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HOUDINI (Harry Weiss)

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« on: February 20, 2007, 10:52:11 am »



The Autobiography of ARTHUR FORD - 1958

Chapter 7


One of the most passionate exposers of mediums was Houdini, the magician. 
In the early twenties he threw the entire weight of this reputation as a magi-
cian behind his declaration that all mediums were fakes, and that he could
duplicate any trick a medium could do.

Although he later played a significant part in providing me with status as a
medium, I never met Houdini.  He died in 1926 and at that time I was much too
incospicuous to attract his attention.  The influence of Houdini upon the whole
Spiritualist Movement cannot be understood without some comprehension of
the distinction which was Houdini's.

Here was a man who could break out of handcufffs of every invention and con-
trivance in any part of the world.  He could beat the Fiji coin divers at their own
game.  He staged underwater stunts that astounded the medical profession by
the length of time he could hold his breath.  He broke out of packing cases built
on-stage by local carpenters.  Before astonished audiences he caused an ele-
phant (not a rabbit) to disappear and he walked through a brick wall.  He was
exactly what he called himself, the master magician of his day.

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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2007, 11:11:25 am »

In the early twenties Houdini turned his fabulous tenacity to exposing the whole
Spiritualist Movement.  There were probably then about a million people in this
country who called themselves Spiritualists.  In these days when universities re-
search in the field of Parapsychology has made psychic interests respectable,
when Extrasensory Perception is seriously considered in Psychology Courses,
when the physical scientists are far less dogmatic about the non-physical world
than was formerly the case, it is difficult to recover the violent reaction of the
Orthodox against Spiritualism in Houdini's day.  In the Orthodox mind, all Spirit-
ualists were equated with the lunatic fringe and all mediums were tools of the
devil, even if there were no devil.  Here Houdini took his stand with the Orthodox
and lined up his targets. 

I have always felt that Houdini was initially honest, even if publicity-minded, in in-
sisting that mediumship, particularly physical mediumship, could be faked.  He him-
self had hoaxed audiences with fake mediumship and, in his mind, to be able to trick an audience was to do so.  In his early days he had simulated the kind of
seance in which material objects are supposed to move by supernormal power, and added assumed authenticity to the act by having himself handcuffed, tied to
a chair and placed in a cabinet in such fashion that the audience concurred in his
assertion that he could not possibly be the one to set off the tambourins, bell and
other paraphenalia on the table in front of the cabinet.  Lights went out and the
ensuing jingling and knocking were very convincing, as well they might be, since
Houdini was able to extricate himself from the handcuffs in a matter of seconds,set off his 'effects' and relock himself before the lights went on.
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2007, 11:35:25 am »


Years later, when he was much more widely known, he acknowledged his former
fraudulence and developed an act in which he demonstrated the many devices
and tricks he said he had found mediums using.  It was after his mother died, how-
ever, that he turned to exposing mediums in the big-time manner.  It has always
seemed to me that he was striking out at people who believed what he himself could not believe - that life goes on.  He would leave no one with comfort he could
not have.  His sentiment for his mother ran deep, even though it often expressed
itself melodramatically.  There is no doubt but that Houdini informed himself in the
field of psychic phenomena, but always from the point of view of looking for the
'catch'.  When he read a report based on the testimony of top scientists, he merely
averred that they were not as clever as he in seeing through a ruse.  He collect-
ed a pretensious library, and searched out physical mediums all over the country.
Mediums who simply brought through verbal communication were branded liars before he started.  He liked to uncover facts upon which to base a story of an ex-
pose' but he was not dependent upon facts.  As the self-appointed exposer of
fraudulent mediuship and ridiculer of Spiritualists, he built himself the biggest re-
putation in America, and probably the world.

Neverthess, that he was at times in touch with genuine communication seems to
me certain from opinions I have had from persons who knew him well.  I surmise
that genuine trance mediums found his antagonistic attitude extremely hard to
work with.  It is my impression that his mother tried to reach him and could have
identified herself if he had been receptive.  For instance, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
reported that when he and his wife were traveling in America, Houdini and his
wife Beatrice visited them for several days at their hotel in Atlantic City.  By that
time Lady Doyle herself had developed mediumship and did automatic writing in
sem-trance state.  Doyle said that on this occasion, Houdini received a general message from his mother which moved him greatly although, in spite of his emotion,
he would not authenticate the message.  No doubt it lacked essential words he was waiting for her to say.  Eventually, Doyle broke with Houdini, accusing him of

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« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2007, 12:22:08 pm »


The occasion which brought Houdini into final disrepute with most of the pro-
fessional research men in Psychic Fields was an investigation of the famous
physical medium Margery, wife of Dr. L.R.G. Crandon, for sixteen years professor
of Surgery at Harvard University Medical School, conducted by The Scientific
American.  The investigating committee was composed of impeccable scientists
and psychologists, including Gardner Murphy, now Director of Research at the
Menninger Foundation.  Houdini asked to be added to the committee.  As the
seances continued, the committee became increasingly doubtful of Houdini's
scrupulosity, not to say impartiality, and made public statements to the fact.

By that time Houdini's reputation was at stake.  If distinguished men could prove
him wrong in his accusations, the whole country would have a chuckle at his ex-
pense, and to be laughed at was one thing he could never accept.  Moreover, his
enemies the Spiritualists - or so he considered them - would also have a field day.
Actually, many Spiritualists had defended Houdini, being more eager than anyone
else to have their ranks cleared of frauds.

