Halloween Binge and Purge, pt. 2

Happy Halloween, everyone. Trick or treats, parties, mischief, Candy Corn. Mmmm, Candy Corn.

From the time I first learned who he was, there has been one thing about Halloween that has always fascinated me: Harry Houdini.

Houdini, you should know, was a Hungarian-American magician, escapologist (widely regarded as one of the greatest ever), and stunt performer, as well as a skeptic and investigator of spiritualists. He died on Halloween in 1926. (Note: The source for most of this post is Houdini’s Wiki page, where you can also go for more information.)

There are two schools of thought around Houdini’s death. The most widespread account is that he died of a ruptured appendix, caused by multiple blows to his abdomen. The short version of the events: McGill University student J. Gordon Whitehead approached Houdini after an Oct. 22 performance and asked if it was true that he (Houdini) could take any blow to the stomach. Houdini replied in the affirmative and Whitehead hit him three times in the stomach before Houdini could prepare himself.

By Oct. 24, Houdini had been diagnosed with acute appendicitis, then, one week later, he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix.

The other school of thought is that renegade psychics poisoned Houdini. Houdini had been working to debunk a group of psychics known as the “Spiritualists.” Members of this group, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were clearly at odds with him in the latter part of his life. There is evidence suggesting that one or more supporters of the Spiritualists murdered Houdini, possibly by poisoning his food with arsenic or another deadly substance.

On Mar. 22, 2007, his grandnephew, George Hardeen, announced that the courts would be asked to allow exhumation of Houdini's body. The purpose was to look for evidence that Houdini was poisoned by Spiritualists, as suggested in “The Secret Life of Houdini.” In a statement given to the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pa., Jeff Blood opposed the application and suggested it was a publicity ploy for the book. Blood is Houdini's grandnephew on his wife's side.

One of the most intriguing things about Houdini and his death is that his widow, Bess, held a séance each year on Halloween in an effort to communicate with her husband. She kept this up for 10 years but Houdini never appeared. In 1936, after a last unsuccessful séance on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Milwaukee, Wis., she put out the candle she had kept burning beside a photograph of Houdini since his death She later (in 1943) said, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.” The tradition of holding a séance for Houdini continues by magicians throughout the world to this day.

The Houdini Museum has brought the séance into the 21st Century by hosting a Web-séance. If you want to participate, go here. “No kooks please, this is a serious test and tribute,” the site says.

On that note, today's music comes from an Alice Cooper show recorded on Halloween night, 1978, in Saginaw, Mich. No appearances by Harry Houdini. At least not that anyone knows.

Under My Wheels.mp3
Billion Dollar Babies.mp3
I’m Eighteen.mp3
Is It My Body.mp3
Only Women Bleed.mp3
Unfinished Sweet.mp3
I Love the Dead.mp3
Go to Hell.mp3
School’s Out.mp3

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