Harry Houdini is one of the most famous names in the history of illusionism and extreme entertainment. He became famous for being able to escape from any form of confinement from handcuffs, prison cells, milk churns, beer barrels, water tanks and even the belly of a beached whale! Some of his shows were filmed, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbvZZsYZmEY and: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUbytEgTXZQ&NR=1 . He was also the James Randi of his time. In the grief-stricken aftermath of his mother’s death he went on a crusade against what he saw as the massive web of lies and delusion that was Spiritualism. He investigated mediums, exposing frauds and offered people a cash reward to prove that their supernatural abilities were real. Like many magicians he felt annoyed that people could claim real paranormal abilities while using, as he saw it, the same stage conjuring tricks that he did. He died of peritonitis on October the 31st 1926, but before he died he and his wife Bess made a pact. He realized that the mediums would claim to raise his spirit during séances so he gave her a coded message, unknown to all except the two of them, that he would relate to her if it really was him so she could know if the psychics were genuine or not. It seems that despite his Skepticism he did take the idea of spirits of the dead contacting the living seriously! He even advised her to host her own psychic events and invite the mediums along to prove their abilities. Bess did as he wished and eventually began to hold a traditional Spiritualist service on the evening of every anniversary of his death, Halloween. After 10 years she gave up and the last Houdini séance was held at Hollywood’s Knickerbocker hotel in 1936… or at least that’s one side to the story.
As is so often the case, history, far from being the simple rendition of established, undisputable facts that it is popularly supposed to be, is told for a political purpose, a desire to influence those who hear it. Different influencers tell different histories and the same event in time can sound like hundreds until finding out what really happened has become a journey through a maze of propaganda and deception. As I’ve mentioned before in my review of Ian Crane’s Swine Flu meeting (http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2009/04/emergency-swine-flu-meeting-with-ian.html) older books are being withheld and destroyed because of the seditious information they might contain. A copy of Readers Digest- Into The Unknown, a big hardback paranormal encyclopaedia, came inadvertently into my hands the other day. It was an unexpected gift from Lee, a Brother Porter of mine. After reading the books by Lyall Watson (see the link to the Ian Crane article) I’ve become keen on old books and eager to discover if they contain any secrets absent from more recent titles. This book was published in 1981 and sure enough, it gives us a new slant on the Houdini tale: The Halloween anniversary séances were not the only ones Bess carried out. In February 1928 a medium called Arthur Ford announced to Bess that her husband was present and wished to come through. He then related a single word from their secret code. Bess was apparently impressed and said that the message was the first one she’d had which had “the appearance of truth”. She invited Ford to her home and asked him to proceed with a follow-up séance. The spirit reappeared and related the words: “Rosabelle”, “Answer”, “Pray-answer”, “Look”, “Answer-answer” and “Tell”. They were particular words that Houdini had picked out of one of his personal letters; ironically the letter had been from his friend Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, who shared Houdini’s interest in psychical research, but was an ardent believer (See: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2009/05/cottingley-fairies.html). Bess wrote at the time that she had received “the correct message prearranged between Mr Houdini and myself”. Later on she retracted that statement for unspecified reasons. The whole matter is shrouded in controversy and dispute, but one thing’s for sure: the simple and positive “Houdini never came through”, the line you’ll usually hear in official histories and the Skeptical media stories about Houdini, is in doubt.
I’m very interested in Spiritualism and I don’t buy the position of mainstream academia and Skeppers like Houdini, that it is all nonsense and trickery. The phenomenon is not as clear-cut as such people pretend or believe. I go into the matter in some depth in my review of M Lamar Keene’s The Psychic Mafia: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/08/psychic-mafia-by-m-lamar-keene.html . As I explain in this review, in Spiritualist churches I’ve never seen any ringing bells or levitating tables or any of the other trinkets and trappings that are the supposed mainstay of Spiritualism. What’s more my experience of Spiritualism is not confined to second-hand messages from mediums, but from personal experience. I may even be becoming a medium myself! If I am then I promise you that I am not a stage conjurer and know of no illusionist tricks that can replicate what I perceive. “But” say the Skeppers “You would say that, wouldn’t you, Ben?”
(Latest HPANWO Voice stories: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2009/05/i-hate-gays-and-be-careful-what-name.html