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Observations placeholder

Houdini - Houdini versus ‘Margery’ the medium 02



Type of Spiritual Experience


It is at this séance that the motives of Houdini in attending the séance become much clearer.  As Bird said earlier, it was to use the séance proceedings to enable him to publicise his new role as the ‘exposer of fraudulent mediums’, irrespective of whether they had been fraudulent or not.

His approach was actually quite cunning.  Only at the end of this seance, did Houdini state there had been cheating.  He stated and Munn verified that during the seance he had whispered to Munn that he "had" her, and had asked whether he should expose her now. Munn had no standing in the room save as a guest, and certainly could not take it on himself to authorize any committee action, individual or collective and Houdini knew this.  Houdini’s offer to Munn was a safe one, whatever the physical facts of the moment, but it was a very sneaky approach.  To use Munn as the means of indicating he believed there to be fraud, but to not actually expose it there and then where it could be verified simply confirms Houdini had other motives besides those of witnessing the effects.

Houdini requested ‘a swift descent upon New York and a flaming newspaper exposure’, which was vetoed very diplomatically, and without emphasis upon the weaknesses of Houdini's position. ‘It was in fact only with difficulty that he was prevented from thus immediately capitalizing his connection with the case, through the headlines.’

Around 50 seances had already been held with Margery and under controlled conditions and no-one had found any fraud up to the ones with Houdini.  The claim that he had ‘found in two sittings the fraud which had baffled all others for fifty’ was one which Houdini was able to keep temporarily within himself only by prodigious restraint.  Not long afterwards he published a ‘scurrilous pamphlet’ with a pink cover. As Bird says “I put the title page before my readers in facsimile, so that they may judge whether its story is about Margery, or about Houdini.’

We won’t repeat the pamphlet contents or the rest of this chapter as the evidence is by now adequate to indicate that Bird’s earlier hypothesis is correct.  Houdini only attended the séances in order to carve out this new role for himself of being THE unmasker of fraudulent mediums.   What is perhaps most intriguing is that his mask temporarily dropped with Margery and even he was impressed with her abilities.

A description of the experience

"Margery" the medium / by J. Malcolm Bird.

