High atop the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles and the year 1936 stand, a man and a woman dressed to the nines and formal wear.
He sporting a long goatee.
She a shock of white hair and a double strand of pearls they appear, ghostly withered, behind them.
The old Hollywood Sign lights, up the Eerie night sky in front of them, sit, 300 star-studded guests.
The date is October, 31st Halloween at 8:00 p.m.
The goateed man begins to speak now, let us bow our heads in meditations and prayers.
About disembodied Spirits, please.
Now, the time is at hand, make yourself known to next to these two Souls sits, a shrine consisting of a trumpet, a bell.
And a pair of handcuffs.
This is no ordinary gathering.
This is a seance, we want the truth.
If there is communication.
But the people aren’t just waiting for any old Spirit.
They’ve gathered to welcome back.
One soul in particular.
It is a spin.
Please manifest yourself in any way possible.
The great Harry Houdini the Handcuff King.
Master of magic.
Prince of are simply the greatest magician who ever lived as the crowd waits for the spirit of Houdini to appear.
The sky above Los Angeles fills with angry clouds.
Sobs Bello up from within the congregation, but after some time, nothing happens, So Bess.
Houdini The Magician’s wife, she calls it.
My last hope is gone.
I know reverently turns out the light.
It is finished.
The Great Escape Artist, couldn’t escape the great beyond, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
From gimlet media.
This is not past it a show about the stories and the people, we can’t quite leave behind every episode.
We take a moment from that very same week in history.
And this October we’re telling you the stories that still haunt our world.
I’m Simone plannin on October 31st, 1936 85 years ago this week.
Houdini held the last official seance for the love of her life.
Harry Houdini the master magician told her he’d return from the Beyond if he could.
But that if was a big one, see Houdini was out to prove something.
Not just the obvious question of whether a person can come back from the dead.
This man was on a tortured lifelong quest to reckon with the forces who can’t see.
Let’s commune after the break.
Ask someone to name a magician and they will tend to name Houdini.
He’s still the most famous name in Magic.
That’s John Cox a self-described Houdini historian with a Blog called wild about Harry.
I’ve spent my life studying obsessively the life of Harry Houdini John says, while you might think of Houdini as a magician.
He was really more of an escape artist and his Heyday in the early.
He was pulling stunts.
Like emerging from underwater coffins wriggling out of straitjackets while suspended upside down over swells of anxious, crowds and embedded.
Within each Act was a promise Houdini made to his audiences.
No prison can hold me.
No hand or leg irons or steel.
Locks can shackle me, no ropes, or chains can keep me from my freedom and who did.
He went about proving it every night on stage and you could be there and witness and sometimes it was Something funny, you know, the University of Pennsylvania football team would so him inside of a giant football and he would Escape.
Sometimes it was terrifying, the water torture cell in which if he didn’t Escape, he would die for Houdini that burden of evidence showing his work to all those eyewitnesses was essential.
Houdini never presented himself as Supernatural.
He said, no, this is all natural.
I can just figure it out.
I can be presented with any situation and I can figure out how Escape.
And so, can anyone?
This is the human spirit.
This isn’t a supernatural act Houdini believed in the human spirit, that a person of strong will and strong mind could make any kind of magic happen.
Well, just about any.
See when Houdini was first getting into magic, back in the 1890s.
There was a different kind of magic but was also popular when he became interested in Magic during that time, there were magicians.
But also there was a rise of spiritualism and mediums and spiritualism was essentially the belief that one could communicate with the other side.
One can communicate with the dead, and you would do that through a medium.
Spiritualism dates, back to 1848 to these two.
Women known as the fox sisters, Katie and Maggie Fox claimed that they were able to communicate with Spirits in there Upstate.
New York, Farmhouse.
That’s Lisa Morton.
She’s the author of calling the spirits, a history of seances and Spirits would come to them via rapping noises and people would then sit around.
This table and ask questions in the spirits.
Would wrap out answers some theorize that the fox sisters were actually just playing an April Fool’s prank on their mother the first time around and it sort of got out of hand and just a few years.