This was the state of ferment in 1926 when Houdini died, leaving a widely publicized message that if there were anything to the claim for survival, he would
get through to his wife, Bessie, with a code message which only she could deci-
pher.  That this curious last message would have anything to do with my future
would have seemed a far-fetched idea at the time.

..........the evening of February 8, 1928, when a group of friends which included
Francis Fast were having a sitting with me.  During the trance Fletcher (Ford's
Guide - my insertion) announced that a woman he had not seen before was very
eager to say a word.  "She tells me that she is the mother of Harry Weiss, known as Houdini."  Fletcher appeared very much interested in this person, and began to
quote her.  Fast took down her message.

"For many years,"said Houdini's mother, "my son waited for one word which I was
to send back.  He always said that if he could get it, he would believe.  Conditions
have now developed in the family which make it necessary for me to get my code-
word through before he can give his wife the  code he arranged with her.  If the
family acts upon my code word, he will be free and able to speak for himself.  Mine
is the word FORGIVE. His wife knew the word and no one wlse in all the world knew it. Ask her if the word which I tried to get back all these years in not FORGIVE!
I tried innumerable times to say it to him.  Now that he is here with me I am able to get it through.  Tonight I give it to you, and Beatrice Houdini will declare it to be

When I wakened and the group told me about this extra message which had slipped in, I was not much interested.  Houdini's supposed exposition of mediums
had always annoyed me; I thought of him as a wonderful magician with an other-
wise bigoted mind and a colossal conceit, and I did not care to have anything to
do with him.  However, the men at the sitting wanted to give Mrs. Houdini her
message.  I particularly valued the judgment of Francis Fast, and agreed.  There-
fore, on the following day a copy of the message was taken to Mrs . Houdinin. 
She was completely amazed, and as newspaper files attest, made a public state-
ment over her signature that this was 'the sole communication received among
thousands up to this time that contained the one secret key-word known only to
Houdini, his mother, and myself."

To me she wrote:

                                                                                        67 Payson Avenue
                                                                                         New York City

My dear Mr. Ford,

Today I received a special delivery letter signed by members of the First
Spiritualist Church, who testify to a purported message from Houdini's
mother, received through you.  Strange that the word FORGIVE is the word
Houdini awaited in vain all his life.  It was indeed the message for which he
always secretly hoped, and if it had been given him while he was still alive,
it would, I know, have changed the entire course of his life - but it came too
late.  Aside from this, there are one or two trivial inaccuracies - Houdini's mother
called him EHRICH - there was nothing in the message which could be contra-
dicted.  I might also say that this is the first message which I have received
among thousands which has an appearance of truth.

Sincerily Yours,
Beatrice Houdini



The Autobiography of
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« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2007, 12:38:13 pm »


That one word FORGIVE was not the whole of the mother's message to her
daughter-in-law, but the rest was of an intimate family nature which concern-
ed Mrs. Houdini and her husband's relatives.

In that first seance the last thing Fletcher had reported about Houdini's mother was simply, "She is going now, and she says that since this message has come
through it will open the channel for the other."  The other to which she referred
to was a pact Houdini had made with his wife.  He had sworn to get a message through to her if such a thing as survival should prove real.  The message was
to be based upon a ten-word code which they had used in one of their early shows and which no one but himself and his wife had ever known.  The press had given
considerable coverage to their agreement.  In the months following his death in-
terested persons in various part of the world were constantly purporting to have
received the message from Houdini.  And just as regularly Mrs. Houdinin dis-
claimed the messages.  It was a poor month when there was no newspaper men-
tion of Houdini and his code.

After the message from Houdini's mother, no further word came for several months.  To be sure, no one made any attempt to follow up.  Then in November,
1928, the first word of Houdin's own message came through in a sitting for a
group, none of whom had known Houdini.  The spelling out of the entire message
took a portion of eight separate sittings covering a period of two and one half
months.  Four of the sittings were with groups of friends and four with indivi-
duals, one a New York physician, Dr. John Tanner, and another, Mr. Hamilton
Emmons, of England, then visiting in this country.
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« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2007, 01:13:59 pm »

Fletcher's method was to announce a word as he got it, no matter what else
he happened to be talking about, and then apparently to wait until he was
sure of another word and make another opportunity.  One night he announced,
"The first word is ROSABELLE and it is going to unlock the rest."  A fortnight
later a second word was added - NOW.  At a third sitting Fletcher said, "Here is a
lady I've been working with for a long time but the only word I get from her to-
night is LOOK.  This is the sixth word in the code."  The sitters presumed that the lady to whom he referred was Houdini's mother.  Still later Fletcher asked that
four new words be added - ROSABELLE, ANSWER, PRAY and TELL.

At the next to last sitting, Fletcher said, "Let me give you the words from the
beginning, because I have to work hard to get them."  His last comment was.
"This man tells me now that he has put the next five words, which explain these,
in French.  I have not got them yet.  I want to give you the other words because, working on the French words, I may forget the others."

At the final sitting Fletcher said, "This man who is communicating tells me it has
taken him three months working out of the confusion to get these words through,
and that at no time has he been able to do anything without his mother's help.
TELL- that is the last word!  You now have ten words.  Go over them carefullly.  It has been a hard job getting them through, "But I tell you," he says, fairly
shouting, "they are right!"  Now he wants to dictate the exact message you are now to take to his wife.  This is to be written down in longhand, no notes."

