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Houdini and the paranormal

Published October 17. 2009 09:00AM

I have had a long time interest in the paranormal that started as a pre-teen and has lasted until today. Part of this interest came from trying to understand about the realm while the other part was fueled by my interest as an entertainer in magic. Approaching the area as a magician, I learned that the showman Harry Houdini developed an intense interest in the paranormal after his mother passed away while he was on tour in Europe.

It could be said Houdini's three loves in life were performance, his mother and his wife probably in that order. He and his wife Bess toiled for years in the United States before taking their show successfully to Europe which helped propel them to the early 20th century equivalent of stardom. It was on one of these European tours that his mother died and in his sorrow, Houdini turned to the spiritualist movement and mediums to attempt to speak with her.

He quickly learned though that the mediums he encountered were frauds. According to some biographers, Houdini did believe that it was possible to communicate with the dead, but it was his disappointment in the fraudulent people he met that turned his rage and attention on the con artists who claimed to speak with the dead. In one of his experiences, he met with a medium who delivered a message from his mother in English which immediately made him realize the con. His mother only spoke to him in Hungarian, her native tongue, so why would she learn English to speak from the grave? He worked with the magazine "SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN" and offered a challenge to any medium that could communicate with the dead under his control of the experiment's conditions. The prize went uncollected.

According to some biographies, one of the reasons Houdini believed it was possible to speak to the dead stemmed from some weird coincidences he and Bess had when performing their own mediumistic routine early in his career. Their standard procedure was to enter a small town or area and visit the local cemetery to come up with some recent burials. Next they would do some research on the names they learned before the show.

In those days, traveling shows like Houdini would be mini-sensations so they were almost guaranteed the names they found would be related to people coming to see the show virtually guaranteeing a "hit" on at least one person they researched. They would deliver standard readings to the audience members from the "dead relative". Twice their predictions came true with accuracy, and it unnerved Houdini to the point he decided that it was not an area he wanted to exploit and they dropped the bit from their show.

Houdini's belief that communication was possible was so strong that he even left a message with Bess that he would deliver after he passed away if it was at all possible. The message was kept secret until Bess revealed it a few years after his death. She was very ill at the time she met Arthur Ford, a young medium, and after working with her, he claimed to successfully each Houdini. It was a claim later proven to be fraudulent in that Bess had revealed the message in an interview a year before but it was enough to give Ford the notoriety he needed to succeed on his own.

The message was a combination of a name and code words from their act. Simply put the message was "Rosabelle-Believe". After 10 years of seances, the last held at the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1936, Bess declared that Houdini was gone and blew out a candle she had kept lit as a vigil for her late husband. She supposedly said, "Ten years is enough to wait for any man," and that was the end of her participation. Magicians have continued the séance tradition holding an annual séance each October hoping that someday Houdini may reach out beyond the grave and provide the long sought proof. One anecdote I read that is allegedly true is that there was a low rumble of thunder as Bess blew out the candle which she quipped was the way Houdini would use if he could, but there is no definite proof this occurred.

Bess died of a heart attack in 1943 traveling from Los Angeles to New York on board a train. She was 67 at the time and was buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery instead of with Houdini because she was a gentile and was not allowed to be buried with Houdini who was Jewish.

As I've written in this column, I also believe there is a spiritual realm which exists beyond this physical plane. I also believe that it is possible to sometimes encounter that realm if conditions are right as it is an invisible dimension that co-exists with ours. My reasoning is the spirit is energy and energy is never destroyed. Our bodies house that energy while we are here and supplement it with nourishment and a safe habitat. When our bodies no longer can sustain the energy, they die and release our spirit back to that spiritual realm. Because of the universal law accepted by science that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only changes form, that spiritual energy continues to exist and if so, there is no logical reason why it cannot be encountered sporadically.

Til next time

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