Monday, October 5, 2015

Houdini in the Spirit World

Back in the early 20th Century a Boston spiritualist and medium named Margery was all the rage for creating seances that purportedly resurrected the voices of dead loved ones. She embraced some who tried to debunk her, even from Scientific American. None could do it until Houdini, the legendary escape artist and magician, took aim at her occult trickery. THE WITCH OF LIME STREET, by former screenwriter and astrologer David Jaher, tells the history of the era, and of Houdini, (including the multiple encounters that Margery had with those set on disproving her.) The golden age of the 1920s are the backdrop to this well told and interesting story, lending authenticity to the mood of an era which faded after Houdini died from peritonitis following being punched in the stomach by a man testing his strength. One of the most ironic elements is the inclusion of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, a skeptic who shouldn’t have believed in Margery, but did anyway for his own reasons. (Holmes the detective is known for his observational skills, but Doyle apparently was fooled by the skilled charlatan.) One of the prerequisites of the seances was that the room had to be dark, and Margery could be restrained but pulled off her feats anyway. Only Houdini, known to slip out of most any restraint put on him, saw through her. Narrator Simon Vance, with his artistocratic, accented delivery, is the perfect reader for this, and I recommend it to anyone familiar or unfamiliar with magic (including FOOL US magician Penn Jillette) for its slice of life (so to speak) unveiling of a momentous time in American history. 


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