Fletcher then asked the time, which was 9:23 P.M.  He said this was to be noted.
Also that the medium was in deep trance, that the medium's pulse was at that moment sixty-three, which he asked to be verified; he also wanted the names of
those present set down.  Fletcher then continued with great exactness, "A man who says he is Harry Houdini, but whose real name was Ehrich Weiss, is here and
wishes to send to his wife, Beatrice Houdini, the ten-word code which he agreed
to do if it were possible for him to communicate.  He says you are to take this
message to her and upon acceptance of it, he wishes her to follow out the plan they agreed upon before his passing.   This is the code:


He wants this message signed in ink by each one present.  He says the code is known only to him and to his wife, and that no one on earth but those two know it.  He says there is no danger on that score, and that she must make it public.
Announcement must come from her.  You are nothing more than agents.  He says
that when this comes through there will be a veritable storm, that many will seek
to destroy her and she will be accused of everything that is not good, but she is
honest enough to keep the pact which they repeated over and over before his death.  He says, "I know that she will be happy, because neither of us believed it would be possible."

Fletcher then added, "Her husband says that on receipt of this message she must
set a time, as soon as possible, when she will sit with this instrument (the medium
-my insert) while I, Fletcher, speak to her, and after he has repeated this message to her, she is to return a code to him which will be understood by her and by him
alone.  The code that will be returned by her will be a supplement to this code, and the two together will spell a word which sums it all up, and that word will be the
message which he wants to send back.  He refuses to give that word until he gives
it to her."
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« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2007, 01:50:50 pm »

FROM                                                                                                         continued


The Autobiography of Arthur Ford

The following day two members of the group, Mr. Fast and Mr. John W. Stafford,
associate editor of the Scientific American, both strangers to Mrs Houdini, as
were all the members of the group, delivered the message to her.  She was lying
on a couch, having suffered a fall the week previous.  She read the report, then stirred with emotion, dropped it at her side, and said, "IT IS RIGHT!"  Then after
a moment she asked in wonderment, "Did he say ROSABELLE?"  Upon being assured that he had, she exclaimed, "My God! What else did he say?"  They re-
peated all they had recorded.

Following her husband's suggestions, she arranged to have me come to her house
the next day, accompanied by three members of the group and a representative of
the press.  Two of her own friends joined us.

As soon as I was well into trance, Fletcher came through, announcing "This man
is coming now, the same one who came the other night.  He tells me to say,
"Hello, Bess, sweetheart," and he wants to repeat the message and finish it for you.  He says the code is one that you used to use in one of your secret mind-reading acts."  Then Fletcher repeated the ten words as he said Houdini was
giving them to him.  "He wants you to tell him whether they are right or not."
Mrs. Houdini replied, "Yes, they are."
"He smiles and says "Thank you, now I can go on."  He tells you to take off your
wedding ring and tell them what ROSABELLE means."
Drawing her left hand from under the cover she took off the ring and, holding it before herself, sang in a small voice:

Rosabelle, sweet Rosabelle,
I love you more than I can tell;
O'er me you cast a spell,
I love you, my Rosabelle!

Fletcher continued, "He says, "I thank you darling.  The first time I heard you sing that song was in our first show together years ago."
Mrs. Houdini nodded her head in assent.
"Then there is something he wants me to tell you that no one but his wife knows," Fletcher went on.  "He smiles now and shows me a picture and draws the curtains so, or in this mannner."

Evidently that was the clue for the unfoldment of the next part of the code, for
Mrs Houdini responded in French , "JE TIRE LE RIDEAU COMME CA."

Through Fletcher, Houdini went on, "And now the nine words besides ROSABELLE spell a word in our code."  Very exactly, he then explained the code.  "The second
word in our code was ANSWER.  B is the second letter in the alphabet so ANSWER stands for B.  The fifth word in the code is TELL, and the fifth letter of the alphabet
is E.  The twelfth letter in the alphabet is L and to make up twelve we have to use the first and second words of the code."

Continuing in this intricate way to the end he said, "The message I want to send
back to my wife is :"ROSABELLE, BELIEVE!"

Fletcher then asked, "Is this right?"
"Yes,"answered Mrs Houdini, with great feeling. 

In conclusion Fletcher repeated Houdini's final words.  "He says,"Tell the whole world that Harry Houdini still lives and will prove it a thousand times and more."
He is pretty excited.  He says, "I was perfectly honest and sincere in trying to
disprove survival, though I resorted to tricks to prove my point for the simple
reason that I did not believe communication was true, but I did no more than
seemed justifiable.  I am now sincere in sending this through in my desire to undo.
Tell all those who lost faith because of my mistake to lay hold again of hope, and to live with the knowledge that life is continuous.  That is my message to the world, through my wife and through this instrument."
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« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2007, 02:12:43 pm »


The code had been a handy device employed in Houdini's instructions to his
wife during their act.  Mrs. Houdini commented that the code was such a secret that "even though the stage-hands knew the words, no one except Houdini and myself knew the cipher, or the key, and its application."

