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Episode 175: Ghost Racket Crusade

2021-10-22 | 🔗

The story of two famous friends — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini — and the disagreement that ended their friendship: can we speak to the dead?

Read Rose Mackenberg's essays in Tony Wolf's book, Houdini's Girl Detective: The Real-Life Ghost-Busting Adventures of Rose Mackenberg.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, Harry Houdini, taught Arthur Conan Doyle. Sons had a dive in float in the hotel pool. Conan Doyle was visiting America from England. He later wrote that he did know how to describe Atlantic City, because we have now in England, at all, like it. He wrote about swimming in the ocean like it was an out of body experience saying it was the nearest detachment from earth. The normal life can give. He was sixty. Three Houdini was forty. Eight. Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife gene called Lady Doyle invited Houdini to a private seance, in their hotel room. Just the three of them sitting at a round table in a dark room throughout the common dolls. Wife was an amateur cycle gruffer, and that is some
who believes that they can channel the messages of spirit through automatic writing. So a psychotic refer would into a transvestite and then begin to write a sort of a free association writing which they would attributes the two men spiritual influence author, Tony Wolf, Houdini later wrote that Lady took a pencil and with spasmodic jerk. Of her right hand started to strike the table, explaining that the force had taken hold of her. Then Lady Doyle began to write and ostensibly, she was channeling a message from Houdini's beloved mother. Answer she wrote him pay. some pages of some messages They were then presented to Houdini at the end of the sounds, fifty being handwritten pages, with lines like it so different over here,
much larger and bigger and more beautiful, all sweetness all around now I can rest in peace. Conan Doyle later wrote that his friend Houdini looked grimmer and paler at every moment. Houdini didn't say much Could he liked the Doyles he enjoyed the company? He didn't want disrespect them so here this kind of politely noncommittal? He took the pieces of paper and left the room. And the first thing that you ve noticed was that the pages were headed with one symbol of across Europe. That was unlikely to have been issued by his mother. Who was Without do when they, the widow of a rabbi. He noted that All the pages working in English and his mother Billy spoke a word of English. I also noted that they were effectively a series of generic platitudes and his mother simply haven't spoken like that. as channels by Lady Doyle, Houdini's, mother
called her son Harry, which, it was wrong. His mouth didn't call him mad, but Houdini and bring any of this up. The two famine continued their vacation, who we told Conan Doyle, a few days later, that he'd been profoundly, moved by the experience I've been walking on air, Ever since he said quote, seems to have happened, then, is that our economy well in his his great enthusiasm- seems of genuinely believed that Houdini was converted to the course by the The sounds when it was time for the Conan Doyle to sail back to England, Houdini saw them off at the dark. There are lots of fans and reporters reported that one of Conan Doyle Children was given a parting from the Bronx Zoo, a five foot kings, Snake Houdini told reporters
his friendship with Conan Doyle was one of, admiration, fondness and respect, but privately Houdini was uncomfortable, he'd been very, very close with his mother and he wrote the the possibility of being able to somehow communicate with her meant to me an easing of all pain, that I had in my heart. He wanted to be open minded, but he knew the seance wasn't real. Houdini knew the Conan Doyle was deeply invested. in spiritualism the belief in practice communication with the dead at this point Arthur Conan Doyle, most famous for writing. The Sherlock Holmes Novels and stories had almost stopped infection entirely heap
but all of its energy into writing about spiritualism. He believed that it would be easy effectively the religion of the future he believe, sincerely and was protective of his beliefs concluded the idea that spirits could manifest in our world through sounds or two and tables or actor platinum, a sort of liquid goose that comes out of a medium when their channel, the dead letter to the New York Times in August of nineteen twenty two Conan They'll wrote every new thing they is the opposition of ignorant and prejudice. People an echo plasma is no exception. He loved ECHO plasma, he called it miraculous stuff in September of nineteen twenty two a few months you're Conan Doyle Vacation with Houdini Conan Doyle, published a detailed description of say on that had taken place in Atlantic City, Houdini big.
