Explore the roots of Spiritualism, from the Fox Sisters and their haunted home in Hydesville, to the seances, spirit cabinets and ectoplasm of the early 1900s.
Could Harry Houdini escape the grave? After ten years of Halloween seances, this recording was his wife’s final attempt to contact him in the afterlife.
It was said somewhere that if anyone could have escaped the afterlife, it would have been Harry Houdini. The famed illusionist could escape from anything, including straight jackets and prison cells.
Later in life, Houdini became devoted to discrediting the rising belief in spiritualism. He felt spiritualists, who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead, were doing nothing more than taking advantage of grieving family members.
Houdini made a pact with his wife, Bess, that if one of them died, the other would use all known means to contact them in the afterlife. They agreed upon a coded message only the two of them would know, to prevent fraudulent mediums from making false claims.
Houdini himself was the first to go. He died on October 31st, 1926 from a ruptured appendix.
As they had agreed, Bess held a seance on Halloween night every year for the next ten years hoping to reach Harry in the spirit world.
Mediums around the world claimed to make contact with Houdini during those years, but none were ever substantiated.
The secret message never came through.
The Final Seance
After ten years of silence, the October 31st, 1936 seance marking the anniversary of Houdini’s death would be the last.
300 guests, including reporters, magicians, and spiritualists, joined Bess and seance conductor Dr. Edward Saint on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood.
Simultaneously, 20 or more seances were being conducted around the US, Canada, and Europe.
Atop the Knickerbocker, Bess sat in the inner circle beside Dr. Saint and 13 special guests. A table in the center of the circle held items that Houdini’s spirit would be asked to manipulate: A pistol loaded with blanks, locked handcuffs that had not been unlocked since Houdini’s death, a slate and chalk, a bell, a tambourine, and a spirit trumpet.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, in this cathedral-like atmosphere tonight, I wish to remind you that this is a most solemn occasion for the close friends that have gathered here,” Dr. Saint said. “That the zero hour of the tenth anniversary of our departed friend is fast nearing the end, and that the results of tonight are primarily of a personal and private nature only. No attempt is being made to sway the world, or to convince the skeptics one way or the other. This is a personal gathering aiding Mrs. Houdini in completing her ten-year vigil, and to aid Mrs. Houdini and ourselves to a final and logical conclusion. Nor is it expected or intended that others must necessarily agree. But, this last personal attempt to contact the spirit of Houdini has aroused interest throughout the world, and to that extent will the findings here tonight be publicly recorded. We wish it distinctly understood that in this last and final attempt, we are interested in Houdini coming to us instead of to a stranger. Should Houdini contact a stranger anywhere in the world tonight, we know that Houdini will leave proper identification.”
When Harry failed to come through, Bess wished him a good night and ended the seance.
The final Harry Houdini seance held on Halloween night, 1936
The seances continued, however, and have been performed every year since.
Sid Radner, a protégé of Harry’s brother Theo Hardeen, resumed the tradition and kept it going through the decades. The small group of people who gather every year have reported some strange occurrences, but so far Houdini himself has not made his escape from beyond the veil.