From the moment that Mrs Houdini pronounced the message genuine, there began a flood of attacks, ranging from the ludicrous to the vicious.  Mrs. Houdini's vera-
city was questioned; she was accused of giving the code to someone who then gave it to me - as if there could be any comfort for her in securing a message she already knew from a source she did not believe existed.  She was also scored for
selling out her own husband who had so widely publicized his conviction that all mediums were fakes.  Consistently she avowed the genuineness of the messages and defended having made them public.  "It was what he wanted me to do, and I am doing it."

I was likewise accused of fraud, of course, and was once also approached by an in-
genious blackmailer.  Then a man impersonating me fabricated a newspaper story, which only one tabloid printed, after which he confessed his hoax under promise of immunity from criminal prosecution. 

Three individuals brought charges to the United Spiritualist League of New York City that I had been in cahoots with Mrs. Houdini and the press.  The president of the board of trustees of the First Spiritualist Church redeemed my character, Mrs. Houdini stood her ground, and the respectable press was meticulously fair.  I never
attempted to collect any of the fabulous sums offered for breaking the Houdini code, although I am sure a legal case could have been made.  However, I did receive an enornous amount of publicity.  Maybe Houdini had a hand in that!  He
may have been paying his respects to the fact that my act had been performed
not while handcuffed, but while sound asleep.



The Autobiography of ARTHUR FORD
In collaboration with

Publishers, New York
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« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2007, 08:44:42 pm »

Great topic, Bianca.  I started a topic on Houdini at the old forum that never quite caught on.  If you don't mind, I'd like to add that information to your topic:

Master Magician, Debunker & Psychic Investigator


A Magician Among the Spirits

Harry Houdini is still considered today as one of the greatest illusionists and magicians in history. In addition to his fantastic escapes and stunts, he was also well known in the 1920’s for his debunking of fraudulent Spiritualist mediums. In this, modern information about Houdini tends to be skewed. Today, many skeptic organizations have claimed Houdini as one of their own, but this is far from the truth. Unlike these groups, Houdini did not start out attacking fake mediums because he did not believe in the supernatural. In fact, he had gone to them in an attempt to try and contact his dead mother, but found that the mediums he met were often frauds. This was when he turned to exposing them, still searching for the truth.

Before his death, Houdini stated that should it be possible to contact the living from the other side, he would do so. The question remains as to whether or not he actually succeeded.
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« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2007, 08:46:35 pm »

Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874 but grew up as Erich Weiss in the small Wisconsin town of Appleton. Later, his father, Rabbi Meyer Samuel Weiss, moved the family to Milwaukee and he took over a Jewish congregation there. At about this same time, Erich became interested in magic and stage performing. Legend has it that he was apprenticed to a locksmith, where he learned to assemble and take apart locks with his eyes closed. If this part of the story is true, it was a skill that served him well later in life. Many aspects of Houdini's life remain a mystery today (which is likely how he wanted it) and he had been credited with the famous line about his biography that says "when the legend is greater than the truth -- print the legend!"

A young Harry and Bess shortly after they were married
Erich was determined to become a professional magician and later began appearing in New York beer halls and theaters, taking the name of Houdini, which was based on the name of Robert Houdin, a famous French magician. He played traveling shows and theaters for several years, meeting his wife, Bess, while performing at Coney Island. He employed a variety of new and strange stunts in his act and devised incredible escapes that had never been attempted before. He became known for some time as the "Handcuff King", due to the ease from which he escaped any restraints. Soon, his escapes became more daring and he allowed police officers and various officials in the cities where he played to design their own challenges for him as a publicity stunt. Houdini never failed!

It was not long before the enigmatic showman became an American and worldwide sensation, performing to sold-out crowds. He became an expert in the field of magic and even today, magicians and scholars have no idea as to the extent of his secrets of magic or how many of his stunts were performed. Houdini’s many journals and notes remained in the possession of his brother after his death and when his brother died, they were destroyed.

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« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2007, 08:48:49 pm »

But Houdini was as troubled as he was famous. He was obsessed with the death of his mother, having been almost unnaturally close to her during her lifetime. After she died, he was observed many times at the cemetery where she was buried, lying face down on her grave and holding long conversations with her. He felt that he had to communicate with her and that was when he turned to Spiritualism.

In a short time, Houdini’s visits to the Spiritualists revealed a number of fake mediums who were using poor stage magic and trying to pass the tricks off as the work of the spirits. He claimed that he could duplicate the tricks on stage and it was not long before his efforts to reach his mother became secondary to his need to expose the fraudulent mediums. He quickly became very bitter and willing to believe that all of the mediums were fakes. He began investigating their methods and claims and became a self-appointed crusader against them.

Houdini and his beloved mother shortly before her death

In 1920, during a tour of England, Houdini met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and a spokesperson for Spiritualism. The two of them became good friends, despite their opposing views on the supernatural. Houdini was delighted to learn that there was at least one intelligent person who believed in Spiritualism and found that man in his friend Conan Doyle. The author was convinced of the value of the movement to the world and had given up most of his lucrative writing career to lecture about Spiritualism around the world. He also found that Houdini’s knowledge of the spirit world was as vast as his own, although their attitudes differed.  In 1922, a rift formed between the two men after a failed attempt by Lady Jean Doyle to contact Houdini's mother.

