On Halloween, in 1922, the world-famous magician Harry Houdini gave what he called a “pseudo séance” in the Harmon home of his friend, journalist and social reformer Sophie Irene Loeb. He used the word “pseudo” when he recalled the incident in his book Magician Among Spirits, because he was famous not only for astounding feats of magic, but also for debunking the spiritualists, mediums and seers who used tricks to fool credulous people into believing they could actually communicate with the dead. “Gladly would I embrace Spiritualism, if it could prove its claims,” he wrote in the forward, “but I’m not willing to be deluded by the fraudulent impositions of so-called psychics, or accept as sacred reality any of the evidence that has been placed before me thus far.”1
During his later years Houdini would occasionally give séances for the edification of friends. “The effects he would produce in the course of an evening . . . would make the ordinary mediumistic phenomena seem quite childish. Spectators would be awed, in spite of repeated assurances from Houdini that he was merely tricking them.”2
At Loeb’s house the séance included two slates, which were examined by the guests before the lights were dimmed. “I asked if the Spirits would manifest,” wrote Houdini, “and when the slates were opened there was a message containing a code word. Miss Loeb was astounded, for the message, signed by Jack London, contained a code word which she claimed no one in the whole world knew about. I did it by trickery, but she declared that if she had not known I was a magician she would have believed readily that I had psychic powers.”
Four years later to the day—on Halloween, 1926—Harry Houdini died in Detroit from complications of a ruptured appendix. Sophie Irene Loeb was one of the honorary pallbearers at his funeral.
- Harry Houdini. A Magician Among the Spirits. Harper & Row, 1924.
- Margaret C. Scoggin. The Lure of Danger: True Adventure Stories. Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.