It had become a whole religious movement spiritualism and the sisters were charging $1.00 per show.
Basically, these séances were they would try to conjure the dead, but Lisa says, just a few years later. 1852 a team of Skeptics came together to take a deeper.
Look at this practice.
There was a committee of scientists and investigators who got together.
And they discovered that the girls were making these rapping Sounds by cracking their toe knuckles in a very particular way.
Yup, toe Knuckles, didn’t expect that.
Did you, they could crack it loudly enough.
That people in auditoriums could make gout, these rapping sounds Oh my God.
Okay, anyway, so the fox sisters were totally debunked, but it didn’t really matter.
Spiritualism was here to stay the religious movement really took off in popularity, especially in the wake of the Civil War which saw such extreme upheaval than human loss.
By the time Houdini was getting really into magic.
In the early 1890s.
Spiritualism was a pretty prominent feature in American Life.
If Houdini was drawn to it, but he had some hesitation as John says mediums are magicians, gone bad.
They’re magicians who don’t tell you?
They’re doing magic tricks.
He did want to believe and he was always searching his whole life.
If it was true.
If you really could communicate with The Other Side, by John’s account, this tension, Houdini felt about this more.
Mysterious side of magic was really sparked following his father’s, His death, in 1890, to Houdini’s, dad had been a rabbi an immigrant who brought the family over from Hungary.
When Houdini was just four years old back in, 1878 Houdini.
That’s a stage name.
By the way, his real name was ehrich Weiss.
The family had settled in Wisconsin and a little town called Appleton times were hard and money was tight and when Houdini’s father died, he left the family and a precarious.
His financial situation Harry, who was 18 at the time was concerned primarily about his mom.
Who did he just loved his mother.
In fact, he just did everything for his mother.
His Drive had everything to do with taking care of his mother and pleasing his mother in the wake of his father’s death.
Houdini felt this responsibility even more.
He wanted to make sure his mom was taken care of Houdini’s.
Dad had taken out a life insurance policy but somewhere, Along the line, the dad had fallen behind on payments, meaning the family couldn’t collect the benefits.
Harry, didn’t know how to rectify the situation.
So he decided to get creative.
She goes to a spirit medium apparently with his mother.
Houdini thought that through this medium, he could talk to his father from beyond the grave and maybe I don’t know.
Get some advice about the insurance thing.
Houdini had pawned his father’s watch to pay for the medium and when they got started instead of giving Houdini and his mother, any specific information about the insurance policy.
The medium just kept going in circles about how The dead dad was in the afterlife.
Houdini could see immediately said, you know, this is very strange.
Why isn’t Our Father giving us the specific information?
We need he was suspicious immediately being the budding magician that he was, Houdini was familiar with the lengths.
People would go to pull off a trick and this seemed to be one of those moments at the expense of his mother ever.
The mama’s, boy.
This did not sit well with Houdini D.
He began to reconsider the legitimacy of mediums.
He realizes that a great.
Many of them are fakes, but he still holds out, hope that maybe there’s the real thing.
Around the same time.
Houdini’s magic career was floundering.
He still needed to make good on his promise to take care of his mom.
So he hustled performing magic axe with his new wife Bess.
The two had married in 1894.
When Harry was 20, he and Bessie are traveling around.
They’re performing with circuses.
They’re performing with medicine shows.
Houdini work dime museums all the time.
This was a very kind of a cheap venue where you could go in.
And for a dime, you would see a selection of Acts and they were pretty, pretty sketchy.
And he got the nickname dime Museum.
Harry because he performed in them so often, but he could always pick up some money in a dime Museum, but this wasn’t enough fed up with the lack of success, Houdini had an idea.
Bessie would go into a trance.
And she was actually the one who would contact the other side and deliver messages.
Despite his bad experience in the past, Houdini started doing his own medium shows.
While best was in a trance, Houdini would translate her messages using a mind-reading trick.
Popular among magicians.
Basically, they had their own code words that meant one thing for the audience.