The rift between the two men, which began with this event, deepened shortly afterward when Conan Doyle, and other Spiritualists, began stating that Houdini’s exposure of mediums was simply to cover the fact that he was a medium himself! They claimed that many of his extraordinary escapes were actually done by Houdini "dematerializing" from the traps that he had placed himself in. "This ability", Doyle stated publicly, "to unbolt locked doors is undoubtedly due to Houdini’s mediumistic powers and not to any normal operation of the lock. The effort necessary to shoot a bolt from within a lock is drawn from Houdini the medium, but it must not be thought that this is the only means by which he can escape from his prison. For at times, his body can be... dematerialized and withdrawn."

Now, Houdini was placed in the classic magician’s "catch" position, meaning that he could only go so far in denying the Spiritualist claims. By going any further than he had, he would have to expose how his escapes were accomplished, which he could never do. His reply was simply that all of his escapes were managed by purely physical means. He stated that his crusade against Spiritualism was simply a way to protect the general public from charlatans but he, however, was able to keep an open mind on the subject and did not assume that all mediums were frauds. Spiritualist leaders declared that Houdini’s actions did not agree with his words and so the magician made a pact with a number of friends. The pact promised that whichever of them died first, he should make every attempt to contact the others by way of a secret code.

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« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2007, 08:51:46 pm »

But Houdini still could not escape the claims being made by Doyle, so he devised a plan to make the author realize that all of his tricks were just that - tricks. He assured Doyle that he would give him proof that magic was accomplished through simple trickery. For this, he agreed to a simple test but the results of the test were so eerie that Houdini never practiced the trick again!

Click Here for the Story of the Strange Friendship between Conan Doyle and Houdini, including the strange test where Houdini planned to show Doyle that his escapes and illusions were only tricks!

Despite the private "death" pact that Houdini had made with his friends, he continued to debunk the mediums in his stage shows and through articles and books, showing how so-called "spirit forms" like "ectoplasm" could easily be created by the clever stage magician. But not all of the things that he witnessed during his psychic investigations was he so sure could be debunked. He kept vast files and records of his investigations and when he died, these reports came into the possession of Joseph Dunninger, Houdini’s friend and fellow conjurer. In the wealth of material, there was a record of one case that baffled Houdini.  Follow this Link to the Case that Mystified  Even Houdini and find out how this photograph played an important part!

Houdini was baffled by the case and admitted that he had no satisfactory explanation for the photograph. His friend Joseph Dunninger wrote that Houdini made no attempt to debunk or explain the photograph. “He did not see the light. It made itself only evident on the photograph,” said Dunninger. “This report shows that Houdini was willing to believe if the proof was brought before him... and was willing to give credit whenever credit was due.”

While Houdini may have been willing to believe in the unexplainable, he was still unwilling to suffer those he considered fools and frauds. In 1923, Houdini joined a panel from Scientific American magazine that had offered a reward to any medium who could prove their psychic gifts were genuine. The investigative panel had deadlocked over a medium named Mina Crandon, who used the stage name of Margery. In 1924, they stated that they believed Crandon to be genuine and were prepared to give her the $2500 reward.  Houdini was shocked and traveled to Boston to witness a seance for himself. What happened next remains shrouded in mystery -- although it is clear that Crandon did not trust Houdini and the magician himself had stated that he was determined to expose the medium as a fraud.  Click Here to Read More about Margery and the Controversial Tests that Houdini subjected her to.

Houdini quickly recovered from the scandal surrounding the Margery investigations and he went on to continue his work against the Spiritualists until his death on Halloween of 1926. At that time, the curtain fell on the great magician for all time - or did it?

On the night of October 11, a chain slipped during Houdini’s famous Underwater Torture escape and fractured his ankle. A doctor in the audience advised him to end the show and go to the hospital but he refused. In fact, he finished the entire performance painfully hopping on one foot. Afterwards, he was ordered to stay off his feet for at least one week, but he continued his shows anyway.

It was the afternoon of October 22 when two students, who had heard Houdini give a lecture the week before, stopped by the magician’s dressing room before the evening show. Houdini was very courteous to the young men but was also occupied with his mail. He wasn’t paying close attention when one of the boys asked if it was true that Houdini could withstand powerful blows to the stomach. He absently replied that he could as long as he had time to brace himself in anticipation of the punch. The boy, thinking that Houdini had given permission for just such a demonstration, suddenly leaned forward and struck him sharply in the abdomen with a clenched fist. When Houdini looked startled, the boy quickly backed away, explaining in a panic that he thought that Houdini had given him permission to hit him. The boy felt terrible seeing the performer so clearly in pain, but the magician soon recovered enough to reassure the young man and then step onto the stage for his show.

Throughout the evening, Houdini was seen wincing in pain and late that night, he admitting to crippling pangs that continued to get worse. His performances over the next two days consisted of hours of agony, save for brief intermissions when he fell into a restless sleep. He was examined by doctors upon his arrival in Detroit and was diagnosed as having acute appendicitis. He had a fever of 102 degrees but refused to stay at the hospital. He was scheduled to perform at a sold-out show that night and was determined to be there.

