Houdini S?ance on the Internet: Is Google a Web 2.0 Delphic Oracle?
Houdini in handcuffs, 1918 New York Times
The great magician and conjurer, Harry Houdini died on Halloween on October 31st in 1926.
The numerous movies and books published about his enigmatic life generally mention that he spent a good deal of time trying to contact his mother from beyond the grave and held numerous s?ances.
Though a few accounts point to an obsession with his mother (mostly movie hype), research from The Harry Houdini Museum states that he was a very independent man who left home at 17 and married at 19; even though he cared for his mother in her final days.
This obsession with spiritualism and exposing mediums may have just been a way to gain publicity. Houdini had an an extensive library of occult and spiritual books. He befriended Sir Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes in order to gain access to s?ances since Doyle’s wife who practiced automatic writing was invited to and held many seances. Though the relationship of Doyle and Houdini was initially friendly interest and sharing of knowledge and viewpoints; when Houdini eventually publically denounced all mediums as frauds (passively including Lady Doyle) their supposed friendship was severed.
This behavior ties into another theory held about Houdini’s motivation. He apparently had a pattern of discrediting those he admired. Houdini wrote a book in 1908 called The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin in which he twists and distorts information about the man (Robert-Houdin), who not only was the origin of Houdini’s professional name but inspired him to become a magician.
Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, head of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) (in New York City) at the time of Houdini’s campaign against mediums, stated that the magician showed:
…considerable bias by his selection of mediums and phenomena.” According to Prince, Houdini “only chose to investigate those [mediums] already deemed spurious or very dubious by careful researchers in America and Britain, and ignored psychics and phenomena generally treated with respect by the same people.”
Houdini died on Halloween after complications from peritonitis and pledged he would try to contact his wife Bess after his death and that a s?ance should be held on each anniversary of his death in an attempt for him to transmit words only Bess knew that were in a special code.
Bess held s?ances for 10 years with no success. The last s?ance was held on October 31, 1936 (the tenth anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death), on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood.
Recording from the internet archives:
Some 300 invited guests formed the outer circle, with 13 scientists, specialists in the occult, reporters, magicians, and spiritual leaders joining Mrs. Houdini in an inner circle.This documentary recording is narrated by George L. Boston. The voice of Mrs. Harry Houdini is included.
There is mention of a letter by Bess written to Reverend Arthur Ford stating:
“Regardless of any statement 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.” (photo of letter)
Reverend Ford received a message that he believed to have originated from Houdini and conveyed it to Bess Houdini. Critics insist that Bess had inadvertently revealed the code to reporters the year before.
In any case, s?ances are still held every year on the anniversary of Houdini’s death.
The Harry Houdini Museum originally held these s?ances in New York City in Houdini’s official home town as an adult. The s?ances are held by Walter B. Gibson, Houdini’s ghostwriter and confidant, Dorothy Dietrich, an accomplished magician on the Board of Directors of the museum and John Bravo, well know magician, editor and publisher of Hocus Pocus Magazine. These s?ances are held as a tribute to the artist.
Though s?ances, both professional and amateur are conducted all over the world on October 31st, there is also one other live internet s?ance being held by The James Randi Educational Foundation and WeirdThings.com.
Prominent skeptics and magicians will attempt to make contact with the spirit of Harry Houdini in front of a live internet audience on October 31st, 2009 at 9:00 pm EST.
The s?ance will be conducted by magician and publisher of WeirdThings.com Andrew Mayne, WeirdThings.com editor-in-chief Justin Robert Young and magician and Scam School star Brian Brushwood.
Behind the Scenes at the Houdini Seance
Update: The seance was an entertaining, Web 2.0, comedic, publicity stunt (definitely in the spirit of Houdini, the master of publicity stunts). Since all their “pseudo-scientific” methods of proving Houdini was making contact with them by revealing the contents of the sealed envelopes, failed; it’s interesting how they resorted to using Google search as a “control” (by typing their wrong guesses and the words in the envelope, hoping Google would find a connection). Is Google a Web 2.0 oracle, as Delphi was to the Greeks?
American Society for Psychical Research, Inc. 5 West 73rd Street New York, New York 10023
Photo credit: Houdini in handcuffs, 1918. Bettmann/Corbis, through The New York Times photo archive,Wikimedia Commons.