Houdini and Ghostly Spirits Part Two

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Houdini’s Laurel Canyon mansion fit in perfectly with his theatrical personality with all of the parapets, battlements and spooky towers. The foundation of the mansion beneath had many tunnels, secret passageways, and chambers. This makes me wonder why the two filmmakers didn’t consider creating horror films in the mansion. One tunnel ran beneath what today is Laurel Canyon Road. Houdini practiced his underwater escapes in a lower chamber which had a deep pool. Houdini continued séances to attempt to contact his mother and to expose the mediums who were frauds. At these gatherings, an occasional guest was Conan Doyle, however, the friendship soon ended. The last time the two met was in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1922. Lady Jean Doyle was a medium and she went into a trance, producing a letter for Houdini that was written by his mother due to her gift of automatic writing. Even though Houdini was at first amazed he later dismissed it as not being real. This was what caused the rift between him and Conan Doyle. It was soon after this that Conan Doyle began telling everyone that Houdini was exposing mediums to hide the fact that he himself was a medium. It was also thought that Houdini was so great at his escapes because he had the power to “dematerialize” from the traps in which he placed himself. Dematerialize means to become free of physical substance.

Houdini’s Escapes 

Houdini then came up with a plan to make Conan Doyle come to the realization that his tricks were just tricks. There were three people present at test time – Houdini, Conan Doyle and Bernard Ernst, president of the American Society of Magicians. Conan Doyle hung a slate in the middle of the room and Houdini was given five plain cork balls. He chose a ball at random and placed it in a container of white paint. Conan Doyle then took a piece of paper and was told he could walk wherever he wanted to and write a message on the paper. What Conan Doyle did was to walk three blocks and turn the corner. He shielded the page, wrote a short message and returned to the house. During this time Ernst had stayed behind in the room with Houdini.

After Conan Doyle returned Houdini told him to take the paint-soaked ball and stick it on the suspended slate. The ball rolled over the slate and spelled out the Biblical phrase – Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin. Since this was exactly what Conan Doyle had written on his piece of paper what it actually did was to convince him even more strongly that Houdini had supernatural powers. Of course, the magician didn’t say how the trick was done.

The Death of Houdini 

While performing his famous Underwater Torture escape on the night of October 11 a chain slipped and Houdini fractured his ankle. Even though a doctor in the audience told him to go straight to the hospital he finished his entire performance. Then on the afternoon of October 26 while completely preoccupied Houdini was visited by two students. He didn’t pay much attention to what they were asking him and actually gave them the impression that it was true that he could withstand powerful blows to his stomach. Along with that, the students felt that he had agreed to let them see how he reacted to a powerful blow. So one student leaned forward and struck Houdini hard in the abdomen with a clenched fist. At first, the magician looked startled but he soon recovered.

Unfortunately, during his performance, the pain in his abdomen became worse. He performed in agony over the next two days. When he arrived in Detroit he was diagnosed as having acute appendicitis. Since he was ready to perform a sold-out show he refused to have an operation right away. Stepping out on stage Houdini had a raging temperature of 104 degrees. As unbelievable as it may seem the magician got through the entire performance and then collapsed. Even though the doctors operated on Houdini it was hopeless. In the early morning of October 31 with his wife Bess and his brother who he called Dash by his side the magician was close to death. He told his brother that he was tired of fighting and passed over the threshold into the next world.

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After receiving this message Bess invited Arthur Ford to her home and she told him that the words were correct. Ford then asked her to remove her wedding ring and explain what the word “Rosabelle” meant. It was the word that made the message authentic. The secret had been known only to Bess and her husband. It was the title of a song popular in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York at the time they first met. The rest of the message was a series of code words that spelled out the word “believe” which was the final clue that Houdini had promised to relay from the grave. Bess continued to hold séances attempting to communicate with Houdini. The last official séance was held on Halloween in 1938. The gathering included friends, fellow magicians, and Bess gathered in Hollywood on the rooftop of the Knickerbocker Hotel. After trying to get a contact for over an hour they gave up. At this moment a violent thunderstorm started up, drenching them all and scaring them with horrific lightning and thunder. Only later they found out that this violent storm had occurred nowhere else only on the rooftop of the hotel. Bess remained at the Laurel Canyon mansion until her death in the 1940s.

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A brush fire swept through Laurel Canyon in 1959 and destroyed the Houdini mansion. Only the walls of the old building, the chauffer’s quarters and a part of the garage remained. The property remained abandoned and there were those who said that Houdini’s spirit roamed there. The people who have gone there on Halloween nights say they have seen a dark figure standing on the staircases or walking in the garden grotto. Many believe that this is the spirit of Houdini and I for one would not be scared to shout, “Houdini, is it you?” The magician had always said that he would have the power to return from the grave. It is now to possible to see this mansion in Laurel Canyon since it has been restored. People can use the Houdini Estate for film shoots, fund-raisers, family retreats and other special occasions. Of course, the one thing I would love best is to spend a Halloween night with Houdini himself and see what he has to say after all these years.

Strange Happenings at Houdini’s Mansion Part One



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