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Arthur Conan Doyle, SPIRITUALISM and Harry Houdini

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Author Topic: Arthur Conan Doyle, SPIRITUALISM and Harry Houdini  (Read 2373 times)
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« on: May 17, 2007, 02:13:36 pm »



Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, the son of an Irish Catholic family. Although he graduated in medicine from Edinburgh University, his first love was writing, and it was during his time as a practising doctor, that he created the character of Sherlock Holmes, his most celebrated literary invention.

The cerebral detective with his revolutionary techniques of deduction, first appeared in A Study in Scarlet, in 1887. By 1891 Conan Doyle was able to give up his medical practice, with the increased earnings from writing.

The Strand magazine would feature tales of Holmes and his congenial sidekick Watson in short story form over the subsequent two years. The popularity of the series was such that Conan Doyle had to resurrect his hero in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, ten years after the character had been 'killed off'.

He volunteered for military medical service during the Boer War (1899-1902) and received a knighthood for his literary defence of the British side. From 1928 he became strongly involved with the publicity of the case of Oscar Slater. This German Jew was falsely accused and convicted of murder in one of Scotland's most infamous miscarriage's of justice.

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« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2007, 02:39:01 pm »

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh on 22 May 1859. His mother, Mary, was of Irish extraction and traced her ancestry back to the famous Percy family of Northumberland and from there to the Plantagenet line. It is little wonder that the young Conan Doyle was told tales steeped in history which were to stand him in good stead when, in later years, he was to write his famous historical novels, The White Company, Sir Nigel, and Micah Clarke.

Although the world has chosen to remember Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chiefly for his creation of the fictional master detective, Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle's life, like the literary canvas he painted, was varied and highly interesting.

The effect of his father's alcoholism on Conan Doyle was profound and, whilst he chose to draw a veil over this particular topic in his autobiography Memories and Adventures, alcoholism is dealt with rather severely when it appears in his later fictional work.

In 1882, the enigmatic Dr George Turnavine Budd, whom Conan Doyle had first met when the two were students in Edinburgh, invited ACD to become his partner in a medical practice in Plymouth. Their relationship was a turbulent one, and ended with Conan Doyle moving to Southsea. It is perhaps fortunate for us that the break occurred when it did, for, although he built up an increasingly successful medical practice, it was during his quieter moments in Southsea that Conan Doyle expanded his literary activities—leading eventually to the creation of Sherlock Holmes and the detective's first appearance in A Study in Scarlet, which appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887.

Following the acceptance of A Study in Scarlet, for which he was paid the paltry sum of £25, Conan Doyle decided to test his powers to the full with a long historical novel. The outcome was the highly successful Micah Clarke, which finally appeared in 1889. It must have been pleasing to Conan Doyle that the novel became a topic of conversation between himself and Oscar Wilde when the two met, along with J.M. Stoddart of Lippincott's Magazine, for dinner in the summer of 1889—a dinner which ended with Conan Doyle receiving a commission to write a further Sherlock Holmes adventure (The Sign of the Four), and Wilde the commission for The Picture of Dorian Gray.

By 1890 Conan Doyle had resolved that a change was necessary and that he would journey to Vienna to study the eye. By the spring of 1891 the Doyles were back in London, renting rooms in Montague Place whilst Conan Doyle looked around for a suitable office where he could erect his plate as an oculist. He eventually found accommodation at 2 Upper Wimpole Street. The patients did not come, however, and, without even a ring at the doorbell to disturb him, he was able to devote his time to writing.

It was fortuitous that The Strand Magazine first saw publication at almost the same time, in January 1891, and that Conan Doyle took the opportunity on hand to revive the Sherlock Holmes of his two successful novels for a series of adventures. 'A Scandal in Bohemia' was the first to appear, in July 1891.

Whilst Conan Doyle continued to contribute Sherlock Holmes stories to The Strand, he became more and more anxious that he should be writing books that would make his a 'lasting name in English literature'. In November 1891 he wrote to his mother: 'I think of slaying Holmes . . . and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.'

The idea of Holmes's death remained with him, and it seems that it was during a visit to Switzerland in 1893 that Conan Doyle was shown the Reichenbach Falls, which he was subsequently to choose as the location for the 'fatal' struggle between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. 'The Final Problem', the adventure which was to bring the news of Holmes's death to a horrified nation, appeared in The Strand in December 1893.

