of Her People".

Find out more:
National Geographic: Railroad

THE HANDCUFF KING

In Pittsburgh on 16 November 1916, 20,000 people gathered outside the now-famous Sun building to see the world's most famous escape artist. Two muscular attendants from the Mayview Hospital for the Insane cinched Harry Houdini into a straightjacket. He urged them to pull the canvas and leather as tight as they could around him, the same way they would for their most dangerous patients. Houdini was then tied and hung by his feet 50 feet above the pavement. Within three minutes, he was free of his straightjacket and lowered onto the platform below, having performed one of the greatest escapes of his lifetime.

Find out more:
The Pittsburg Sun news article

CAVE DWELLER

An old man hides in his cave, attached to a dialysis machine and too old and unwell to walk long distances. He has a legion of guards and soldiers to protect him. However, the might of the world's strongest power has been unleashed, and they won't rest until they end his life and topple his regime. Or so it seemed at the time. But while Osama bin Laden's fortress in Tora Bora was being pulverised by the US air attacks against it, the man himself just disappeared. It is assumed that he escaped across the northern border of Afghanistan, into Pakistan. It is certain that he offered large sums of money to several supporters to help pave his way out of the country and away to freedom. The search is still on for Osama, but to date his escape is as miraculous as they come.

Find out more:
Osama's escape

ART IMITATING LIFE

The nature of great escapes, in which a person struggles against all odds to win freedom, life or just fame, ignites the human imagination. So it's no shock that escape movies have been earning wads of dosh since the beginning of cinema.

If you're into escape stories, then don't miss:

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, in which Andy Dufresne is falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife.

THE GREAT ESCAPE, the daddy of all escape films which is based on the real-life escape of POWs in World War Two.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC, in which the Von Trapp family takes flight from World War II Austria across the alps (and sing cheery songs the entire way).

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, in which the fearless Clint Eastwood escapes from the prison they said was airtight.