Waiting For Harry

85 Years Since Houdini’s Death & Yet No Word From Harry From the Great Beyond

Houdini film still “The Grim Game” 1919

During the early 20th century perhaps no person was more famous than Harry Houdini.

Houdini about to be tossed into the water handcuffed and shackled

The master magician and escape artist had a variety of careers besides performing on the stage and in grand public spectacles. Houdini said he was not really a magician but a mystifier. He was the “King of Cards” as a master card manipulator, the “King of Cuffs” as he could escape from any locked device -many times under perilous circumstances; he was a best selling  author; lecturer; film star; pioneer aviator and most conspicuously and heroically a spiritual debunker.

Houdini standing beside his mother’s grave 1914

When Houdini’s beloved mother Cecilia passed away in 1913, he was devastated. He briefly considered suicide.  Cecilia’s death reawakened an interest in spiritualism in Houdini.  Since time immemorial, hucksters have been claiming they could contact the dead from beyond. The spiritualist  movement had begun in earnest in America in the mid-1800’s with The Fox sisters and had continued unabated throughout the early 20th century. Houdini in his quest to contact his mother began seeking out spiritualists. He quickly realized all spiritualists were fakes. No one could communicate with the dead. Houdini became angry that these charlatans were perpetrating a great hoax, not just on him, but on the public, who were not skilled as he was at picking up on how spiritualists performed their tricks.

Harry Houdini demonstrates how spiritualists ring bells with their toes

Houdini mounted a campaign he maintained for the rest of his life to expose spiritualists anywhere they were. He would give public lectures in the cities he would visit on these miracle mongers and expose their methods. His 1924 book “A Magician Among The Spirits” described in detail how the thriving business of spiritualism was a grand deception.

Houdini’s knowledge of illusions and trickery exposed mediums and psychics everywhere. Houdini had a $10,000 standing offer to any person who could produce any psychic effect that he could not reproduce naturally or explain.  Of course, no one collected the money.

Bess Houdini, Harry’s widow presides over her final seance to contact Harry Houdini October 31, 1936

Houdini continued performing throughout the world, and was still at the height of his popularity when he died suddenly on Halloween, 1926.  Houdini had vowed to his wife Bess that if there was an afterlife, he would contact her. For the next ten years Bess conducted seances on the anniversary of Houdini’s passing, waiting for a message from her husband. Surrounded at the 1936 seance by other magicians, Bess came to the same conclusion Harry had come to, and declared, “Yes, Houdini did not come through, 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 10 years. I now, reverently… turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry!”

Thirteen professional magicians perform a seance asking Houdini to manipulate one of the objects they have encircled on October 31, 1946, the 20th anniversary of Houdini’s death in Detroit, MI. No object was moved.

This did not stop others from trying to contact Houdini and they have continued even today to reach out to the great beyond and get a message from Houdini. They are still waiting.

Click here for a related New York Times story on Houdini’s grave site.

3 thoughts on “Waiting For Harry

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