and to receive letters from people wanting now if the story was true and if he had communicated with his mother, that puts the Dini in a very difficult position because he had to directly contradict his friend, so he did as it now is. Not convinced. Doyle appears to taken that as a sort of can impugning of his wife's honour and unfortunately that that Did the friendship and in the two men became wrought rather bitter rivals Harry Houdini, the most famous magician in the world become obsessed. With the tricks and illusions of seances. There are three the kinds of mediums he said, those who are honestly deluded those who are psychotic and those who were criminals. I'm Phoebe, Judge This is criminal,
chief just gonna, go back to TAT, Arthur Conan Doyle, initial interest in and spiritual them, and we talk a little bit about The fairies and the fairy photos yeah accordingly fairy incident I could start by saying what actually happened, which was that a couple of of rather mischievous and very clever english schoolgirls decided Play a prank on the family and they cut out picture of some fairies from under their children's books. They fix the pictures to happens long long, pins struck them in the ground amends various picturesque locations in the bottom of the garden and took photographs of them, and they did showed them to their parents as ostensible proof that they were fairies at the bottom of the garden,
and I'm the fame of accordingly fairy incidents spread far and wide and giving till he came to the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who initially sceptical, but eventually was persuaded that this was a demonstration of the genuine phenomenon and he wrote a book defending they photographs defending their authenticity. I'm any did at him as much of a scientific investigation of the sort of thing, as one could at the time he had the photographs analyzed by. I think it was their Kodak company. Their export was based we able to say I dont think that these matters are super impositions which was They weren't they were photographs of physical objects is just that the physical objects were paper dolls rather than ferries.
He was very widely lampooned in the media and by much of society. At that time he really took a lot of heat for his defence of the cotton we fairies, because most people looked at the pictures and say document that it's this is a clever schoolgirl. Prank a significant subset, including Arthur Conan Doyle, took them his ribs. Ok, this is this is real thing for Israel, its unity surprise. I've read a lot of of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes Past year, and I am surprised that he was so faithful in this way. Feels like a different person than the person who cry the rye humour of of Sherlock Holmes it does derision There are two possible psychological influences. Maybe one is that, Sir,
the common doors father, unfortunately, was suffered very badly from alcoholism and from depression and spent much of them a part of his life and what what we call them asylums, painting whimsical pictures of fairies. I saw it conceivable that the common Doyle saw in the cotton we fairy photograph, a kind of it. indication of of his father's character that this purely speculative, I'm on my behalf, the other. It's I think it's the least worth noting that term he had lost numerous Members of his family around the period of the first World WAR, due to illness and accidents and so forth, is, I believe, his eldest son of his beloved eldest son brother, a brother in law, nephews and so forth. Yet he experienced a lot bereavement the period immediately come before. he really took up the spiritualist crusade, its
pointing out that he himself denied that that had an influence is so interesting is that for the people who did believe Laurent believing it seems to me because they were just trying to be different or trying to to go, but with a trend that was new and fashionable, but a lot of these people were really just in in pain. Indeed, grief and they saw some hope in in this spiritualism this all your spam people were desperate That's the strange thing that was what fuelled Doyle's, passionate belief in this the defence of the subject The emotion was the stunning pain of laws, and that was also what fuelled Houdini's angrily at the phenomenon when it came, people employed magic tricks to create these solutions to rip people off as part of a criminal criminal enterprise for profit.
