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The Houdini Halloween Séances

Harry Houdini, the ultimate Showman

The world's most famous magician and escape artist, could not escape one thing - his own death. Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926.

Every Halloween since 1927, a séance has been held to see if legendary magician Harry Houdini would try to contact the living from the world beyond death.

It was the night of October 31, 1936. Halloween night. The men and women sat at the round table with joined hands. They awaited the message – the message they had hoped for every Halloween night for the past 10 years. But the message did not come.

[Oddly enough, Harry Houdini did not necessarily believe that spirits of the dead could be contacted. Aside from his fame as a stage magician and astonishing escape artist, Houdini was just as well known – especially in the later part of his career – as a debunker of spirit mediums and phony séances. He felt, however, that if it were possible for anyone to come back, HE would find a way to do it.]

Finally, one woman rose from the table and announced to the others – and to a listening radio audience – “Houdini did not come through,” she said.

“My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me, or to anyone…The Houdini Shrine has burned for ten years. I now, reverently… turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry!”

The woman was Bess Houdini, wife of the famed magician and escape artist. And this was the last séance she would participate in to try to contact her dead husband.

“Shortly before his death, Houdini made a pact with his wife Bess that if he could, he would return and make contact with her from the other side. They devised a coded message that only he and Bess knew; this would prove that it really was Houdini breaking through from the afterlife.”

But the séances themselves did not stop. Every October 31, from 1927 up to the present day, a séance has been conducted with hopes of contacting the spirit of Harry Houdini. So far, the great Houdini has not made his presence known.


Water Torture Cell


In the 1953 movie Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, the great magician died a spectacular death – attempting to perform his dangerous Water Torture Cell illusion. A Hollywood ending to be sure, but not true at all.

The sad truth is that Houdini was in the middle of a U.S. tour in the fall of 1926 when he began to experience severe stomach discomfort. A performer to the core, Houdini refused medical treatment, because that would have meant missing some shows.

Quite possibly Houdini was suffering from the onset of appendicitis, and his own stubborn refusal to see a doctor may have spelled his doom. Houdini was tired, and unusually accident-prone.

In Albany, NY, a few weeks before his death, his ankle broke as he was being lifted into the Water Torture Cell onstage. In pain, he continued to perform.

A few days later, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, he was punched in the stomach by McGill University student Gordon Whitehead, an amateur boxer who was testing Houdini’s well-known ability to withstand blows to the body. That punch may or may not have been the cause of Houdini’s ruptured appendix; regardless, Houdini collapsed onstage a few days later in Detroit, and was admitted to Grace Hospital, suffering from peritonitis.

Houdini poster

Bess was also admitted to the hospital to be treated for her stomach ailments. Every day for nearly a week, she was wheeled into Houdini’s room to see him.

On Halloween, with his brother Hardeen at his side, Houdini passed away. His last words were, “I’m tired of fighting”.

Though Houdini “officially” died of peritonitis, Bess was able to collect double indemnity on his insurance policy, claiming the blow was equivalent to “an accident directly causing the premature demise of Harry Houdini”.

Houdini left an estate of about $500,000 to his wife. To his brother Hardeen, he left his show, his equipment and his magic secrets. Houdini’s instructions were that Hardeen should use the equipment, but that it should be burned at Hardeen’s death. Luckily for magic historians and collectors, Hardeen sold the show and nothing was destroyed.

Houdini in Chains

Houdini was small, standing a mere 5'5", with dark, wavy hair, dark gray eyes and a high-pitched voice. Like many people in his day (especially those from immigrant families), Houdini was poorly educated. He was, however, extremely athletic and highly motivated to succeed.


One macabre sidebar:  In the summer of 1926, a few months before he died, Houdini heard about a magician who had sealed himself inside a box and had been lowered into water, where he allegedly stayed for over an hour, submerged, before coming up out of the water and the box, triumphant. Houdini purchased a bronze coffin and had himself locked into it and submerged in a hotel swimming pool for an hour and a half before the coffin was pulled out of the water and opened to reveal a smiling, healthy Houdini.

Houdini took the coffin on tour with him in the fall, displaying it in the lobbies of the theaters he played and planning it feature the illusion on his tour. (The famous Buried Alive! poster was designed to promote this very illusion.) He jokingly instructed his wife to use the coffin should anything happen to him while on tour.

Sadly, it was in that very coffin that Houdini’s body was returned to New York City for burial.

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