Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Houdini Seance

Everybody knows who Houdini is and what he's known for. However, most cannot say they know about the seances his wife held every year for ten years to contact her deceased husband. First let me give you a little background. Houdini made a living out of mystifying people and performing illusions. That being said, he absolutely hated mediums, who did the same exact thing, except in a different way. Mediums had become exceedingly popular in the 1920's mostly due to the first World War. Parents and family members would go to mediums and other spiritualist and try to talk to their dearly departed who had left them while across the ocean. Houdini found mediums to be crooks and givers of false hope, so he did what anyone would do: try to discredit the lot of them! Houdini was pretty well known, so he had to disguise himself. He would go to mediums and pretend to be trying to reach out to a dead loved one, then would totally call them out when they attempted to reach this person he'd just made up. Houdini gained a reputation from this endeavor, which put him at odds with a lot of people. He even offered cash to anyone that could prove that they could contact the dead. Nobody could, and it further cemented Houdini's disbelief in the spirit world.

Fast forward to 1926 when Houdini is performing at the Princess Theater in Montreal. A local college student came into Houdini's dressing room and asked him if it was true that he could take any punch. Houdini replied that it was true and was subsequently punch several times in the stomach until he had to tell the student to stop (he usually tensed up his stomach when punched but was sitting down due to a sprained ankle). Houdini performed that night in great pain and was up for several days due to the incident. He finally went to the hospital in Detroit, MI where his next show was and was told that he had appendicitis and that he should have surgery immediately. Houdini apparently also didn't believe in life saving surgery. He performed what was to be his last show in Detroit and fainted several times throughout. He was finally taken to the hospital where he eventually died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix. The story doesn't end there, though.

Houdini knew that he was dying and must have done a lot of thinking, because what he decided next was completely out of character. He told his wife, Bess, that if anyone could figure out a way to speak to the living from the afterlife, he could. He gave her a secret message that only she would know and told her to hold a seance every year on the anniversary of his death-which happened to be Halloween-for ten years. After that point she could give up on hearing from him again. Bess honored her husband's peculiar request and held a seance every year for ten years, waiting for that secret message that only she would recognize. Houdini may have been able to get out of a straitjacket with ease, but he couldn't break through the barriers of the afterlife; his wife never received the message. Though Bess gave up on the seances herself, she asked magician Walter B. Gibson to continue the Halloween tradition of trying to contact Houdini's ghost. The tradition lives on today, in fact, with an official seance taking place at The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, and countless unofficial seances taking place around the country. To this day, no one has claimed to have spoken to Houdini. One last note: Bess let it slip to the press what the secret message was. Though it was in magician code, it translated to spell out "believe."

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