within the the overtly criminal aspect of the ghost crack of e the carnatic aspect, they are evolved, a kind of of slang, within that system, a shot. I am first to someone who is who is not wise to the game and easy mock. I'm someone who is susceptible to gapps calf was was slang for the various gimmicks, the tricks distance houses open. I is some. who is wise to the game. Someone who understands the trickery who understands that we're talking basically about theatre about, cannot history here and so forth, it's possible and it was possible for him to be a shot. I medium as a number of candles wife who appears to have genuinely believe that she had Mediumistic powers and that from it these points of view she would have been more books called a shot. I medium someone who
attributes to spiritual causes. Water psychologist might contribute more to to psychological causes, Houdini round I think that, in her heart of hearts, bleeding Doyle is sincere. I am positive that Sir Arthur is Joe Does religious in his belief as it is possible for anyone? and being to be, but Houdini was not a believer penal all the tricks he was. the professional and very early in his career. He and his wife best travelled along a carnival circuit, then part of his act involved communing with the spirits of people who had done. and it was a simple com game when you arrive at a time when you your troop, arrived in town, you might visit the local news paper, looking newspaper archives, visit the symmetry and get details from mum, tombstones and so forth to learn, obscure details about about the people of the town
And you would then employing them also was called called reading ethic nest. That's the current slang as well. Today,. two of a weave, a weave, a web of gases, educated guesses, which, if they presented with efficient confidence can very easily persuaded gullible person. To believe that you are in communication with, with the spirits revealing secrets that term that the the medium possibly now. Otherwise he did that for a while. He was disgusted with himself. Basically, he felt it was a moral he stopped doing it assumes he could afford it much later in his career when he became literally one of the most famous entertainers in the will or basic. What happened was his. He was very, very close to his mother and when she died he was absolutely bereft and. In desperation, he began to visit sciences, I'm even though he may leave the trickery.
Desperate hope that a meeting might be able to actually speak with his mother, but, of course, being Harry, Houdini being a profession, a magician, completely au fait with all of the trickery of some of that business. He instantly saw through all of thieves, the tricks that were being used and not stem psychological tricks not just call reading and serve with, but actual magic tricks involving proposition and even costumes and such, and at that point in his life and his Korea. It just enraged him. He felt the dough the perversion of his art of magic He saw the other citizen. The sounds, of course, like him, they were bereft. They might have lost recently em some during the first World WAR and, of course, the influenza pandemic that had killed million upon millions of and particularly young people. and the idea that these four mediums were exploiting the art of magic
to calm money out of these desperately brave people it really got his goat and he in a position to do something about it, and so he established himself the Crusaders, a sort of moral crusader against the fortune ghosts but no matter what he said, people attending Houdini shows and watch can do truly impossible. Things believed that, It was some kind of medium or had power of some sort out Could he make an elephant disappear, Who d me was most famous for being an escape artist. He could escape. straight jackets, handcuffs from jails from containers full of water. He was handcuffed inside a wooden, create that was nailed, shot wrapped with ropes. iron bands and then lowered. exist river and he escaped
scientific American called it One of the most remarkable tricks ever performed p thought he was magic. That was the the explanation spiritualist watched his trick, some thought he dissolved himself de materialised and entered the fourth plain, and when their Conan Doyle saw Houdini perform. He also believed that Houdini had powers for consumers for all of his worldliness was entirely naive as to the mechanism of how stage magic works. He would see Houdini apparently onstage passed through a brick wall and Doyle could not fathom Such a thing could happen, except through an actual magical or spiritual. stick agency, but Houdini bound by the magician code, not to reveal the specifics of how the tricks, work and Sarah burn out the great french actor.
likewise believed, apparently that he was capable of genuine miracles a point in her life. She had lost a leg and she she was fitted with wooden leg and approach. We in a taxicab she and Houdini were traveling together and she looked at him very softly and said something like please, Mr Houdini, can you use your magic too? To give me a new leg. and of course you did he was- was rather shattered by that and then said, I'm sorry, madam, but now that's beyond my power It's so interesting because Houdini loved genes. He wanted to give a good show with his tricks and escapes, but he didn't want grieving people to be trick to note the feels like there's. A moral distinct he's trying to make between entertainer and also his own? all of not causing any more suffering? I absolutely
mission still deal was that, with that sort of ethic today, pen Antella are inclined to talk about things like honest lying machine can pendulum has said saying your tricks, is beautiful and wonderful, and that this is a phenomenon that we don't know about. Better study, more is repulsive Andrew Dini had no problem with was trickery percentages triggering because That's so fast. Carbon presentation of moral difference between going along. The theatre pay money to be tricked by cleaver illusionist? I'm going along to sounds silent, paying money and expecting to be put in I'm with your dead daughter,
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thanks to ACORN Tv for their support, ACORN Tv is the largest commercial free british streaming service. That features compelling stories, exclusive premiers and a region I'll won't find anywhere else. I watching the new season of midsummer murders and its great so far, detective Chief Barnaby in detective sergeant winter best homicides, blackmail, greed and betrayal, in the fictional English County of Midsummer, try ACORN Tv free for thirty days, The acorn Don T V and use the promo code criminal, but you have to the code in all lower case letters, easy, o, er and dot tv. Could criminal get your first thirty days for free Harry Houdini. Tumbled, a team of people to help him take down anyone trying to profit off of people's willingness to believe that they might somehow communicate with people they bossed.