Following a tour of Scandinavia and Holland in 1929, Conan Doyle returned to England exhausted, and suffered a heart attack. He remained weak and ill for several months and died at home on 7 July 1930.

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« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2007, 02:48:12 pm »

Why would a man, respected as a writer and as a (sometimes reluctant) pillar of the establishment, risk ridicule by embracing spiritualism? Death, as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography puts it, was an “unobtrusive but lifelong companion” for Doyle. The deaths of close friends and family affected him deeply, as evidenced by the fixation with death which runs through much of his fiction. But it was the deaths of his son and his brother, together with the mass slaughter during the Boer War and the First World War, which seem to have had a mind-altering effect on him.

 Spiritualism, the continued existence of loved ones on a different plane, separate but able to communicate, offers an obvious source of comfort to those who grieve. If all religion could be said to be the triumph of belief over provable fact, the incentive to suspend disbelief must be that much bigger when the apparent reward can be enjoyed, not in an afterlife yet to come, but immediately. If the loved one continues to speak to you, albeit through a medium, the pain of loss is lessened or, perhaps, soothed away completely.

Given the vigour with which Doyle pursued his other preoccupations -- letters to the Editor of The Times reveal his strongly-held views on everything from the conduct of the Boer War to the advantages of a Channel Tunnel -- it is not surprising that, having been won over to a belief in the spirit world, he should become a crusader for spiritualism.

Doyle devoted the last 11 years of his life to writing about spiritualism and communication with the dead.

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« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2007, 03:53:04 pm »



Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

                                           T H E   R I D D L E   O F   H O U D I N I

Who was the greatest medium-baiter of modern times?  Undoubtedly Houdini.
Who was the greatest physical medium of modern times?

There are some who would be inclined to give the same answer.  I do not see
how it can ever now be finally and definitely proved, but circumstantial eviden-
ce may be very strong, as Thoreau said when he found a trout in the milk jug.

I foresee the subject will be debated for many years to come, so perhaps my
opinion, since I knew him well, and always entertained this possibility in my mind,
may be of interest.

If others add their experience in order to support or disprove my own surmises,
then some result may eventually be obtained.

I will first give some of my own personal impressions of Houdini.  I will then dwell
on some phases of his career which show his singular character, and I will then
endeavour to give the argument as to the source of his unique powers.

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« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2007, 04:12:46 pm »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                            continued

Let me say, in the first instance, that in a long life which has touched every
side of humanity, Houdini is far and away the most curious and intriguing
character whom I have ever encountered.  I have met better men, and I have
certainly met very many worse ones, but I have never met a man who had
such strange contrasts in his nature and whose actions and motives it was
more difficult to foresee or reconcile.

I will first, as is only proper, dwell upon the great good which lay in his nature.
He had the essential masculine quality of courage to a supreme degree. 

Nobody has ever done, and nobody in all human probability will ever do, such
reckless feats of daring.  His whole life was one long succession of them, and
when I say that amongst them was the leaping from one aeroplane to another,
with handcuffed hands at the height of three thousand feet, one can form an
idea of the extraordinary lengths that he would go.

In this, however, as in much more that concerned him, there was a certain
psychic element which he was ready to admit freely.

He told me that a voice, which was independent of his own reason or judgement,
told him what to do and how to do it.  So long as he obeyed the voice, he was
assured of safety.  "It all comes as easy as stepping off a log," said he to me,
"but I have to wait for the voice.  You stand there before you jump, swallowing
the yellow stuff that every man has in him.  Then at last you hear the voice and
you jump.  Once I jumped on my own and I nearly broke my neck."

This was the nearest admission that I ever had from him that I was right in think-
ing that there was a psychic element which was essential to every one of his feats.
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« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2007, 04:27:18 pm »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                        continued

Apart from his amazing courage, he was remarkable for his cheery urbanity in
every-day life.

One could not wish a better companion so long as one was with him, though he
might say and do the most unexpected things when one was absent.

He was, like most Jews, estimable in his family relationships.  His love for his
dead mother seemed to be the ruling passion of his life, which he espressed on
all sorts of public occasions in a way which was, I am sure, sincere, but is stran-
ge to our colder Western blood.

There were many things in Houdini which were as Oriental as there were in our
own Disraeli. 

He was devoted also to his wife and with good reason, for she was as devoted
to him, but again, his intimacy showed itself in unconventional ways.

