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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Houdini, Harry (1874-1926) Born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, Houdini made a fabulous reputation as an escape artist and magician, traveling internationally and earning top money in the field. His is probably the best-known name in conjuring.
      The escape act that Houdini himself developed was inspired by an act he saw in 1887 when he was just thirteen years old, an act based on that of the famous Davenport brothers. The budding young magician who was to revolutionize the art of conjuring realized that the performers were freeing themselves in order to carry out their clever deceptions, and he decided to make it clear to his audiences that what he did was accomplished solely by dexterity and skill. That he never failed to do.
      Late in life, following the death of his mother in 1913, Harry Houdini developed a serious interest in spiritualism and the question of survival-after-death; he turned his attention to the claims of the then-burgeoning spiritualist trade and investigated many of its popular stars. Houdini conducted successful and effective investigations of fakers in the field and published his findings in such books as The Right Way to Do Wrong (1906), Miracle-Mongers and their Methods (1920), and A Magician Among the Spirits (1924).

Late in his career, Harry Houdini went on the road exposing spiritualistic frauds by means of a full-scale stage show. His answer to the question, incidentally, was “no.”

      At one séance in which he tried to establish contact with the spirit of his mother, he was astonished to hear her speaking English, a tongue she had never used. The medium was unfazed. “In Heaven,” she reported, “everyone speaks English.” This rationalization was rejected by Houdini.
      Before his death, the great magician arranged a secret code which he said he would try to transmit to his wife Bess after his death. He had hardly taken his last breath before mediums all over the world began trying to guess the secret. The correct code was provided by medium Arthur Ford (which see) but the feat was not convincing to those who knew the facts behind it.
      The code itself consisted of the word Rosabelle, the title of a song that Bess had been singing when their first meeting occurred at Coney Island, New York, and the word believe. A ten-word “mind-reading” code was also involved.

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