He called his team of DE bunkers, my own secret service and his best agent, his top spy was a young woman named rose Makin Burke, she was smart. She once said I smell bad before I smell the incense Houdini was impressed, share Houdini's discussed for frauds exploiting people who is whose put it were reaching in the literal, dark, Franny Solace and two racked with grief had what she called response of hearts. Houdini at this time was regularly touring his magic shall, throughout the Eu S role and the other members will see the so called secret service would travel ahead of him. So perhaps now, New York City. But if it any was doing a magic show in Chicago rose, and some other members of the secret service would travel ahead first job was usually local department store because you,
to look at how local woman dressed how various ass she put it. Types of local women dressed so She could disguise yourself so she could plausibly pass muster as wreathed widower, grieving mother or naive schoolteacher. She had a variety of personism disguises that you regularly used how does she also often use dumb pseudonyms particular those that have had kind of palm spilt into them, one of them and if I were pseudonyms, was Elisa Bunk, which, if you Pass it out refers to the expression. All is a bunk as an older, that's fake. Another. One was Francis roared which, if you write down, if roared, spells fraud, So she would go and disguised in this Persano with one of these assume names she would tenders. Many sciences in which say Chicago ass. She could about ten days. Prior to Houdini showing up and she would take
very careful note of all the various tricks that the local mediums would employ. She write out extremely detailed reports on this, and they went to dinner rolled into town. He would actually expose the local. tourists bam call them out by name onstage, it's important to to remain that he is the most popular entertainer in the world. We were very close to it at this time. And so to have the great Houdini, literally calling out individual mediums onstage, and not only that but demonstrate their tricks, because could perform them by a much better than they could, when you say, call them out with day. Will they sometimes being the ottoman tell? How would that process work lives saved example. There was a trick of creating the effect of a bell ringing, mysteriously in the room and a sound, Table, for example, typically be a large round table
the media? Mental of the shutters would place their hands on the table. Sometimes the media would even be physically restrained by being bound and so forth, but more typically, these virtual s, hands would be pressed to that. April by the hands of a sitter on either side. Ostiense We need to make sure that they didn't I'm sorry Timorously use their hands to create any of the the so called a spiritual effects happening the manifestations, but who do He would demonstrate a method whereby he could remove one. Foot from his shoe pick up with his toes the very very numbly spent time training his toes. He could pick up a bell from the floor underneath the table and uses foot on his toes ring the bell that way which in the darkness sort of the heightened circumstance. The very dramatic circumstance of sitting in a pitch black media in this chamber and and anticipating expecting that dumb, mysterious events would happen even as ever
simple effect like that. I'm could be very poor offers psychologically could be very convincing Are you demonstrate that sort of effect? But the difference was that you didn't. He of course, was was sitting on a stage. All of the police events. They, the volunteers from the audience, would blindfolded stimulating the pitch blackness of the sounds from, but of course, he's before me have in full view of an audience and I've ever. member of the Orient instantly apprehended how that particular trick would be performed, and some of them probably themselves may be bent essay on through the same tat. They had been party to this same performance and thought that this was some sort of real spiritual experience and now they're in the audience. Seeing it was all the fraud yes yeah and hurt anyone. particularly aggressive and doing this because, as Houdini was performing, these exposes onstage. The Conan Doyle was touring throughout America performing pictures of the zone in which he was