When, in his examination before the Senatorial Committee, he was hard-pressed by
some defender of Spiritualism who impugned his motives in his violent and vindicti-
ve campaign against medium, his answer was to turn to his wife and to say,
"I have always been a good boy, have I not?"
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« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2007, 05:29:12 pm »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                                 continued

Another favourable side of his character was his charity.  I have heard, and
am quite prepared to believe, that he was the last refuge of the down-and-
outer, especially if he belonged to his own profession of showman.

This charity extended even beyond the grave, and if he heard of any old
magician whose tombstone needed repair, he took it upon himself at once to
set the matter right. 

Willie Davenport in Australia, Bosco in Germany, and many others of his pro-
fession were objects of these pious offices.  Whatever he did was done upon
a large scale. 

He had many pensioners whom he did not know by sight.  One man embraced
him in the street and, upon Houdini angrily demanding who the devil he was, he
answered, "Why, I am the man whose rent you have paid for the last ten years."

He was devout to children, though he had none of his own.  He was never too
busy to give a special free performance for the youngsters.  At Edinburgh he
was so shocked at the bare feet of the kiddies, that he had them all into the
theatre, and fitted them, then and there, with five hundred pairs of boots.

He was the greatest publicity agent that ever lived, so that it is not ill-natured
to surmise that the local papers had been advised before-hand and that the ad-
vertisement was well worth it.

There were other occasions, however, when his charity was less ostantatious.

Animals too were loved by him, and he had a peculiar talent for taming them and
teaching them tricks.

All these ingredients in one impulsive personality surely make up a very lovable
man.  It is true that his generosity was curiously mixed with frugality, so that
even while he was giving away his earnings at a rate which alarmed his wife, he
would put an indignant comment in his diary, because he had been charged two
shillings for the pressing of his clothes.

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« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2007, 05:46:18 pm »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                     continued

So much for his virtues - and most of us would be very glad to have as
goodly a list.  But all he did was extreme, and there was something to
be placed in the other scale.

A prevailing feature of his character was a vanity which was so obvious and
childish, that it became more amusing than offencisve.  I can recall, for ex-
ample, that when he introduced his brother to me, he did it by saying, "This
is the brother of the Great Houdini."

This without any twinkle of humour and in a perfectly natural manner.

This enormous vanity was combined with a passion for publicity which knew
no bounds, and which must at all costs be gratified.  There was no considera-
tion of any sort which would restrain him if he saw his way to an advertisement.
Even when he laid flowers upon the graves of the dead, it was in the prearrang-
ed presence of the local photographers.

It was this desire to play a constant public part which had a great deal to do
with his furious campaign against Spiritualism.  He knew that the public took a
keen interest in the matter and that there was unlimited publicity to be had
from it. 

He perpetually offered large sums to any medium who would do this or that,
knowing well that even in the unlikely event of the thing being done, he could
always raise some objection and get out of it.

Sometimes his tactics were too obvious to be artistic.  In Boston he arrived by
prearrangement , before a great crowd at the City Hall and walked solemnly up
the steps with ten thousand dollars' worth of stock in his hand, which represent-
ed one of his perennial stakes against phenomena.

This was in connection with his engagement on a tour of the music-halls.  His
favourite argument, and that of many of his fellow-conjurers, was this flourish-
ing of dollar wads.
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« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2007, 06:33:55 am »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                          continued

It is obviously absurd, since the money will only be paid if you satisfy the
challenger, and since the challenger has to pay the money, he never will be

The classical instance is that of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN magazine, which
offered a large sum for any well-attested psychic phenomenon but, on being
confronted with the Crandon phenomena, which are perhaps best attested in
the whole annals of psychical research, found reasons for witholding the money.

I remember that when I arrived in New York, Houdini offered some huge sum
that he could do anything which I had ever seen a medium do.  I, at once,
accepted his challenge, and proposed as a test that he should materialize the
face of my mother in such a way that others besides myself who had known
her in life could recognize it.

I heard no more of the matter after that, and yet in England a medium had
actually done this.  I would have brought my witness across the Atlantic had
the test been accepted.

I am quite prepared to think that Houdini's campaign against mediums did tempo-
rary good so far as false mediums goes, but it was so indiscriminate and accom-
panied by so much which was intolerant and offensive, that it turned away the
sympathy and help which Spiritualists, who are anxious for the cleanliness of
their own movement, would gladly have given him.

