Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween And Houdini: The Strange Synchronicity

Nearly nine decades after his untimely death, Houdini is still remembered as a magician extraordinaire and original escapologist. Perhaps not as well remembered was his crusade in his final years to expose fraudulent mediums and spiritualists. And that provides the basis for what I consider the synchronicity between Houdini and Halloween - that time of year traditionally thought to be when the veil between this life and the next is at its thinnest.

It wasn't so much that Houdini disbelieved in the spirit world or those who had crossed over being able to reach out to those still on this side of the veil,  but after having been disappointed time and again in his efforts to contact his beloved mother after her death, he grew angry over those who would prey on the grief of others.

For years he investigated, challenged, lectured against and exposed mediums, and towards the end of his career/life made demonstrations of fraudulent mediumship a part of his magic show. The battle he waged was so fierce that spiritualists began to curse him and predict his demise. Evidently Houdini began to suspect the spiritualists were seriously out to get him.

Many years after Houdini's death his friend and associate wrote a newspaper column which tells of a premonition Houdini was having concerning this. In his article How Did Houdini Know? Fulton Oursler revealed:

One Saturday in early autumn, Houdini called me on the telephone. He was very excited.

"Listen," he began, I'm leaving on a tour in a little while. Probably I'm talking to you for the last time. They are going to kill me."


"Fraudulent spirit mediums. Don't laugh. Every night they are holding seances and praying for my death. "

Oursler goes on to relate how a few weeks after that phone call he received a visit from a lady he called Mrs. Hartley, who claimed to have a message she received in a trance. It was allegedly from Professor James H. Hyslop, founders of  the American Society for Physic Research, and read:

"The waters are dark for Houdini. He thinks he has only broken his ankle, but his days of attacking spiritualism are over."  

The waters were indeed dark for Houdini. Shortly after Oursler received this message Houdini developed a case of appendicitis that he ignored. It soon progressed into a full blown peritonitis. This was fairly a death sentence in those pre-antibiotic days of the 1920s.

Struggling for days and surviving two surgeries, Houdini finally gave up the ghost on Halloween, 1926.

His widow, Bess, tried for a decade to make contact with him through seances, finally giving up and turning off the light for good at her personal shrine to her husband. She became convinced that communication with dead was not possible.

But that did not keep his admirers from continuing the Halloween seance tradition. I remember well as a teenager the hoopla in 1976 - the fiftieth anniversary of his death - when once again Houdini disappointed his fans. And you can bet that somewhere there will be those trying again to reach him this Halloween. The two forever seem to be connected.

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