hurry a very passionately arguing for the the reality of spiritualistic phenomena. And heard any was has he really did. Set himself up is Well really is off a common Doyle's. Nemesis in we sometimes call by the newspapers at least the war of the spirits Makin Burg, wrote about her experiences, which Tony Wolf compiled into a book called. Houdini's girl detective the real life Spending adventures of rose, Makin, Burke, she wrote a series of exposing articles, each one basically devoted to a different escapade, indifferent theme, a different type of fraud and so forth. She was often called and, as a consultant, we buy insurance companies when they were trying to settle insurance claims that that involve some aspect of spiritualistic fraud, one that she noted was that
but the United States entered a period of crisis. There was a massive uptake in fraudulent spiritualism. So from her. In the view of the Second World WAR Ii, the Korean while the Vietnam WAR and so forth ever? There was a a national cry this people began. Pouring money towards virtual bakery, because they were desperate for clarity. During one show. In investor Massachusetts, held his audience. No one should suffer the torture of seeing their departed loved ones faked up like a puppet, show a man in the audience stood up and shouted. You don't know what you're talking about the man was, the husband of a local medium Houdini, invited him onstage,
And the man told the audience tat, his wife was a psychic endowed by God. He said I protect my wife, Houdini replied Anne. I protect the public, the man said, history repeats itself, Christ was persecuted and now spiritualist are being persecuted to which Houdini replied, but Christ rob people of two dollars. Did he
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Bloom introduced a new piece of legislation, HR eight nine, eight, nine attempting to criminalize the a fortune tellers and mediums in the District of Columbia, with fines of tuna fifty dollars or six months in prison. There was very controversial. Opponents argued that the legislation not only interfered with freedom. religion, but also put restriction. on something entertaining comparing it trying to pass a law against believing in Santa Claus. two very well known mediums named gene code. And media Marcia testified. Madame Marcia was especially famous because one thousand nine. She had predicted that one of her clients would eventually come first lady.
six years later that client Married Woodrow Wilson, her horoscopes were picked up by papers all over the country rose, Makin Burg testified to in support of the bed But she didn't think the legislation had much of a chance new from her undercover investigations that many input people in Washington, including some senators who were in the room, attended seances. She quoted the medium Jane Coats saying. I know for a fact that there are and held at the White House with President coup ledge. His family, the shore I'll go Tribune reported that is rose, spoke Jane. Coats and Madame Marcia aim deadly glances at her Jane Coat suggested that Houdini had somehow hypnotized rose, Makin, Burke and then Houdini testified. He said
nobody is supernatural. We are all born alike. At one point, he reportedly put a telegram on a table and offered ten thousand dollars more than a hundred Fifty thousand dollars today to any and the room who could tell him what the paper said when nobody spoke up. Houdini said he proven that the mediums in the room were lying about having powers belonged in jail at one point, Houdini was punished in the face. police were called several times saw bloom. The Congress and who would introduce the legislation in the first place. Fainted the bill did not pass Houdini announced a standing offer of ten thousand dollars to any spiritualist, who could quote present to so called physical manifestation that I cannot reproduce or explain as being a key.