The unmasking of false mediums is our urgent duty, but when we are told that,
in spite of our own evidence and that of three generations of mankind, there are
no real ones, we lose interest, for we know that we are speaking to an ignorant
man.  At the same time, the States, and in lesser degree our own people, do
need stern supervision.

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« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2007, 06:50:50 am »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                              continued

I admit that I underrated the corruption in the States.

What first brought it home to me was that my friend Mrs. Crandon told me
that she had received price lists from some firm which manufactures fraud-
lent instruments for performing tricks.

If such a firm can make a living, there must be some villainy about and a
more judicious Houdini might well find a useful field of activity.  It is these
hyenas who retard our progress.  I have myself had a hand in exposing more
than one of them.

There was a particular Hall in Boston which Houdini used for his tirades against
the spirits.

Some weeks after his campaign a curious and disagreeable phenomenon broke
out there.  Showers of gravel or of small pebbles fell continually among the au-
ience, and several people suffered minor injuries.  A police watch was kept up
for some time, and eventually it was shown that a staid employee, whose record
was an excellent one, was in the habit, without rhyme or reason, of stealing up
to the gallery and throwing these missiles down into the stalls.

When tried for the offense, he could only say that a senseless but overpower-
ing impulse caused him to do it. 

Many psychic students would be prepared to consider that the incident would
bear the interpretation of a poltergeist on the one side, and an obsession on the

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« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2007, 07:09:54 am »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                        continued

There was another incident at Boston of a very much more serious kind,
and one which bears out my assertion that, where there was an adverti-
sement to be gained, Houdini was a dangerous man.

The remarkable psychic powers of Mrs. Crandon, the famous "Margery,"
were at that time under examination by the committee of the SCIENTIFIC
AMERICAN.  Various members of this committee had sat many times with
the Crandons, and some of them had been completely converted to the
psychic explanation, while others, though unable to give any rational ex-
planation of the phenomena, were in different stages of dissent. 

It would obviously be an enormous feather in Houdini's cap if he could appear
on the scene and at once solve the mystery.  What a glorious position to be in!
Houdini laid his plans and was so sure of success that before going to Boston
he wrote a letter, which I saw, to a mutual friend in London, announcing that
he was about to expose her.

He would have done it, too, had it not been for an interposition which was mi-
raculous.  I think well enough of Houdini to hope that he would have held his
hand if he could have realized the ruin and disgrace which his success would
have brought upon his victims.

As it was, the thought of the tremendous advertisement swallowed up his scru-
ples.  All America was watching, and he could not resist the temptation.

He had become familiar in advance with the procedure of the Crandon circle,
and with the types of phenomena.  It was easy for him to lay his plans.

What he failed to take into account was that the presiding spirit, Walter,
the dead brother of Mrs. Crandon, was a very real and live entity, who was by
no means inclined to allow his innocent sister to be made tha laughing-stock of
the continent.

It was the unseen Walter who checkmated the carefully-laid plans of the
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« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2007, 07:33:59 am »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                        continued

The account of what occurred I take from the notes which were taken
by the circle at the time.

The first phenomenon to be tested was the ringing of an electric bell,
which could be done by pressing down a flap of wood, well out of the reach
of the medium.  The room was darkened, but the bell did not ring.  Suddenly,
the angry voice of Walter was heard.

"You have put something to stop the bell ringing, Houdini, you--------------"
he cried.

Walter has a wealth of strong language and makes no pretence at all to be a
very elevated being.  They all have their use over there.

On this occasion, at least, the use was evident, for when the light was turned
up, there was the rubber from the end of a pencil stuck into the angle of the
flap, in such a way as to make it impossible that it could descend and press the

Of course, Houdini professed complete ignorance as to how it got there, but who
else had the deft touch to do such a thing in the dark, and why was it only in his
presence that such a thing occurred?  It is clear that if he could afterwards, when
he had quietly removed the rubber, that his arrival had made all further trickery im-
possible, he would have scored the first trick in the game.

He should have taken warning and realized that he was up against powers which
were too strong for him, and which might prove dangerous if provoked too far.

But the letters he had written and boasts he had made cut off his retreat.

The second night landed him in a very much worse mess than the first one.  He had
brought with him an absurd box which was secured in front by no fewer than eight
padlocks.  One would have thought that it was a gorilla rather than a particularly
gentle lady who was about to be confined within.

