Monday, May 16, 2011

Harry Houdini - Beyond the Grave

Almost everyone has heard of the incredible magician and escape artist Harry Houdini. His most famous death defying feats were the Chinese Water Torture Cell and the Suspended Straitjacket escape. A facet of Houdini’s life that you may not be aware of is the pain of his mother’s passing and his longing to connect with her from beyond the grave.

Spiritualism spread rapidly following the claims from the Fox Sisters that they were communicating with a ghost named Mr. Splitfoot in their home in Hydesville, New York. From this new fascination with connecting with spirits, numerous mediums began appearing across the United States and Europe. Each one hoping to cash in on societies longing for proof their loved ones lived on in the spirit world.

Houdini was hopeful that one of these self-proclaimed mediums could connect with his deceased mother and offer proof of her existence after death. He soon became disconcerted at the fakery which he encountered during séances. Houdini, being a master of illusion, had a unique ability to identify the methods many mediums were using to produce proof that they have made a connection with the spirit world. He uncovered several scams of table tipping, hands being produced, levitation, and ectoplasm to name a few. His primary goal was to expose the frauds but at the same time find an authentic medium.

Harry Houdini’s search for the truth undoubtedly left him the enemy of many fake mediums, but also cost him his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, was a prominent supporter and believer in Spiritualism. It was also known that Doyle would use tactics to embellish the séances for the sake of the audiences. This ultimately ended their friendship.

Despite their estrangement, Doyle was convinced that Harry Houdini was a powerful spiritualist medium who possessed a paranormal ability to defy death. He refused to believe any of Houdini’s exposés and claimed that Houdini was blocking the mediums he was trying to debunk with his own abilities. The extent of how far Doyle would go to fabricate evidence would soon reveal that not even he had a reverence for the deceased.

Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926 at the age of 52 of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. Prior to his death, he and his wife Bess agreed on a phrase that he would say if his spirit ever came back to earth. Bess carried out séances every year with the hopes of making contact with her husband, but no medium was able to give her the secret phrase. Séances are still performed today in an attempt to communicate with the spirit of Harry Houdini, but has anyone ever made contact?

This past March, I attended the 2011 Paranormal Conference in Gettysburg, PA and had the privilege of seeing Aron Houdini perform. Aron is the great nephew of Harry Houdini and is also an accomplished illusionist and escape artist in his own right. Aron performed some magic and illusions and ended his performance with the straight jacket escape. It was an excellent performance, especially when he dislocated his shoulder to free himself! Following his performance, he opened the floor for questions and the first question that was asked was "Has Harry Houdini ever made contact after death?"
Aron Houdini Facebook
Above is a poster of Aron Houdini. Below is Aron Houdini performing the straight jacket escape.

How cool is this I thought. A relative of THE Harry Houdini answering the question everyone wanted to know. Aron Houdini confirmed that to date, no one has made contact with Harry Houdini from the spirit world, but offered an additional story. It was speculated that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle went as far as using Houdini’s death to further his spiritualist cause. Doyle felt that the most believable piece of evidence he could obtain was the code word that Houdini told his wife Bess that would prove life after death.

Harry and Bess Houdini
Allegedly, Doyle hired a man to romance the widowed Bess and gain her trust. Once this was established, the man was to ask Bess the Houdini code word, which she revealed. The phrase was "Rosabelle believe" which was a phrase and song Bess sang in a musical she was performing in when she and Houdini first met. The man reported the name back to Doyle who set up a séance to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini. The medium was given the code word by Doyle and was able to convince the public and Bess that Houdini communicated from beyond the grave.

Fortunately, a relative of Houdini was doubtful that the séance was authentic and sought to expose the hoax. He soon was able to extract the truth from Bess’ suitor and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s trickery was revealed. The fraud that Doyle executed not only brought to light the scams within the spiritualist circles but also destroyed any future hope that a legitimate séance could be performed to contact Houdini.

Communication with spirits is once again extremely popular. The internet has exploded with psychics, paranormal investigation groups, and people reporting paranormal experiences. Unfortunately, many of these people are seeking the spotlight and participating in the fabrication of abilities and evidence for their few minutes of fame and fortune. These types of acts are entertaining but cast a shadow on those who are authentic and genuine.

Always use your COMMON SENSE and INTUITION when dealing with anyone or anything paranormal. Remember, you are your own best guide, if something doesn’t feel right, then it usually isn’t.

Kerri L. Schultz

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