From Chapter XLVIII – Houdini versus Margery

The sitting of July 24th was held in Comstock’s apartment, behind locked doors.  It was recorded dictaphonically by Comstock, and the signatures obtained after transcription.  The record is as follows .  The sitting of July 24 was held in Comstock's apartment, behind locked doors. It was recorded dictaphonically by Comstock, and the signatures obtained after transcription. The record follows:
Sitting held at 535 Beacon Street, Boston, July 24, 1924, at 8.40 o'clock.
Order of sitting: Margery, on her left Houdini, on his left Munn, next Conant, next F. H., next Bird, and then Margery again. Bird not in the circle, but controlling the F. H.-Margery link.
On the outside of the circle Miss Wood and Comstock.
No one else in the room.
Sitting started at 8.45.
At Walter's request the lights were turned on, the new table with the depressable top* removed, and a card table with the locked contact-box on it and other more familiar utensils were put in its place.
When the lights were turned out again the time was 8.51.
9.00. Bird says the right-hand wing of the cabinet moved an inch or two in toward Margery.Houdini says something touched his right knee. At the same time Walter's remark was, "Ha, ha, Houdini." Bird says the megaphone just moved a bit on the floor.
9.02. Megaphone moved and cabinet shivered, says Bird. Cabinet has opened up widely at the right. Regarding controls, Houdini says that during the time he was touched on the knee, and for some time before and after he had hold of Margery's left hand with his right hand and his right foot and lower leg is against her left foot and lower leg. At the same time Bird had firm grasp of the Margery-F. H. hands with his left hand and his foot was originally in front of Margery's in contact with her toe. After the first movement of the megaphone, he shifted his foot and put it behind hers in contact with her foot, between her foot and the megaphone, the megaphone originally being on the floor at Margery's right. Conant says from the start he has had F. H.'s right foot and lower leg and right hand.
9.05. Houdini says he feels the cabinet moving against his right arm. He has control as before dictated. Corresponding movement reported by Bird of his wing. He has controls as formerly dictated, including F. H.'s left foot.
9.10. We suddenly noticed that the Victrola was stopped. Comstock went out to fix it and started it going again. Walter says, "I didn't stop it."
9.14. Houdini says the cabinet is shaking and oscillating.
9.15. Victrola stopped again. Walter also disclaims the stopping of the Victrola the second time.
9.18. Bird says megaphone is sliding around the floor.  Controls:
Houdini, O. K.;
Bird, O. K.;
Conant, O. K.;
O. K. means as previously dictated.
9.21. Bird reports sharp movement of the cabinet. All three controls O. K. as previously described.
9.23. Bird says that he investigated the distance from Margery's elbow to the cabinet and found it to be from eight inches to a foot.
9.25. Bird says that there are some raps that seem to be connected in some way with Margery's chair. He says that he has control of all her fingers, as well as her hand in general on this side. The raps continue, he says. Walter says, "It's very simple, it's simply the cabinet banging the arm of the chair."
9.29. Bird says the cabinet is moving up on him from behind and is now in contact with him. Controls all reported perfect.
9.34. Houdini says the cabinet, his edge of it, has gone some distance away from him, and Bird says that his edge has approached him more nearly. Controls have been maintained as formerly, that is hands and feet of both Margery and F. H. are all controlled.
9.36. Bird says cabinet folding in towards Margery very much. Bird's wing is now between Bird and Margery.
9.39. Comstock just went over and pinned the curtains across the door to the hall so that a faint light from the hall would not get in [through the crack between sliding doors].  The cabinet has moved so far that in its present position neither Houdini nor Bird have been able to locate it by their usual method. All controls O. K.
9.40. By the sounds we infer the cabinet is still moving.
9.44. Bird says the table is moving quite a lot.
9.48 Conant says there is a slight pressure of the table on his leg. Continued pressure. A moment later it moved several inches away from him. Conant and Munn say the table went off its legs to some extent and went back in position again. All controls O. K. Bird's control is substantially as formerly; there is a slight difference, however; namely, that his foot is on Margery's instead of beside it.
9.50. Houdini says the table is falling over on him. At present it is leaned up against him, that is it is on two legs.  Bird touched by something that felt like a feather stroking up and down his little finger. It passed from his finger down his leg. Houdini verifies that the table is on two legs leaning against him.
9.52. Bird touched on the knee.
9.52 There was a fairly loud sound of the table. Houdini says the table has dropped back again on four legs. 
9.53. Another sound from the table, as if it had been raised off two legs and dropped back again on the floor. Munn says he felt this action of the table.
9.54. At Walter's suggestion the circle was spread out a little to give more room.
9.55. Table is being upset Munn says. Box dropped off the table on to the floor. This was at 9.56. At the instant when the table went over Houdini, Bird and Conant all report that all of their controls were perfect as previously described.  Bird's foot still on top of Margery's.
9.57. Munn says table moving. Houdini says he thinks the table is on edge now, that is with the legs horizontal.
10.03. At Walter's suggestion we turned on the lights for ten seconds and looked around. The table was generally the way it had been described in the dark, that is it was tilted upward on Margery's side. The cabinet looked very much smaller and had been moved back. From the hasty glance we had it looked as though it had been folded all together.
10.07. At Walter's suggestion the table was taken out of the circle, the contact-box (locked) was put between Houdini's feet, the controls were all carefully inspected, and the lights were turned out at 10.10.
10.12. The contact apparatus suddenly rang, every one reporting perfect control. The contact rang several times.  Control as originally announced. Walter, a moment later, told Munn to sit up. Munn says at the moment that he was leaning over.
10.20. Bird has just changed his foot control. He now has Margery ankle to ankle, his foot beyond hers, between hers and the box.
10.24. At Walter's request we turned on the light for five seconds.
10.27. At Walter's request the red light was put on for five seconds.
10.30. The contact apparatus rang one long peal. All controls reported perfect as previously. Half a minute later another ring. He then asked Munn how many times he should ring it. Munn said five. He then rang one, two, three, four five. He then said "Good-night." We turned on the light to examine positions and controls, etc. Conant and Munn moved out of the circle in order to make room for a photograph to be taken of the Houdini-Margery-Bird control. In order to do this it is of course obvious that the control of the right-hand side of F. H. had to be sacrificed for the photograph. As stated, however, this control was maintained at the time of the sitting.
After the sitting we examined the cabinet. We found that both the parts were neatly folded up together so that the whole thing was perhaps only four feet wide and pretty nearly flat. It was more or less symmetrically behind Margery's chair a few inches.
(Signed) D. F. Comstock,
(Signed) R. W. Conant,
(Signed) G. F. Wood,
(Signed) J. Malcolm Bird.

It is understood and specified by Houdini and Munn that in the event of publication of this document, it shall be published only in full, and that no abstracts, quotations, etc., from it shall appear singly. All the foregoing that came within my personal observation is correct.
(Signed) Orson D. Munn,
(Signed) Houdini.

Just previous to the sitting, I thoroughly searched Margery. She removed most of her clothes, and I examined her and them carefully. She wore a loose green linen dress into the seance room, and I examined this carefully before she put it on. She also removed her shoes, and I examined her feet and shoes carefully. She then put her shoes on again. She also took down her hair, which I searched.
The search was conducted in the light, and then I also searched her in the dark for luminous spots of any description.
No such spots were seen.
(Signed) G. F. Wood.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps