Houdini and the Spirits

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Houdini and the Spirits is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Westminster Gazette on 22 november 1926.

Houdini and the Spirits

The Westminster Gazette
(22 november 1926, p. 6)


Sir, — Mr. Clodd has given you a story of Houdini which I should wish to modify. It has always been the custom of Mr. Clodd to swallow without question anything which is against Spiritualism, however absurd, and to refuse to give credence to anything, however well authenticated, which is in its favour. In this case he quotes from Houdini's book as though it were an authority, whereas it has been shown to be packed with inaccuracies from end to end.

What really occurred in the case to which Mr. Clodd refers was published by me on pate 180 of my "American Adventure." The account was written at the time, and was not disputed by Houdini when I met him in America next year. He tacitly accepted it then, and never dreamed of disputing it until he began his campaign against Spiritualism.

We were together at Atlantic City and he was talking in moving terms of his mother. Knowing how strong an inspiration comes at times upon my wife, I asked Houdini if we should try and get him some comfort. He eagerly assented. It was a pure act of humanitarian pity which prompted my wife's acquiescence, and it is strange that he could ever have alluded to it in slighting terms.

My wife wrote rapidly some fifteen block sheets of paper, and Houdini, reading it page by page as I tossed it across, grew white to the lips. He was then told to ask a mental question. An answer was written and he said, "That is right." He was moved to the core at the time, and when we met him three days later in New York he said, alluding to the episode. "I have been walking on air ever since."

When he undertook his frenzied campaign against Spiritualism, which has had so deplorable an ending, Houdini had to deal with this episode. He could only find two points on which he might make this courtesy extended to him seem ridiculous. The one was that my wife had put a cross at the head of the paper whereas his mother was a Jewess. The other was that she spoke Yiddish whereas the message was in English. These seen plausible, but they really only serve to show the unfamiliarity with the methods of psychic communication which was characteristic of the man.

First as to the cross. We were aware, of course, that Houdini was a Jew. My wife always puts a cross on her paper when she writes under inspiration, as she believes it to he a protection against deceit.

Then as to the language. In the case of an inspirational writer it is the thought, the ideas, which are poured through her brain, and so to the paper. She does not give a verbatim message in a strange language. Such a feat might be possible to a trance medium, but not to a normal inspirational one.

Thus Houdini's objections fade into thin air. There is one other tragic point which I might add. On the same day at this séance we held a second one in the evening, as recorded on pare 189 of the same book. On that occasion, through the lips of the wife of a well-known American lawyer who was present, there came a long message purporting also to come from the mother, mourning over the premature end which she saw approaching for her brilliant son. As we were all on friendly terms with Houdini at the time, we were shocked at the message. We did not pass it on to him, as we hoped it might prove mistaken, but that hope has now been dissipated. — Yours. etc.,

Bignell Wood, Minstead, Lyndhurst, 19 November.