For Harry Houdini, Séances and Spiritualism Were Just an Illusion

Bryan Greene in Smithsonian:

Harry Houdini was just 52 when he died on Halloween in 1926, succumbing to peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix. Famous in life for his improbable escapes from physical constraints, the illusionist promised his wife, Bess, that—if at all possible—he would also slip the shackles of death to send her a coded message from the beyond. Over the next ten years, Bess hosted annual séances to see if the so-called Handcuff King would come through with an encore performance from the spirit world. But on Halloween 1936, she finally gave up, declaring to the world, “Houdini did not come through. … I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me, or to anyone.”

Despite Bess’ lack of success, the Houdini séance ritual persists to this day. Though visitors are banned from visiting the magician’s grave on Halloween, devotees continue to gather for the tradition elsewhere. Ever the attention-seeker in life, Houdini would be honored that admirers are still marking the anniversary of his death after 95 years. He’d likely be mortified, however, to learn that these remembrances take the form of a séance.

More here.