(27 Feb 1926, Sat The Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana) Newspapers.com)
I caught a rather interesting story yesterday offered on Newspapers.com regarding
the great escape artist, Harry Houdini.
I thought I might offer the story here as it makes for a nice
diversion from our current headlines.
It offers a snippet of interesting history while touching
on the political climate of Houdini’s time.
For a little bit of background on Houdini, for those unfamiliar with
this early 20th century entertainer, I did a little digging.
According to Wikipedia, Houdini, whose birth name was Erik Weisz
and whose father was a Rabbi, was born in Hungry in 1874.
The family immigrated to the US in 1878, calling Wisconsin home before
eventually moving to New York.
As a young boy, Erich (the family adopted the German spelling upon
immigrating to the US) developed a love running cross country
as well as becoming a trapeze artist.
Young Erich would go on to become a professional magician,
changing his name to Harry Houdini after the French magician
Houdini would eventually become America’s favorite escape artist,
illusionist, stunt performer and mysteriarch.
He was a Vaudeville favorite and eventually performed globally.
Contrary to popular belief, Houdini did not die from a stunt gone awry,
but rather from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at the age of 52.
It is speculated that the ruptured appendix may have originated from
a man who had come to Houdini’s dressing room prior to a performance and
repeatedly hit Houdini in the abdomen.
Houdini often boasted that he had an extreme tolerance to being hit
in the abdomen.
This curious man took Houdini at his word by repeatedly hitting him.
Houdini abruptly had the man stop, explaining that he had not
braced himself appropriately for the blows.
Within a few days of the hitting incident and having suffered severe pain
since the man’s punches, Houdini began running a fever.
He was taken to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with a
To add to the mystique of Houdini,
he was known to be a practicing Freemason.
Fast foward to the roaring ’20’s.
America, as well as much of Europe, had become fascinated with
all things of the supernatural.
Mystics, fortune tellers, snake oil doctors, Mediums and seances had become all
Intriguing entertainment and fun parlor tricks yet there was
something much more alarming and even deeper than mere entertainment.
Many people longed to reconnect with those loved one who had “passed
over to the other side.”
Those who had lost loved ones who were sorely pressed to hear from
those lost loved ones—longing to hear from them just one more time
would cling to every word offered by a “Medium”—a person who
could connect to the nonliving.
Houdini, who prided himself on his professionalism, was hard pressed
to expose those who were profiting off the emotions of the bereft—
as well as those who were casting a doubtful light on Houdini’s craft.
Houdini boldly brought this issue before Congress as he wanted to have
a federal law created against those working under the guise as mediums
while profiting falsely from the emotions of those who were hurting…
As part of Houdini’s crusade against fraudulent mediums,
two congressmen (Senator Royal S. Copeland and Representative Sol Bloom)
sponsored an amendment to a Washington DC law that would essentially
ban fortune telling in DC.
The proposal was met with stiff resistance from the spiritualist community,
who charged that it would infringe on their right to religious freedom.
Houdini had hired a small army of ‘detectives’ working to uncover the
imposters and hucksters.
One of his most ardent ‘detectives’ was a 34 year old named Rose Mackenberg.
And so during the congressional hearing “the biggest bombshell of
the hearing—at least as far as the news media was concerned—
was dropped by Mackenberg herself.
Prior to the May hearings,
Houdini had sent his undercover investigators, including Mackenberg,
to visit suspected phony mediums in DC and gather evidence against them.
During her testimony, Mackenberg alleged that two spiritualists
had independently divulged that a number of their clients
were U.S. senators, and she even went so far as to reveal the names of
four of those senators while on the stand.
But most shocking of all, Mackenberg testified that one of the mediums,
Jane Coates, had boasted that seances had been held in the White House,
with President Coolidge and his family present.”
So it seems that maybe we should have exorcized the White House years ago
and maybe we wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having today…
but of course I digress…
Here is a link to the story…it makes for some interesting reading…
enjoy the diversion…
Good point about exorcizing the White House years ago.
Well who knew that the evil in DC has been there a long time. We should have but were busy and “let it slip”.
Just passed us by it seems 😏
And thus there has always been a slight of hand in the White House. BTW there’s a 1953 movie starring Tony Curtis as Houdini and Janet Leigh as his wife, Bess. It fascinated me when I was a young girl. Maybe it was because of Tony Curtis.
I saw that movie and it probably was Tony Curtis, but I was more of a Gary Grant sort of girl 🥰
He was cute too 😍
Ha! Good story! I never heard the part about the white house or the senators visiting mediums, but it was a practice of high society, so it makes perfect sense.
It just goes to show how Americans always seem to have a spiritual hunger…
Rose Mackenberg strikes me as something of a publicity hound. I am hardly an expert on President Coolidge, but the notion he would consult a medium strikes me as unlikely. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that a medium would make fraudulent claims. Isn’t that their “business model”?
I’m not surprised given the country’s zeal during that time in spiritualism— it was all the rage of the upper crust— more of a novelty really and Houdini was quite the attention seeking showman
It has been years. I remember reading a book about Houdini when I was in high school. Some of his stunts we quite scary. Imagine being dumped in chains through an a hole in the ice in the Hudson River. He slipped out of the chains, but he had trouble finding that hole in the ice.
I have no idea how genuine his campaign against fraudulent mediums might have been, but it certainly garnered publicity and added to his reputation.
The truth is often difficult to discern.
your last line Tom, says it all in so many avenues of our current lives…
My husband always says that folks like Houdini—and now the modern day wannabes who grace the likes of America’s Got Talent, have a death wish.
I don’t know if it’s so much a death wish as it is an odds risk—I’m not that big of a gambler—but Houdini does remain large in our imaginations…
The world seeks answers everywhere but in Christ. Yet He alone is the answer. ❤
Fascinating diversion to another place and another time
as you know–diversions are often needed 😉