By the time that he took the stage, his fever had gone up to 104. He was tired, feverish and tormented by abdominal pains, plus the broken ankle from a few weeks past. He somehow managed to perform the entire show though, although his terrified assistants were constantly forced to complete some motion that Houdini couldn’t manage. Spectators reported that he often missed his cues and that he seemed to hurry the show along. Between the first and second acts, he was taken to his dressing room and ice packs were placed on him to try and cool his fever. This was repeated between acts two and three as well. Toward the end of the evening, he began doing what he called “little magic” with silks and coins, card sleights and questions and challenges from the audience. He remained on the stage throughout the evening but just before the third act, he turned to his chief assistant and said “Drop the curtain, Collins, I can’t go any further”. When the curtain closed, he literally collapsed where he had been standing. Houdini was helped back to his dressing room and he changed his clothes but still refused to go back to the hospital.

He went to his hotel, still convinced that his pain and illness would subside. It was not until the early morning hours, when Bess threw a tantrum, that the hotel physician was summoned. He in turn contacted a surgeon and Houdini was rushed to the hospital, of course, against his will. An operation was performed immediately but the surgeons agreed that there was little hope for him to pull through. His appendix had ruptured and despite the efforts of medical experts, it was suggested that Bess contact family members. Despite the seriousness of his condition though, Houdini managed to hang on until the early morning hours of October 31. In the darkness, he turned to Bess and his brother, Hardeen, who he affectionately called "Dash", and spoke quietly to them. "Dash, I‘m getting tired and I can‘t fight anymore", he murmured, then turned away. Houdini then stepped through the curtain from this world to the next.

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« Reply #12 on: February 20, 2007, 08:53:50 pm »

Many mysteries still surround the death of Houdini, although many of these mysteries have come about thanks to the fact that there are at least seven different versions of how his death occurred. They include him dying in the arms of Bess in Boston and Chicago, dying while hanging suspended upside-down in a glass tank, dying while performing at the bottom of a river, dying while trapped in a locked casket and others. What actually happened is what you have just read in the preceding portion of the chapter and it is known that Houdini died of a ruptured appendix. It’s likely though that the appendix did not rupture when the young man punched him in the abdomen in his dressing room. This could have caused the actual rupture, but Houdini was probably suffering from appendicitis before the incident. However, the infamous punch is generally accepted as the legendary cause of death.

And more mysteries came about in the days following his death as reports from clairvoyants who claimed to have predicted Houdini’s death and to have witnessed signs and omens of it began coming in. A Mr. Gysel stated that at 10:58 on the evening of October 24, a photograph of Houdini that he had framed and hung on the wall suddenly “fell to the ground, breaking the glass. I now know that Houdini will die,” he allegedly said.

Gysel’s prediction came as no surprise to Houdini’s Spiritualist adversaries, who had been predicting his death for years. Sooner or later, they were bound to be correct! In 1924, Margery’s spirit guide, Walter, had given him “a year or less” and then he had predicted his demise on December 25, 1925. According to his former friend, Conan Doyle, he and others in his “home circle” had recorded an ominous message about the magician several months before his death. The message read that “Houdini is doomed, doomed, doomed!” And on October 13, a medium named Mrs. Wood wrote a letter to the novelist Fulton Oursler that read: “Three years ago, the spirit of Dr. Hyslop said ‘the waters are black for Houdini’ and he foretold disaster would claim him while performing before an audience in a theatre. Dr. Hyslop now says the injury is more serious than has been reported and that Houdini’s days as a magician are over.”

According to accounts, Houdini himself had premonitions of the coming events. Among his clippings was one from 1919 recording the collapse, onstage in Detroit, of a comedian named Sidney Drew. The performer had taken ill in St. Louis, but had continued to play, against all advice, until in Detroit, when he could simply go no further. Those who discovered this clipping among Houdini’s belongings must have found the death of the comedian to be eerily similar to that of Houdini himself!

His friend, fellow magician Joseph Dunninger, also had an eerie story to recall after Houdini’s death. He said that on one early morning in October 1926, Houdini called him in New York and asked him to come with his car to West 113th Street, as he was in a hurry and had to move some things. When the car was loaded, he asked Dunninger to drive through the park.

Dunninger said that as they got to the exit on Central Park West, around 72nd Street, Houdini grabbed him by the arm and urged him to go back to his house. Puzzled, Dunninger asked him if he had forgot something? “Don’t ask questions, Joe,” Houdini replied, “just turn around and go back.”

Dunninger drove back to the house and when they arrived, Houdini climbed out of the car and stood looking at the house in the rain. He stayed that way, water dripping down his face and soaking his clothing, for a few minutes and then he got back into the auto without saying a word. Dunninger drove off and when the two men again approached the western exit of the park, he glanced over and saw that Houdini’s shoulders had started to shake. He was crying. His friend asked him what was wrong and Houdini gave a rather cryptic answer: “I’ve seen my house for the last time, Joe. I’ll never see my house again.”

“And as far as I know,” Dunninger later wrote. “He never did.”

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« Reply #13 on: February 20, 2007, 08:56:05 pm »

Not long after Houdini’s death, the famous “Houdini Séances” began and not surprisingly, continue today, although the official sanction of the Houdini estate ended years ago. While Bess planned to honor her husband’s requests about attempting contact with him after death, this may not have been what prompted her to seek the secret code that he promised to send her from beyond the grave - if possible. Like her husband had been at the death of his mother, Bess was at a loss as to what to do with her life with Houdini gone. They had been together since Bess had been a young woman and she had been living inside of his closed world and filling the role as his wife. She had been his partner in a very real sense and he always stated that Bess was his “beloved wife... and the only one who had ever helped me in my work.” Although there life had not been perfect, it had never been dull and as huge as Houdini’s ego had been, he never made it a secret that he depended on her totally. With him gone, Bess seemed to be drifting and empty. It’s no surprise that she wanted desperately to speak with him again.