But were a secret alphabet for the pair.
They also had another signature trick that had people lining up across the Midwest.
They pick people out of the audience and predict things about their lives.
The methods they use to make these so-called predictions though.
We’re actually pretty shady before performances.
They would often visit the local Cemetery with the town.
Gossip Monger taking notes on family histories as they walked from grave to grave, they’d scoured newspapers and absorb stories, around the dinner table at their boarding house.
They’d also purchased books of information collected by other local mediums on their clientele.
On stage, they weren’t exactly divining anything, just kind of using research tricks talking to the right people and getting lucky.
After a while though, this whole practice was starting to wear on who DD even when the predictions weren’t bought and sold in 1897, Houdini and Bess had a Fateful Encounter before a performance in Canada.
They came into town Houdini spotted, a boy, being scolded by his mother because he was riding his bicycle recklessly and Houdini sort of filed this away that night.
The mother just happened to be at their performance.
So, Bess digs in, and she says, your son is in danger of crashing, on his bicycle and breaking his arm.
And you know they ago just a little message from Beyond but what happened was the following day, the mother comes back to them in hysterics.
Accusing them of black magic saying, my boy, did fall off his bicycle and he did break his right arm.
Exactly, as you said, while the other researched predictions, didn’t seem to bother Houdini.
This one was different and Houdini kind of cited that as you know, what, let’s get out of this business.
We’re going down a bad Road here.
So, the couple left mediumship behind and returned to their magic Act.
I took some time to find success, but right before the turn of the century.
There, act really started to take off on the Vaudeville circuit.
They did more Escape acts and Houdini got like, really good at getting out of handcuffs, which side note, as PR stunts.
He happily performed at police stations around the globe, his escapes grew more and more complex and audiences everywhere were stunned.
How does he do it?
Rumors swirled that his talents were not of this world.
He decided to set the record straight and the most public way.
He could and gentlemen, I think Chris Traeger in introducing Mary latest invention, the wetted surface area in case you missed out.
Houdini is introducing the world to his latest trick the water torture cell.
By the way, these The only recordings of Houdini left in existence from October 1914 and New York City.
For this trick.
His feet would be locked in stocks.
He’d be dangled upside down and lowered into a tank of water with a glass front for easy viewing and Houdini made sure to tell his audience.
The most important detail, very nothing Supernatural about I am going to there’s that word again Supernatural houdini’d, never wanted people to think anything or anyone else was responsible for his Feats.
Remember the guy it was all about the strength of the human Spirit.
He could back up any trick of his with evidence.
The word Supernatural was also heavily associated with that other side of magic mediums.
Eating you that for the most part, they were just fooling people and he wanted no part in it.
Professionally personally though.
He still kind of wanted to believe he was just looking for concrete evidence.
His wife talks about how it would break my heart.
We would go to these séances and I would look at him and he would just be so sincere and he would just his eyes would be closed and he’d be so wanting for this to be the time where he could find.
We find a legitimate thing and then afterwards, he would just be so disappointed.
That it was another fake, not just disappointed.
But at some point pissed, Harry knew from experience, mediums were taking advantage of people often in their most vulnerable moments.
They preyed on individuals who are grieving at this particular time, people who lost loved ones in World War 1 or 2, the Spanish Flu, they also targeted.
Elderly scamming them out of precious money and possessions even sometimes real estate.
So yeah, Houdini did not like any of this.
And so it’s around this time that he begins to say.
You know, what, I’m beginning to think.
They’re all fakes.
I’m done giving the benefit of the doubt.
I know the tricks and I’m going to start calling you out which he begins to do.
And it really becomes this Wild, Third act for who dating.
He starts calling out mediums in the middle of their performances.
Sometimes even dressing up.
An elaborate disguise, has been revealing.
His true identity in a dramatic flourish, pulling an Undercover Boss.
If you will, for the most part Houdini kept his ghostbusting relatively low-key until 1920.
That’s when he would meet a man who would change everything for him and take this Feud to a whole nother level.
