There was another incident at Boston of a very much more serious kind, and one 
which bears out my assertion that where there was an advertisement to be gained 
Houdini was a dangerous man. The remarkable psychic powers of Mrs. Crandon, the 
famous "Margery," were at that time under examination by the committee of the 
Scientific American. Various members of this committee had sat many times with 
the Crandons, and some of them had been completely converted to the psychic 
explanation, while others, though unable to give any rational explanation of 
the phenomena, were in different stages of dissent. It would obviously be an 
enormous feather in Houdini's cap if he could appear on the scene and at once 
solve the mystery. What a glorious position to be in! Houdini laid his plans 
and was so sure of success that before going to Boston he wrote a letter, which 
I saw, to a mutual friend in London, announcing that he was about to expose 
her. He would have done it, too, had it not been for an interposition which was 
miraculous. I think well enough of Houdini to hope that he would have held his 
hand if he could have realized the ruin and disgrace which his success would 
have brought upon his victims. As it was, the thought of the tremendous 
advertisement swallowed up his scruples. All America was watching, and he could 
not resist the temptation.

He had become familiar in advance with the procedure of the Crandon circle, and 
with the types of phenomena. It was easy for him to lay his plans. What he 
failed to take into account was that the presiding spirit, Walter, the dead 
brother of Mrs. Crandon, was a very real and live entity, who was by no means 
inclined to allow his innocent sister to be made the laughingstock of the 
continent. It was the unseen Walter who checkmated the carefully-laid plans of 
the magician. The account of what occurred I take from the notes which were 
taken by the circle at the time. The first phenomenon to be tested was the 
ringing of an electric bell which could only be done by pressing down a flap of 
wood, well out of the reach of the medium. The room was darkened, but the bell 
did not ring. Suddenly the angry voice of Walter was heard.

"You have put something to stop the bell ringing, Houdini, you—" he cried.

Walter has a wealth of strong language and makes no pretence at all to be a 
very elevated being. They all have their use over there. On this occasion, at 
least, the use was evident, for when the light was turned up, there was the 
rubber from the end of a pencil stuck into the angle of the flap in such a way 
as to make it impossible that it could descend and press the bell. Of course, 
Houdini professed complete ignorance as to how it got there, but who else had 
the deft touch to do such a thing in the dark, and why was it only in his 
presence that such a thing occurred? It is clear that if he could say 
afterwards, when he had quietly removed the rubber, that his arrival had made 
all further trickery impossible, he would have scored the first trick in the 

He should have taken warning and realized that he was up against powers which 
were too strong for him, and which might prove dangerous if provoked too far. 
But the letters he had written and boasts he had made cut off his retreat. The 
second night landed him in a very much worse mess than the first one. He had 
brought with him an absurd box which was secured in front by no fewer than 
eight padlocks. One would have thought that it was a gorilla rather than a 
particularly gentle lady who was about to be confined within. The forces behind 
Margery showed what they thought of this contraption by bursting the whole 
front open the moment Margery was fastened into it. This very unexpected 
development Houdini endeavoured to explain away, but he found it difficult to 
give a reason why, if the box was so vulnerable, it was worth while to bring it 
with so much pomp and ceremony, with eight padlocks and many other gadgets, all 
the way from New York to Boston.

However, much worse was to come. The lady was put into the reconstituted box, 
her arms protruding through holes on each side. Houdini was observed without 
any apparent reason to pass his hand along the lady's arm, and so into the box. 
Presently, after some experiments, the lady's arms were placed inside and the 
attempt was to be made to ring the bell-box while only her head projected. 
Suddenly the terrible Walter intervened.

"Houdini, you— blackguard!" he thundered. "You have put a rule into the 
cabinet. You—! Remember, Houdini, you won't live for ever. Some day you've got 
to die."

The lights were turned on, and, shocking to relate, a two-foot folding rule was 
found lying in the box. It was a most deadly trick, for, of course, if the bell 
had rung Houdini would have demanded a search of the cabinet, the rule would 
have been found, it would, if held between the teeth, have enabled the medium 
to have reached and pressed down the flap of the bell-box, and all America 
would have resounded next day with the astuteness of Houdini and the proven 
villainy of the Crandons. I do not think that even the friends of the latter 
could have got over the patent facts. It was the most dangerous moment of their 
career, and only Walter saved them from ruin.

For the moment Houdini was completely overcome, and cowered, as well he might, 
before the wrath of the unseen. His offence was so obvious that no better 
excuse occurred to him, when he had rallied his senses, than that the rule had 
been left there by accident by some subordinate. When one considers, however, 
that no other tool upon earth, neither a hammer, a chisel, nor a wrench, but 
only a folding two-foot rule, could have sustained the charge, one realizes how 
hopeless was his position. But one of Houdini's characteristics was that 
nothing in this world or the next could permanently abash him. He could not 
suggest that they were guilty considering that the Crandons had actually asked 
to have the cabinet examined after she had entered, and Houdini had refused. 
Yet, incredible as it may seem, he had his advertisement after all, for he 
flooded America with a pamphlet to say that he had shown that the Crandons were 
frauds, and that he had in some unspecified way exposed them. Since the cabinet 
had become a delicate subject his chief accusation was that Mrs. Crandon had in 
some way rung the bell-box by stretching out her foot. He must have known, 
though his complaisant audiences did not, that the bell-box was continually 
rung while some sitter was permitted to hold it in his hands, and even to rise 
and to walk about with it.

Speaking with a full knowledge, I say that this Boston incident was never an 
exposure of Margery, but it was a very real exposure of Houdini, and is a most 
serious blot upon his career.

To account for the phenomena he was prepared to assert that not only the 
doctor, but that even members of the committee were in senseless collaboration 
with the medium. The amazing part of the business was that other members of the 
committee seemed to have been overawed by the masterful conjurer, and even 
changed their very capable secretary, Mr. Malcolm Bird, at his behest. Mr. 
Bird, it may be remarked, with a far better brain than Houdini, and with a 
record of some fifty séances, had by this time been entirely convinced of the 
truth of the phenomena.

Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Houdini Enigma", The Strand Magazine, Aug-Sep 1927.

 The Houdini Enigma 
 The Houdini Enigma 
 Roy Glashan's Library. Go to Home Page ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE THE HOUDINI ENIG...
 Preview by Yahoo 

---In FairfieldLife@yahoogroups.com, <anartaxius@...> wrote :

 "The forerunner of the mediums whose forte is fleecing by presuming on the 
credulity of the public." —Harry Houdini


Reply via email to