Thursday, July 20, 2006

History Detectives and Houdini Posters Part 3

Gwen moves on to Proquest, an on-line newspaper archive to confirm the Houdini show in Chicago. She finds a brief notice from the Chicago Tribune, which lauds his performance. This longer review appeared in the Chicago American:
“Houdini is a good showman, with all the tricks, traps, and talkee-talkee of the hanky-panky man. He is an ingratiating deceiver, gabbing the while he proves to you that the hand is quicker than the eye, and telling you that his magic is not black. He warns you that he will confound you with the non-existent, and that you will not see what you think you will see. An honest fellow!
“He fills the stage of the Princess with cabinets, boxes, and things that appear out of nothingness or vanish into nothingness. His implements and agents include ringdoves and goldfish, canaries and alarm clocks, cards and carving knives, flowers and fabric, rabbits and women folk. He conceals nothing in his sleeve for he wears no sleeve and he plays along aimlessly like a boy by the poolside, but he holds the eye enthralled.”
Again, nothing revealed about the Spiritualism aspects of Houdini’s show, so back to New York and Houdini biographer, Kenneth Silverman. Mr. Silverman fills in some blanks on the spirit obsession of Houdini and the spirit portion of Houdini’s show. Yet, even though it is the main thrust of their tease, (“Does this poster hold a secret about escape artist Harry Houdini and his desperate attempts to speak to the dead?”) they still only briefly cover this exciting story.
The March Sphinx accessed the situation for us, “Chicago mediums are curtailing their regular séances in expectation of a visit from – not the spirits, but Houdini himself. This is a fight every magician should be interested in and each should co-operate in putting an end to the work of fraud spiritualists.”
Houdini made direct challenges to mediums like John Slater. In response, spiritualists held “indignation meetings,” a phrase of Houdini’s. One such protest meeting convened at Orchestra Hall and the Sphinx reported it “was a total failure in serving the means it was intended for. The Great Kolar and others in the audience were quick to catch John Slater at every turn and did not hesitate to call his attention to the fraud being practiced.”
Houdini and eight of his investigators caught Mrs. Minnie Reichart during one of her séances putting her spirit-trumpet to her lips. The well-timed flash photo was indisputable.
Miss Rose Mackenburg, Houdini’s most formidable spook-buster, received spiritual investment advice from a Rev. Herbert Parker, the 60-year-old pastor of the Central Spiritualistic Church. The Reverend advised Mackenburg to invest in the Wilcox Transportation Company, a concern that turned out to have only one truck and no permit to sell stock. John Wilcox, the owner of the company, joined the Rev. Parker in the lock-up.
His exposés reached the level of religious zealotry, his passion was unrestrained, and his pulpit was the theater stage. The Chicago American wrote, “Houdini has a mad on the spiritualists and sees all shades of red at the mention of any medium’s name. He held up the names of some seventy or eighty Chicagoans who communicate, for pay, with the unseen and he has on exhibition in the opposite boxes two of his investigators who stand like the pious testifying at a prayer meeting and narrate their adventures among the wraiths and ectoplasms.”
On stage, he duplicated various standard spiritualistic stunts, slate-writing, sealed messages, table tipping, etc. He finished by opening the floor to a question and answer session. Houdini traveled with huge files on spiritualism and enjoyed turning back any challenge. The Chicago American, “...he can escape from anything even from a corner in which a question may put him.” Max Holden raved about the Anti-Spiritualism act and many believed it was the best part of his show.

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