Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 30, (Houdini)


HOUDINI!!!
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Silverman, Kenneth
HOUDINI!!!


This book was published by Harper Collins when I worked there as a temp in, I think, 1996. I can't remember if one of my bosses gave it to me or if I just took it home one day. Publishing house floors are literally filled with bookcases overflowing with books that no one pays attention to, so it's pretty common for underlings (like I was then) to walk home with them.

My recollection is that this is a pretty entertaining biography, especially about Houdini's crusade to debunk spiritualism and his odd relationship with one of said movements great champions, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Apparently, Houdini, in addition to his fame as an escape artist, had literary pretensions, and he attempted to exploit his relationship with Doyle to further them, a plan, obviously, that didn't go so well.

from HOUDINI!!!

Even before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle returned to America for his second lecture tour, in April 1923, his friendship with Houdini had soured. The spoilage was done by mail. For nine months after the Atlantic City seance, Houdini and Doyle wrote to each other every few weeks. The ocean between them made it easier than before to create misunderstanding, and harder to patch wounds.

The correspondence got off cordially enough. When Doyle read about the death in New York of the well-known "Human Fly," in a ten-story fall from a ledge of the Hotel Martinique, he pleaded with Houdini. "For goodness' sake take care of those dangerous stunts of yours. You have done enough of them." Mostly the two men discussed Spiritualism. Doyle, busy completing a monograph on spirit photography, had joined in experiments to disprove the alleged exposé of the Crewe Circle. The society for Psychical Research (to recall) had marked plates by X ray, whose absence in the developed negatives convinced investigators that the plates had been switched. Doyle informed Houdini that his own group had "knocked the bottom" out of SPR's case by that the X-ray tracings simply disappeared: "The evidence for that power is quite final." Houdini replied that his paid investigator at Crewe, DeVega, had detected and revealed to him the circle's "method of manipulation," an interesting one. "It is too bad you were so rushed when you were in America; otherwise, I could have shown you the report."

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