The forces behind Margery showed what they thought of this contraption by burst-
ing the whole front open the moment Margery was fastened into it.  This very unex-
pected development Houdini endeavoured to eplain away, but he found it difficult to
give a reason why, if the box was so vulnerable, it was worth while to bring it with so
much pomp and ceremony, with eight padlocks and many other gadgets, all the way
from New York to Boston.
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« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2007, 07:51:19 am »

THE RIDDLE OF HOUDINI                                                                            continued

However, much worse was to come.

The lady was put into the reconstituted box, her arms protuding  through holes on
each side.  Houdini observed, without any apparent reason, to pass his hand along the
lady's arm, and so into the box.

Presently, after some experiments, the lady's arms were placed inside and the attempt
was to be made to ring the bell-box while only her head projected.

Suddenly, the terrible Walter intervened.

"Houdini, you----------blackguard!" he thundered.  "You have put a ruler into the cabi-
net.  You------------!  Remember, Houdini, you won't live for ever.  Some day you've
got to die."

The lights were turned on, and, shocking to relate, a two-foot folding ruler was found
lying in the box.  It was a most deadly trick, for, of course, if the bell had rung, Houdini
would have demanded a search of the cabinet, the ruler would have been found, it would,
if held between the teeth, have enabled the medium to have reached and pressed down
the flap of the bell-box, and all America would have resounded next day with the astute-
ness of Houdini and the proven villainy of the Crandons.  I do not think that even the
friends of the latter could have got over the patent fact.  It was the most dangerous
moment of their career, and only Walter saved them from ruin.

For the moment, Houdini was completely overcome, and cowered, as well he might, be-
fore the wrath of the unseen.  His offence was so obvious that no better excuse occur-
red to him, when he had rallied his senses, than that the rule had been left there by
accident by some subordinate.

When one considers, however, that of other tools upon earth, neither a hammer, chisel, nor
a wrench, but only a folding two-foot ruler could have sustained the charge, one realizes
how hopeless was his position.
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« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2007, 08:01:31 am »


Recently Houdini's body has been exhumed.  [Please refer to the other Houdini Thread.]

One of the suspicions is that the SPIRITUALISTS killed him.

QUOTE - Walter's Spirit Voice:

"Houdini, you-----------blackguard!" he thundered.  "You have put a ruler into the

cabinet.  You-----------!  REMEMBER, HOUDINI, YOU WON'T LIVE FOR EVER.

It may very well be that the SPIRITS were, after all. responsible for Houdini's death........
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« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2007, 08:09:57 am »

"MARGERY"  aka Mrs. LeRoi Goddard Crandon (nee' Mina Stinson)

Mina Stinson was born in Canada, in 1888, and moved to Boston at an early age. In 1918, after one unsuccessful marriage, she married Boston surgeon Dr. Le Roi Goddard Crandon, a man whose family dated back to the Mayflower. They purchased the house at Number 11 Lime Street, on Beacon Hill, and became well established in Boston society. The Crandons were the perfect Beacon Hill couple. Dr. Crandon was a prestigious instructor at Harvard Medical School, and Mina Crandon was piquant, witty, and "too attractive for her own good."

In 1923, Dr. Crandon became seriously interested in Spiritualism and psychic research. In May of that year, the Crandons, along with some friends, decided to sit for a table-tilting seance. The table, apparently controlled by a spirit, indicated that Mina, herself, was a very powerful medium. Within a few months, the spirit communicator identified himself as Walter, Mina's brother who had died in a train crash in 1911. Shortly thereafter, Walter was able to entrance Mina and speak directly through her. Then, having mastered the ability to produce a voice box, he began speaking via the direct voice process.

Walter characteristically was not the most spiritually-minded personality. He often used off-color language and refused to be stumped. During one seance, a sitter asked if his was the language of the "Fourth Dimension." Walter promptly retorted, "No, I am talking in a language for you to understand." Walter felt that his mission was to help demonstrate, through his sister, the creative process of mind, via telekinetic effects, rather than deliver inspirational messages or addresses. In this respect, he excelled.

Despite the abundant production of phenomena, because of Dr. Crandon's position with Harvard and the closed-minded attitude toward psychic matters, attendance to the sittings with Mina Crandon was by invitation only.

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