Harry Houdini’s Mission to Expose Fake Spiritualists

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Harry Houdini, whose name is synonymous with amazing escape acts, was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, illusionists of all time.


Houdini’s greatest and most memorable escape act was the “Chinese water torture cell”. In this escape, Houdini’s feet were locked in stocks and he was lowered into a tank filled with water.




The mahogany and metal cell featured a glass front so the audience could clearly see Houdini. The stocks were locked to the top of the cell and a curtain hid his escape. To make the escape even more difficult, a metal cage was lowered into the cell so Houdini couldn’t turn, limiting his movement.


But Houdini was also well known for another, equally, popular achievement, his mission to debunk fake spiritualists, psychics and mediums.


In the 1920s, after unsuccessfully trying to contact his dead mother through a string of mediums who he found to be fakes, Houdini began investigating their methods and claims, appointing himself the crusader against them.


During personal appearances to promote his movies, Houdini would show slides of the various mediums and denounce their supposed supernatural abilities. He would also answer questions, from newspapers throughout the country, about false mediums and their methods of tricking unsuspecting guest who are desperate to believe they can finally contact their loved ones who have died.


Houdini’s crusade to prove spiritualists as nothing more than fakes cost him the friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle, the famous author of Sherlock Holmes novels, was a firm believer in spiritualism during his later years, and refused to believe any of Houdini’s claims.


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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini


Doyle’s belief in spiritualism was so strong that he believed Houdini was a powerful spiritualist himself, and had performed many of his stunts by using his paranormal abilities.


Furthermore, he believed Houdini was using these abilities to block those of other mediums that he was debunking. However, the disagreement led to the two men becoming public antagonists, and Doyle viewing Houdini as a dangerous enemy.


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Before Houdini died, he made an agreement with his wife Bess that he would communicate the message “Rosabelle believe”, a secret code to her during a séance. Holding to their agreement, Bess held yearly séances on Halloween night for ten years after Houdini’s death.


Finally, in 1936, after the last unsuccessful séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, Bess blew out the candle that she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini since his death and said “ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”


However, the tradition of holding a séance for Harry Houdini continues today and is held by magicians throughout the world. The Official Houdini Séance was organized in the 1940s by Sidney Hollis Radner, a Houdini aficionado.


Although, Houdini has yet to send a message from the beyond. This obviously adds to his belief that once the final curtain comes down, it’s lights out.


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