But before we get to that, I must call upon the spirits.
Are you there?
I need your help.
Give us your wisdom from the other side and guide us.
To the break.
We’re back from the Beyond before our ghostly break.
We learned all about Harry Houdini and how in trying to contact his deceased Rabbi father.
He got conned by a spiritualist.
Medium instead though.
He never really gave up.
Hope on the idea of contacting the dead.
Houdini did go on to spend part of the early 20th century outing Supernatural.
This practice ramped up when Houdini decided to perform.
And the man who was famous for writing a character who could crack any mystery, the author of the Sherlock, Holmes series, Sir, Arthur Conan Doyle.
He was a huge spiritualist.
That’s Lisa Morton.
Our spiritualism expert wrote many books on the subject.
He did lecture tours on the subject.
The guy was fully into mediumship Houdini was interested in Striking up an intellectual conversation.
The author, he also wanted Doyle to introduce him to some mediums in England, Doyle was into it and they developed a friendship.
He Houdini became friends.
They became really interesting and good friends.
And in the beginning of their friendship, I think Conan Doyle was out to convert Houdini.
Of course, Doyle had been to a few of Houdini’s shows and was convinced.
His magician friend was secretly a very powerful spiritualist.
I’m Houdini didn’t care much about what Boyle thought.
The men continue to nurture their friendship, even going on vacation together with their families and it was on one of these vacations and Atlantic City in 1922.
That’s some real cracks began to form in their relationship.
At the time, could enjoy his wife, had just taken up mediumship.
So one afternoon Conan Doyle says to Houdini.
My wife would like to have a seance with you.
And for the next hour Conan, Doyle’s wife proceeded to engage in a medium practice called automatic writing.
Which way is where supposedly the medium, lets the spirit, enter them and write on paper.
She wrote frantically for an hour.
She produced 21, written pages, purporting to be from Houdini’s mother.
And well, you know, womp-womp Houdini took one.
Look at the pages and was not very happy because as he noted, my sainted mother didn’t speak a word of English Houdini.
As we know was an Evidence man and English writing from his german-speaking, mother was decidedly, not evidence of communing with the dead.
He didn’t Express his disappointment or his high degree of skepticism to Doyle though.
He just kept his mouth shut and joy will read that silence and his own way.
And Doyle thought, great.
We’ve converted Houdini, Houdini expert John Cox again.
But Houdini went about his business and was interviewed not long afterwards where he said, you know, I’ve never seen anything that’s convinced me, that it’s possible.
And Doyle said, how could you say that Houdini my wife gave you a sandwich and he said, you know, I should have told you at the time.
But I got problems with that in the aftermath of this.
The two men stayed friends, though.
They began to draw deeper into their own corners.
They did rival lecture tours, while Doyle presented so-called evidence of spirits, like, photographs and experiences with mediums Houdini went for high drama.
He added a third act to his magic show.
That was all about the scam of spiritualism, but the relationship really went downhill fast.
In 1924, when Houdini released a book, he’d been writing.
It was called a magician among the spirit.
I was sort of a spiritualism debunking Bible and he actually sent a copy of that to Conan Doyle and Conan Doyle’s copy.
We still have and he has written across the title page.
A malicious book, fair enough.
I mean Houdini did have a whole chapter in his book on Doyle himself.
This seems to have been the Fatal blow for the two men’s friendship.
Now that the relationship was completely dead.
Houdini went full fraud Hunter.
He assembled, what he called, his very own Secret Service.
Hiring a small army of reporters and investigators to out fraudulent mediums, including some who catered to senators and prominent families.
Like the Vanderbilts a woman named Rose Mackin Berg was one of the foremost investigators in this crew and just two years.
She took down three Fake psychics across the country.
Her best-known Alias, Francis Rod.
F Rod, get it.
Fraud, Houdini spent a pretty penny on all of this by 1926.
This team was costing him.
The present day equivalent of somewhere between forty and fifty thousand dollars a year.
How did the spiritualism Community?
