The secret word is .......

30th October 2023. Reading Time: 7 minutes Famous Paranormal Cases, General, Harry Houdini. 6141 page views. 1 comments.

Halloween also marks the anniversary of Harry Houdini's death. Before he passed, he had given his wife Bess a secret 'password' that he hoped he would be able to communicate and perform his final escape .... from death. Yearly seances were held, but did the secret word ever come through?

Harry Houdini is a renowned magician and his antics are the stuff of legend  While he was most famous for his work as a legendary magician and escape artist, he also spent his final years on a crusade against fraud within the spiritualism community. If you don't know about Houdini and his links to exposing paranormal frauds, check out my article: Harry Houdini: Magician AND Paranormal debunker.

Exposing paranormal fraud

Using his knowledge of magic and sleight of hand, he exposed many spiritualists during the Victorian era when they were at their peak. Dressed in disguise, he would attend seances held by psychic mediums observing and watching them supposedly communicate with the other side. It would not take long for him to discover where the knocks on the table and the spirit voices were coming from. At the end of the seance, being the showman that he was, he would stand up in a dramatic reveal proclaiming "I am Houdini and you are a fraud!" He would then go on to demonstrate exactly how people were being deceived. It was something he also spoke about during public performances. It wasn't that Houdini didn't believe in the paranormal. He very much wanted to believe, but he didn't like frauds. It also made him a lot of enemies. If you want to read more about Houdini and his disguises, check out my article: Harry Houdini and the art of disguise

Image Source: Wild about Harry

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 – which he had not been prepared for. 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 doctors could do. Surrounded by his wife and brothers, he passed away.  One of the conspiracy theories surrounding his death was that the incident with the student was organised by disgruntled spiritualists, however, it is more likely his stubbornness in refusing to seek medical assistance which would have saved his life, instead led to his death.

Image Source: Michael Ochs Archives

Before he passed away, he had an agreement with his wife Bess that whoever passed away first would try to communicate with a secret word that only they knew. A seance would be held and if the secret word came through, they would know that it was the real deal and that it was really Harry coming through. 

Houdini's secret word (The Houdini Code)

The secret password that Houdini came up with was not just some random word he thought of. It of course had significance. It was a phrase that he and Bess used for years as a communication tool during their Vaudeville mind-reading act. The message itself was to begin with the word 'Rosabelle'. Rosabelle was the name of the song she sang in the act where they first met. This was also inscribed on her wedding band so it was hugely significant for the couple. The rest of the words were randomly selected by his close friend Arthur Conan Doyle.

1 Pray

2 Answer

3 Say

4 Now

5 Tell

6 Please

7 Speak

8 Quickly

9 Look

10 Be Quick

The secret message was Rosabelle- Answer * Tell * Pray Answer * Look * Tell * Answer Answer * Tell

According to, this is how the code is deciphered:

The message starts with “Answer,” which is the second word on the key-word list. The second letter in the alphabet is “B.” So the message starts with a “B.” The second letter in the message is “Tell,” which is the fifth word on the key-word list. Since the fifth letter in the alphabet is “E,” we see that the second letter in the message is an “E.” “Tell” is also used for the fifth and seventh letter in the message so we now have: B E ? ? E ? E The third letter in the message is the word pair: “Pray Answer.” This is the first and second word from the key-word list. So we have 1 and 2 or 12. Since “L” is the 12th letter in the alphabet, we now have: B E L ? E ? E The forth letter in the message is "Look", the ninth word on the key-word list. The ninth letter in the alphabet is “I,” so we have: B E L I E ? E The sixth letter in the message is the word pair: “Answer Answer.” This is 2 and 2 or 22. “V” is the 22nd letter in the alphabet. So putting it all together, we have: B E L I E V E

So the code word was ROSABELLE BELIEVE

Image Source: Wild About Harry

The Houdini Seances

Harry Houdini died on October 31st, 1926 - on Halloween. On the anniversary of his death, each year his wife Bess would hold a seance to contact her husband and offered a prize of $10,000 to anyone who could correctly deliver a message from Houdini. 3 years later in January of 1929, a man came ford called Arthur Ford claimed he was ready to speak to Houdini. In Bess's home on the 7th of January 1929, they held a seance. Ford's 'spirit guide' known as Fletcher, delivered the message of Rosabelle- Answer * Tell * Pray Answer * Look * Tell * Answer Answer * Tell. Mrs Houdini was quick to decipher the code as ROSABELLE BELIEVE. Mrs. Houdini went on to do an interview on the 9th of January to New York World stating "I had no idea what combination of words Harry would use, and when he said 'believe,' it was a surprise."

Ford had her sign a document to prove that she believed he had successfully contacted her husband. “Regardless of any statements made to the contrary, I wish to declare that the message, in its entirety, and in the agreed upon sequence, given to me by Arthur Ford, is the correct message prearranged between Mr. Houdini and myself.” (Signed) Beatrice Houdini

Was the Ford claim a hoax?

It turned out that when Mrs Houdini allowed the seance, she was very unwell. She had a fall the week before and was bedridden with influenza and on a lot of medication. She was said not to be of sound mind. It was claimed by a source that Ford paid Mrs Houdini to give him the code in advance. A claim both Ford and Mrs Houdini denied. It turns out however that the code had been published in a book the year prior by Harold Kellock in his Houdini, His Life-Story. Mrs Houdini also alluded that she may have accidentally revealed the code in a newspaper interview in the years prior. Ford never chased his $10,000 prize. Mrs Houdini took back her claim that the seance had been successful stating 'There was a time when I wanted intensely to hear from Harry. I was ill, both physically and mentally, and such was my eagerness that spiritualists were able to prey upon my mind and make me believe that they had really heard from him.'

Mrs Houdini continued the yearly tradition of seances until the 10th anniversary. She decided to gracefully bow out of the seances confirming that she had never received a message from her husband. “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 ten years. I now, reverently ... turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry!

While Mrs Houdini no longer participated in the seances, they have continued every year courtesy of the Magic Fraternity with different famous magicians leading the charge. It seems that no one has heard from Houdini since the day of his death.

Some believe that Mrs Houdini's backtracking was denial because she could not accept that the spirit communication was genuine. Her personal belief was that when she died that would be it, so was this communication too much for her mind to accept? Others believe it was in fact a hoax from Ford, especially since Houdini seemingly hasn't been able to come through after all of these years.

It is a very interesting concept in itself and one I know I have spoken to friends about. Do you have that certain word or phrase that is special to you that only a small select few would know? If this word came through to you after a person significant to the word had passed, would this be confirmation that they were communicating with you? I have heard many stories of this happening. If it has happened to you, I would love to hear about it! Tell me about it in the comments below!

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  • Joseph Kapusta 4 years ago

    Last year I had a surgery that required me being put under with anesthesia. Knowing of the Houdini secret word arrangement, I did the same with my wife before going under, sharing a secret word that only she would know. Alas, I made it through OK but funny enough, my wife later said to me that in recovery but still groggy, somehow I recognized her (although I don't remember this) and said to her, "am I dead?" How is that for being a paranormal researcher?