The 87th annual Harry Houdini Séance will be held Halloween day at 1:26 p.m. at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pa. The annual séance is held at numerous locations across the nation to commemorate the efforts of the legendary magician and to discredit phony mediums who he regarded as charlatans and con artists.
Houdini was a legendary escape artist and magician who has been the subject of numerous books and movies. During Houdini’s life, the spiritualism movement was at a peak in the United States and Europe. Spiritualists allegedly attempt to contact the spirits of the deceased charging large fees for their phony services. The Spiritualism movement was started by the three Fox sisters in Hydesville who used séances to scam people. In later years one of the sisters, Margaret, confessed the movement was mired in fraud and she and her sisters had conned many people. By then it was too late. The Spiritualism movement had gained much traction in the U.S. until Houdini nearly dealt the movement a death blow.
Following the death of his mother, the grieving Houdini attended a séance in an effort to make contact with his dearly departed mother. During the séance Houdini observed the “mediums” were utilizing magicians’ illusions and tricks to stage theatrics that were represented as the spirits of the deceased. Convinced the séance was a sham, the enraged Houdini set upon a campaign to expose these phony mediums. In doing so he set a standard that is followed by magicians today.
Houdini regarded himself as an ‘honest deceiver’ not a ‘dishonest deceiver’,“ said magician Dorothy Dietrich who serves as curator of the Houdini Museum. “He believed that magic should be used to entertain people, not to cheat them. These mediums were taking advantage of people that were vulnerable and grieving. They would get people in contact with their loved ones for a fee.”
In the years following his mother’s death, Houdini exposed numerous phony mediums and inspired other magicians to follow suit. The Amazing Randi, Dietrich, Penn & Teller and Dick Brookz are magicians that have exposed these unscrupulous mediums. According to Dietrich, mediums are thriving today in the U.S. and Europe.
Dietrich doesn’t mince her words in her criticism of “psychics” Sylvia Brown, Lisa Williams and John Edwards who she cites as examples of phony mediums that are taking advantage of grieving people who are seeking to communicate one last time with their deceased loved one.
When Houdini died he was still unconvinced that it was impossible to escape the other realm and to communicate with the world of the living. He died on Halloween day 1926 from a ruptured appendix at the age of 52. He asked his wife, Bess, to host a séance each year for ten years after his death. Her first séance was held on Oct. 31, 1927 and was broadcast around the world. He had given her a message that only she knew and if he returned he would give her that message. For ten years afterward Bess made the annual attempt to contact her deceased husband with no success. In 1936 she signed off for the last time convinced her husband, the legendary escape artist, had finally entered a realm from which even he could not escape.
The séances continued each year since then in an attempt to reach Houdini and to remind the public to remember his work and not to place any trust in mediums.
“Houdini never said he would come back,” said Dietrich. “He said he would try to escape the other realm and if anyone could do it Houdini could.”
Over the years there have been incidents that many have concluded was the spirit of the famed magician in their presence. On the fiftieth anniversary of his death, a photo of Houdini performing the famed Chinese Water Torture escape fell from the wall. Four years ago, a hawk appeared at the Houdini grave site and showed no fear of the people present at the site. According to Dietrich, Houdini used a hawk in his show in the final years of his life.
Houdini’s work at discrediting phony mediums is the primary focus of the séances. They are intended to remind people that such unscrupulous people are prepared to cheat honest grieving people.
“We had a man come into our museum not long ago who had been to a phony medium,” said Dietrich. “They tried to get him to take a substantial amount of money from the bank and bring it to them. They told him the money was cursed and they were going to cleanse the money of the curse.”
According to Dietrich, the mediums were attempting to scam the man with an old switch con in which they take the money and bundle it up. The mediums then tell the victim of their scam to take the bundle home and put it in his freezer and not to look at the money for 30 days. After 30 days when he looks in the freezer he will realize they switched the bundles and his bundle contains no money. By then the con artists are long gone with the victim’s money. Dietrich attempted to persuade the gentleman to contact the police but he refused and told her the “psychics” know where he lived.
Will the master escape artist finally break through the surly bonds of the hereafter and make a dramatic entrance? The Tennessee Star Journal will publish an update next week.