React to Houdini?
Essentially exposing them?
Well, they didn’t like it.
He was Enemy Number One.
Yeah, they They denounced him every way they could and you see a lot of ugly stuff.
I’ve anti-Semitism was what was thrown at them, and they would call him, you know, Harry Weiss, which was always a little bit of a flat to use his real name, but they would say, you know phony Spirit medium Harry Weiss is attacking religion.
And Houdini was said, I’m not attacking religion.
My father was a rabbi.
I believe in God, I believe in the afterlife.
I’m just looking for evidence and as a man of faith With Houdini felt mediums were mocking.
His own concept of God exasperated.
He wants asked, is the power of the almighty.
So trivial that all he can produce as a tipped table and the ringing of a bell with the god, that created the most breathtaking mountain ranges and spectacular waterfalls.
Stoop to manifest something as vile and base as ectoplasm.
In response to the attacks from the spiritualists, Houdini escalated, his fraudster finding campaign, all the way to Congress.
He was trying to get the US government to pass a bill, outlawing fortune-tellers in the nation’s capital and between February and may of 1926 Congress.
Actually met on four different days to discuss the matter.
During these bizarre hearings, Houdini asked spiritualists, to publicly prove, their superiority.
He offered them $10,000 in cash on the spot, if they could divulge the nickname Houdini’s late father, used to call him.
He also challenged them to reveal the text of a sealed question, you know, something they should easily be able to do since they were psychic.
Let’s just say that none of them took the bait.
They did feel free to hurl anti-semitic attacks at Houdini though and to make their own.
Actions about his fate in a hallway of the House of Representatives, during one of the hearings, a medium approached Houdini and said when November comes around, you won’t be here.
You’ll be dead.
Which might have been the only accurate.
Premonition of the entire Congressional circus later that year in October of 1926 Houdini was in Montreal Canada.
And he gave a lecture there on on spiritualism and he invited some students to visit him backstage as he would do.
And one of them student by the name of Jay Gordon Whitehead, who by all accounts, was sort of an oddball.
He may have had a steel.
Plate in his head from an accident.
Gordon Whitehead is there.
And at one point he asks Houdini is it true that you can be punched in the stomach as hard as you can and you can withstand the blow Houdini told him.
So old steel plate.
Head J Gordon white head.
Punched the magician.
And the stomach five times Houdini was sitting down at the time and so he wasn’t actually prepared to take the blows afterwards.
Houdini was in serious pain, it continued into the following day, but he just ignored it.
He and best made their way to the next stop on the tour.
They call a doctor who then insisted Houdini get to a hospital immediately.
But Houdini said The Show Must Go On.
He went onstage with a hundred and four degree temperature.
He struggled through his entire show, you know, collapsed between each Act and after the show was over.
Eventually persuaded to go to the hospital where they operated and to their surprise.
They realized oh my gosh, he had appendicitis in his appendix have ruptured and back then, you know, that’s a death sentence Houdini stuck it out for about a week.
He died on Halloween 1926 at the age of 52 worker of Miracles, succumbs to shackles of grim reaper.
Houdini keeps his Secrets tricks go to the Grave with magician.
I wanted more Houdini’s, but if you thought death would stop Houdini from continuing, his Crusade against spiritualist mediums.
You do not know Houdini.
Well before he died.
He was, well, aware that if I pass away, mediums are going to descend on my wife with messages from me.
And I want to give her protection.
And so, he said, let’s come up with a code.
Was this beautiful code?
It was essentially the word believe but it would be spelled out using their old mind-reading act from their earliest performing days.
And so he said when they come to you and they will say great.
You’re talking to to my Houdini.
What’s he say?
What’s the code?
Sometimes the way the people characterize the pact that he had with Bess and that people say he promised to come back.
You know, he believed he can do it.
So he promised her to come back.
That wasn’t what it was.
The Pact was a way for her to protect herself.
For a decade after Houdini’s.
Death mediums came out of their little fraud caves and tried every which way to communicate with him.
On January 5th, 1929.