Bess Houdini at one of the many séances that followed her husband's death
 But her life moved shakily on. While she was not rich, Houdini had left a trust fund for her and substantial amounts of life insurance had been carried on him. She had to pay heavy inheritance taxes but she had more than enough to live comfortably for the rest of her life. She sold their house on West 113th Street and  moved to Payson Avenue in another part of the city and became lost in alcohol and misery. She tried opening a tea room and thought of taking a vaudeville act on the road, but none of these projects really got off the ground. She soon began to spend her time attempting to contact her husband. Every Sunday at the hour of his death, she would shut herself in a room with his photograph and wait for a sign. She spread the word that she was waiting for a secret message from her husband and word spread far and wide that Bess had offered $10,000 to any medium who could deliver a true message from Houdini.

Almost weekly, a new medium came forward claiming to have broken the code, but none of them did until 1928, when famed medium Arthur Ford announced that he had a message for Bess. He told her that the message had come from Houdini’s mother and consisted of a single word, which was "forgive". With this, Bess had a startling announcement to make... claiming that Ford’s message was the first that she had received which "had any appearance of the truth."

In November, another message came to Ford, this time from Houdini himself. In a trance, the medium relayed an entire coded message - "Rosabelle, answer, tell, pray, answer, look, tell, answer, answer, tell."

After this information was relayed to Bess, she invited Ford to her home and he asked her if the words were correct. She said they were and Ford asked her to remove her wedding ring and tell everyone present what "Rosabelle" meant. This was the word that made the message authentic, a secret known only to Bess and Harry themselves. It was the title of a song that had been popular at Coney Island when they first met. The rest of the message was a series of code words which spelled out the word "believe" - the final clue that Houdini had promised to relay from the next world. But did Houdini actually communicate from the other side?

Not surprisingly, there were soon accusations of fraud leveled against Arthur Ford. Even though Bess claimed the message was correct, many claimed that Ford had gotten the code from a book about Houdini published in 1927. The press, the skeptics and Houdini’s friends refused to accept that Ford had broken the code and Bess, on their advice, withdrew her reward offer.

So, did he really break the "impossible" code? Arthur Ford certainly maintained that he had, going to his grave in 1974 with the firm belief that he had actually received a message from Houdini. In 1928, Ford had been the pastor of the First Spiritualist Church of Manhattan and was a respected member of the psychic community. He had also recently distinguished himself by challenging the magician Howard Thurston to a debate at Carnegie Hall, which Ford won. Thurston, who had been carrying on Houdini’s tradition of exposing fraudulent mediums, was stymied by being unable to explain some of the effects that Ford produced. After he came forward with the code, jealous colleagues turned on Ford and newspaper reporters and debunkers began to charge him with perpetrating a hoax, along with Bess, despite both of their claims of innocence. Shortly afterwards, Arthur Ford was expelled from the United Spiritualist League of New York but was later reinstated “on the grounds of insufficient evidence.”

But was he a fraud? Many people believe so and state that he actually found the “secret” code on page 105 of a book that was published the year before. Incidentally, the code was not one that was specially prepared by Houdini and Bess. It was very old and had been used in their mind-reading act for years. Despite all of this however, it should be noted that while Ford could have easily found the code somewhere - there has never been an adequate explanation (outside of fraud, which was denied by both parties) as to where he got the message that he gave to Bess!

Could it have come from the other side?

Bess Houdini continued to hold séances in hopes of communicating with her late husband but as the years went by she began to lose hope that she would ever hear from him. The last "official" Houdini séance was held on Halloween night of 1936, ten years after Houdini had died. A group of friends, fellow magicians, occultists, scientists and Bess Houdini herself gathered in Hollywood, on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel. The gathering had been arranged by Eddy Saint, a former carnival and vaudeville showman who had also worked as a magician. He had been recommended to Bess a few years before in New York to act as her manager, although concerned friends had actually hired him to watch over her and to protect her from being taken advantage of. A genuine affection developed between then and eventually they began sharing a bungalow together in Hollywood, a place where Bess had enjoyed living during her husband’s brief movie career.

Coverage for the Final Houdini Séance was provided by radio and it was broadcast all over the world. Eddy Saint took charge of the proceedings and started things off with the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance”, a tune that had been used by Houdini to start his act in the later years. He noted for radio audiences that “every facility has been provided tonight that might aid in opening the pathway to the spirit world. Here in the inner circle reposes a “medium’s trumpet”, a pair of slates with chalk, a writing tablet and pencil, a small bell and in the center reposes a huge pair of silver handcuffs on a silk cushion.”

Saint continued coverage of the event, finally crying out to make contact with the late magician. “Houdini! Are you here? Are you here, Houdini? Please manifest yourself in any way possible... We have waited, Houdini, oh so long! Never have you been able to present the evidence you promised. And now, this, the night of nights... the world is listening, Harry... Levitate the table! Move it! Lift the table! Move it or rap it! Spell out a code, Harry.. please! Ring a bell! Let its tinkle be heard around the world!”

