Thursday, October 26, 2006

Doyle, Houdini and a séance

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, began a somewhat strained friendship with escape artiste Harry Houdini in 1920. They were both interested in spiritualism. However, while Doyle embraced it fully, happily believing in fairies, mediums and all aspects of the occult, Houdini was more cynical: "The more I investigate the subject, the less I can make myself believe."

The end of their friendship began with a séance, which Doyle and his wife persuaded Houdini to take part in. Lady Doyle acted as the medium and was convinced they could contact Houdini's dead mother. She took down about 15 pages of "automatic writing", and the Doyles believed the séance had been a success.

Houdini, however, was now completely convinced this aspect of spiritualism was a fraud. The message was in English and had begun with the sign of the cross: Houdini's mother had been the wife of a rabbi and spoke only Yiddish.

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