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The Battle Between Spiritualism and Houdini

By: Chris Welsh - Updated: 28 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Houdini Harry Houdini Spiritualism


Around the early days of the 20th century a movement swept across America that was akin to the spiritual and religious revivals of the day, but while one would certainly say that spirits were involved, organised religion was not. Spiritualism was an attitude, an approach and a belief in human beings ability to connect with the residue of life that continued on after the death of the body. During this time people came forward claiming to be mediums, to have the ability to communicate with the dead and offered their services for a fee. From small back rooms in New Orleans to great big theatres in New York, spiritualists showcased their powers great and small.


Harry Houdini knew a thing or two about the desire to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Houdini’s love for and attachment to his mother has become something of legend and he pursued the claims of many a medium in hopes to receive a message from beyond the grave. His great success as a magician and escape artist allowed him access to the most prominent of the spiritualists, but no matter how often he made the attempt, he was never satisfied that what they offered him was genuine. He grew wroth at what he saw as their attempts to prey on his vulnerability and made it his purpose to expose them.

Houdini against Spiritualism

In his attempts to uncover the truth about spiritualists, Houdini often slipped in undercover to a séance and then exposing the trickery at the most inopportune moment—for the medium. His actions both in person and through his speeches and letters to newspapers earned him great enmity from among the leaders of the Spiritualist movement and even former friends such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels. Doyle was a great believer in the Spiritualism movement and remained convinced when Houdini did not.

Final Thoughts

Harry Houdini died on October 31st and every Halloween he is remembered. Not only do fans discuss his exploits, but family and friends perform a task set them by Houdini himself. His wife Bess was given a code word, one that Houdini would try to communicate across the great divide. Every October 31st a séance is held and Houdini’s spirit is summoned in an attempt to get the code word. Not once has this been successful.

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