Saint and the rest of Bess’ inner circle attempted to contact the elusive magician for over an hour before finally giving up. Saint finally turned to Bess. “Mrs. Houdini, the zero hour has passed. The ten years are up. Have you reached a decision?”

The mournful voice of Bess Houdini then echoed through radio receivers around the world. “Yes, Houdini did not come through,” she replied. “My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me - or to anyone. The Houdini shrine has burned for ten years. I now, reverently... turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry!”

The séance came to an end, but at the moment it did, a tremendously violent thunderstorm broke out, drenching the séance participants and terrifying them with the horrific lightning and thunder. They would later learn that this mysterious storm did not occur anywhere else in Hollywood - only above the Knickerbocker Hotel! Some speculated that perhaps Houdini did come through after all, as the flamboyant performer just might have made his presence known by the spectacular effects of the thunderstorm.

Legends or lies? Who can really say? Houdini was (and remains) a riddle. On one hand, he was an open-minded seeker of truth but on the other, a heated disbeliever in all things supernatural. If it can be said that a man is gone, but never forgotten, this should be said about Harry Houdini. He is truly an American enigma!

(C) Copyright 2003 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

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« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2007, 09:00:03 pm »

Then, this last news (from the fall) came from Nicole Jimmelson:

Book paints escape-artist Houdini as spy By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer
Sat Oct 28, 5:20 PM ET

NEW YORK - Eighty years after his death, the name Harry Houdini remains synonymous with escape under the most dire circumstances. But Houdini, the immigrants' son whose death-defying career made him one of the world's biggest stars, was more than a mere entertainer.

A new biography of the legendary performer suggests that Houdini worked as a spy for Scotland Yard, monitored Russian anarchists and chased counterfeiters for the U.S. Secret Service — all before he was possibly murdered.

"The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero" will be released on Halloween — the anniversary of Houdini's untimely death at age 52. Chasing new information on the elusive superstar eventually led authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman to create a database of more than 700,000 pages.

"There's no way in the world we could have done this book without it," said Sloman of the huge electronic index. "It would have taken 30 years — maybe."

The biography lays out a scenario where Houdini, using his career as cover, managed to travel the United States and the world while collecting information for law enforcement. The authors made the link after reviewing a journal belonging to William Melville, a British spy master who mentioned Houdini several times.

Melville, while at Scotland Yard in the early 20th century, helped launch Houdini's European career by allowing the performer to demonstrate his escape skills. Houdini, at a demonstration arranged by Melville, slipped free from a pair of Scotland Yard handcuffs as an audition for a London theater owner.

The book suggests that Melville's compliance was part of a quid pro quo in which Houdini worked as a spy. A similar situation occurred in Chicago, where Houdini's career took off after a publicity stunt aided by a local police lieutenant, the book said.

"Finding the Melville diary — we knew there was a connection, we knew there was something there," said Kalush. "But finding that diary solidified a lot of other things."

No less a Houdini enthusiast than Teller — the mute half of Penn and Teller, and one of the legendary performer's spiritual descendants — felt the link between the escape artist and the authorities was no leap.

"Law enforcement is about bureaucracy and cronyism," Teller said. "So they're going to let some entertainer walk in and escape from their jail cells? That suggests to me that (the authors) are on the right track."

Houdini was a relentless self-promoter in the style of P.T. Barnum, although he didn't play his audience for suckers. The biography recounts one 1902 escape, in Blackburn, England, where Houdini refused to surrender despite the use of plugged locks that made his freedom almost impossible.

After two hours, Houdini escaped to a standing ovation. The next day his arms were "hideously blue and swollen, with large chunks of flesh torn out," the book recounts. Because of the way the chains and rigged locks were fastened, Houdini "had no choice but to tear out the chunks of his flesh to get free."

That's entertainment.

Houdini's renown was such that he was known around the world by a single name long before Sting or Madonna.

"We know Houdini was a hero," said Sloman. "He could get out of anything — which was a myth, of course."

Kalush said the myth eventually overshadowed the man. "It's part of us: He's a human, I'm a human, he can beat anything, so maybe I can beat some things," Kalush said.

The biography's other hook is the suggestion that Houdini's relentless debunking of the Spiritualist movement, whose proponents included "Sherlock Holmes" author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, led to his death. The group believed they could contact the dead; Houdini believed they were frauds.

Houdini, at the turn of the century, joined his wife Bess — "The Celebrated Clairvoyant" — in presenting a trumped-up act in which he worked as the barker and she as the medium. But Houdini eventually crossed over to the other side, exposing phony mediums much as he'd once exposed copycat escape artists.

"I like the way that Houdini comes off as a real tough guy, which is no doubt true," said Teller. "He's not afraid to show up at somebody else's performance and scream, `This is my act you're doing. Why don't you try this trick?'

"That's a rough and tumble thing you'll never see a modern magician do."

The authors recount a pair of October 1926 incidents in which Houdini was viciously punched in the stomach, once by a college student in his dressing room and later by a stranger in a hotel lobby.

Houdini — the book suggests the Spiritualists may have arranged the attacks — died days later in Room 401 at Grace Hospital in Detroit. His aura of invincibility seemed over. But as the authors discovered, it still lives on today.

"He's compelling because of that myth, that he could not be restrained by anything," said Sloman. "The more successful he was, the more he became a symbol of the lone man resisting authority."
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