There did seem to be a successful connection, a medium by the name of Arthur Ford correctly, conjured the code newspapers, went nuts.
But the very next day, a reporter revealed that the entire Conjuring was a fake best.
Who was Going with alcohol and thoughts of suicide had coordinated.
The Seance with The Dashing Young Ford.
But finally, in 1936 a full Ten Years, After Houdini’s death, best decided to put an end to her late, husband’s Crusade once and for all standing, atop the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, wearing a double strand of pearls.
She held one final.
Seance waiting for the evidence.
Houdini did not come through.
My last hope is gone.
I know really turn out the light.
It is finished.
Good night, Mary.
There was no proof and it seemed there.
Never would be.
That’s where the, Houdini story ends.
At least on this plane of existence though.
Of course in a certain way Houdini lives on in the hearts of his many fans, some of whom still hold séances, every Halloween for those fans.
And for all of us Houdini still inspires wonder even in death.
He still moves us to believe in something.
We can’t quite make sense of So much of what Houdini was fighting against, was the exploitation of belief.
He saw the power belief could hold when he performed his magic to wrapped audiences and he held belief clothes and his own life belief in the higher power has Rabbi father instilled in him.
I suspect it’s this reverence for belief for faith that pushed him to fish out the fraudsters with such righteous Zeal and to seek out the hard evidence.
Ants for himself that, maybe the supernatural really could be within reach.
Which feels very human of him.
We’re all seeking answers to Life’s big questions.
We all have that tendency to reach out for something Beyond us, especially when times are hard.
And we can’t quite see a way out.
I have to admit, I myself have turned to the mystical and my own times of uncertainty, tarot astrology that kind of thing.
And it has at times been incredibly helpful for me.
Do I actually believe in it?
Well, I just want to share one story with you.
I saw a Turkish coffee reader.
A few months into the pandemic.
I was feeling a little lost because, you know, reality had completely altered or whatever.
I wanted an answer to, what comes next.
So I call this woman and she picks up on my energy over Zoom drinks.
The coffee for me.
Then she launches into the reading.
I’m seeing you alone on an empty stage.
She says you’ll be doing some kind of Performing expectations will be big but you’ll be fine as long as you work hard and I’m getting a name.
Zack Zacks a good person to work with a month after that conversation.
I got a All hey, I’m doing this new History Podcast and we’re looking for a host that call was from Zack.
Zack Stewart Ponte a, you might know him as the executive producer of this really cool podcast called not past it.
So is it real?
Is that evidence?
I choose to believe.
Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.
This episode was produced by Julie Carly next week.
We’re traveling to Egypt to the uncovering of King Tut’s tomb and The Awakening of an ancient curse.
There is a feeling though that if you violate a Pharaoh’s tomb, your the committing sacrilege blasphemy and you’re doing Terrible thing, our producers are Sarah Craig and Amy Padula.
Our associate producer is Ramon Philip, Laura Newcomb, as our production assistant.
The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by Andrea be Scott.
Read our old timey Headlines fact-checking by Jane, Ackerman sound design and mixing by Hans Dale.
She original music by Sachs kicks.
J bless and Bobby Lord.
This And included, super special original spooky, music by Bobby, Lord featuring Natalia, paruz aka the saw lady.
It was recorded by Sam bear at Relic room.
Our theme song is Toko, Liana by Coco with music supervision by Liz Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman, the executive producer, a DSP media, exact Stewart Ponte, a the executive producer from gimlet is Abbie.
Special thanks to Lydia Pole, Green, Dan Behar and Clara Sankey Emily wiedemann list, Styles and Nabil.
Follow not past it.
Now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify and follow me on Twitter at Simone palana in.
Thanks for Hangin.
We’ll see you next week.
Houdini also targeted.
A medium named Marjorie.
Probably the most famous spiritualists of the time.
A woman who I kid, you not used to claim to spew so-called ectoplasm from her vagina later.
A Harvard subcommittee found out that the ectoplasm.
She was spewing was actually sheep lung.