Harry Houdini is probably one of the most famous magicians in the world. What a lot of people don’t know is that he also had a passion for the paranormal.
Houdini started his magic career at the age of 17 where he and his brother would perform small magic shows. He soon joined a circus where he fast became an expert with handcuffs – one of his most famous tricks as an escape artist. He became known internationally for his escape techniques and he was even able to be restrained underwater for long periods of time known as the ‘Chinese Water Torture'. He travelled around the world performing his tricks in theatres with an international reputation as the world’s greatest escape artist.
Before this newfound fame when he was working with his brother, they had problems making ends meet with just their small magic shows. So he took a job with a travelling medicine show where he pretended to be a physical medium. He would act as if he was going into a trance-like state and give messages from the dead. He would feel guilty about this and would attempt to make it right later in life by becoming involved with the paranormal field.
After the death of his mother in 1920, he began to focus on debunking psychics and mediums. He initially tried to make contact with his mother through a medium but quickly found that everyone he consulted, seemed to be a fraud (which was rampant in this era when spiritualism was at peak popularity). He decided to start investigating their methods and what ‘magic’ they were using to deceive people. He became so passionate about it that his need to contact his Mother took a back seat to his crusade. He would attend séances in disguise and dramatically reveal his identity at the end exposing the fraudulent mediums which gained a lot of press. He was then able to demonstrate exactly how they had deceived people which became his speciality. It seemed there was no psychic trick that he wasn’t able to emulate. He would often take interviews in the press exposing the frauds and during his silent movies, he would project slides of mediums and expose them and their lack of psychic ability.
In 1923 he travelled across the country to lecture on the topic and released a book ‘A Magician among the spirits'. He would demonstrate on stage just how easy it was to fake contact with the other side. In 1925 Houdini opened a new act where he offered a prize of $10,000 to any psychic whose methods he could not mimic with his magic.
Houdini died on the 31st of October 1926. He was asked by a visiting student if it was true that he could withstand a blow to the stomach. Houdini replied he could if he had a chance to brace himself. The student then punched him 4 times in the stomach with full force – he had not been prepared. For the next 2 days, Houdini remained in pain and when he eventually saw a doctor, he was diagnosed with appendicitis. Instead of surgery, he decided to go ahead with his scheduled performance for the night. Audience members commented that he didn't seem to be with it and missed his cues. He was in a great deal of pain. By the third act, he asked his assistant to lower the curtain because he couldn’t go on. As the curtain was lowered, he collapsed on the floor. He still refused care until his wife insisted he go to the hospital the next morning. He agreed and was rushed into surgery. His appendix had already ruptured and it was too late, there was nothing the Dr’s could do. Surrounded by his wife and brothers, he passed away.
Houdini was open-minded, remember, his crusade started in an attempt to contact his Mother. It seems he did want to believe it was possible, so he made a pact with friends that he would attempt to contact them when he passed away, giving his wife Bess a secret code. His wife Bess offered a prize of $10,000 to anyone who could prove they had made contact with her husband by giving her the secret code that only she knew. In 1928, Arthur Ford came forward claiming to have a message from Houdini himself. Bess was able to confirm that it did in fact include the secret code she had shared with her husband. She later retracted the statement.
Bess continued to hold séances in order to contact her husband. The final Séance was on the 10-year anniversary of his death and covered by radio to be broadcast all over the world. While a medium was attempting to make contact, after an hour it seemed that Houdini did not want to communicate. His wife decided to end the séance and all attempts to contact him. As the séance was closed, a violent storm poured down with rain, thunder and lightning drenching all of the participants. They would soon find out that the storm seemed to be localized to the séance area and did not occur anywhere else. Was this Harry’s final goodbye?
Whilst we mainly know Harry Houdini for his magical abilities, he should be equally recognized and thanked for the work that he did in the paranormal field. He was one of the original crusaders against deception.
All photos belong to thegreatharryhoudini.com
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