Pushed by natural means he travelled with trunks of papers, documents, debunking spiritualism so we could have everything he could possibly need. If someone argued with him, it's been reported that he spent between Thirty thousand and forty thousand dollars a year paying his secret sir this and lawyers to defend him when spiritual S suit him, and in the summer of nineteen twenty six percent what's that. He was going to start performing for several months and dedicate himself entirely to investigating fraudulent mediums. sometimes working for fourteen hours a day, but that fall. He was back on stage and one October evening you backstage at the Princess theatre in Montreal. With a couple of college students Houdini, been having trouble with his ankle and was law and down on a couch. There isn't how come the door and another student,
come into the room. His name was Joscelyn Whitehead according to one of the students in the room. This is what happened. Next quote Many stated that he had extraordinary muscles in his forearms his shoulders and in his back any all of us present to feel them, which we did Whitehead then asked Houdini whether it was true. countries in the stomach did not hurt him. Houdini marked rather unenthusiastically did his stomach could resist much thereupon, he gave Houdini some very hammer like blows, first securing Houdini's permission to strike him, and then the students left the room later Houdini told the nurse that he was in pain. He said that the young student had started punching him quote
before I could get up and brace myself, but he seemed okay. He did two more shows and then left town for Detroit. When is stomach, pain got much worse and he developed a fever. He was taken to Grace Hospital in Detroit. Houdini died at one hundred and twenty six p dot m on Halloween, one thousand nine hundred and twenty six. It's been reported over the years that Houdini told friends and his wife that he would try to contact them after his death. If he could, people claimed that he'd give I'm a special code words, so they would know for sure that it was him his wife best till the newspaper quote. He promised to come back to me if he could and she said that every Sunday she sat in a dark room and waited
I mean it's into because what rose Does that Houdini really did want to even spiritualism, and it seems to me as though him saying, if I can communicate, I will communicate, is signal that you know he if it was true, but he just he couldn't see that had it was well. That is a complicated point, both rose and Houdini had at least some sympathy for what was the earth the two as shut eyes, people Who genuinely believed in in the the possibility of communication after death and so forth. Neither of them really had an ethical problem with that they They have believed that such people were to some extent delusional ballistic
It did feel the shirt and sympathy for them. They both suffered bereavement and their own lives and so forth, and they feel but no real harm was done under those circumstances. They save There are no shaved there, I'm the crusade for that. strategies for the people who are cynically employing magic trick. Two to exploit the bereaved Arthur. Conan Doyle died for years after Harry Houdini in nineteen thirty Lady Doyle reported that he came back to her a few months later, did she and their children had made contact with him during Seance best Houdini was still eating and on Halloween night nineteen, thirty six ten years her husband's death. She tried to contact him one last time when it didn't work. She said good night Harry
she later told Time magazine the tenure This is long enough to wait for any man rosemary Burke kept working just made she attended. Nearly three hundred seances in nineteen forty nine. paper referred to her as Perhaps the only woman ghostbuster in the world. Tony Wolf says one of his anecdotes about her was that one He retired. She always Kepler the lights on in her house said she'd had enough of dark rooms, He says that while he was working on carrying roses writing he was interrupted because his father got sick and had to fly back to New Zealand. And I continue working on the manuscript. While I was helping to care for him, he eventually fortunately died and em,
The weeks and months after his death as we were preparing his estate, I actually across a trunk open it up and it was full of spook ology props of fraudulent spiritualistic props. and I was absolutely flabbergasted because I've been working on compiling the manuscript roses articles for at least a year by that point, had no idea that my dad had actually owned a collection of exactly the sort of approximately it's just that I was writing about and he'd probably forgotten. Apparently, he had bought the many years before just forget about them. What types of products vote So things are you just talking about. The first thing I pulled out was a set of a more a cool glowing, hands or floating hands, and if you look at the prophets, it's true, Additionally, simple, really it's a pair of I'm quite opera gloves which have been petted and the palm. painted with a phosphorescent paint and wood.
Oh this kind of ghostly white, green color and create the visual illusion and the pitch black of sound trade off. Mostly hands trying to sort of press through from across the veil. From the other side, funnily enough. The glowing props many of the problems that I discovered in the trunk, I'm actually blow. After probably seventy five rating years, I still glass Chris unless created by born spore and me media. Listen as our senior producer Suzanne of Operation is our producer. engineering by Press Henry Audio mix by raw buyers. Special thanks to Lily Clark.
Julian Alexander makes original illustrations preach episode of criminal. You can see them This is criminal dot com or on Facebook, in twitter at criminal show criminal is recorded in the studio of North Carolina, public radio, debut you and see proud member of Radio Tokyo from PR acts, a collection, of the best podcast around. I Phoebe judge this criminal, radio do.
Transcript generated on 2021-10-22.