History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so-called Witch of Lime Street, whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal.
The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.
Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes' creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery's powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee. Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified. Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince...the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini.
David Jaher's extraordinary debut culminates in the showdown between Houdini, a relentless unmasker of charlatans, and Margery, the nation's most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry and the competition that brought them into each other’s orbit, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: Is there life after death?
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author
DAVID JAHER received a BA from Brandeis University and an MFA in film production from New York University. At NYU, he was the recipient of the WTC Johnson Fellowship for directing. A New York native and resident, he is a screenwriter and is writing his next work of American history.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
Part I The Dead Boys 1
Part II The River of Doubt 21
Part III The New Wilderness 51
Part IV The Saxophone and Spirit Trumpet 81
Part V The Great Spirit Hunt 105
Part VI The Witch of Lime Street 181
Part VII Spirits of the Dead 295
Part VIII How Death Deals Its Cards 365
Part IX The Shadow of a Dream 391
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher It was the 1920’s. After the Great War, a rise in a religious movement known as spiritualism would shake the world. With mediums everywhere, some were hopeless fakes and some were downright convincing. Could it be that any of them were genuine? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame became a man obsessed with spiritualism. He was convinced that his wife Lady Jean had the gift of “automatic writing.” He was a major player in introducing Spiritualism to the masses, even making trips to the USA and Canada on speaking tours. But there was one friend of Doyle’s who was as staunchly against Spiritualism as Sir Arthur was its promoter. That was the escape artist and magician Harry Houdini. Houdini was convinced that all mediums were outrageous fakes, perhaps because he had once been a fake medium himself. With his knowledge of slight-of-hand and experience with escaping the most treacherous of bonds, Houdini felt no medium could do anything that he could not reproduce by trickery. Enter Mrs. Mina Crandon, a pretty blond lady of good family, who lived at 10 Lime Street in Boston. Her repertoire was extreme. Her spirit guide was said to be her deceased brother, Walter Stinson. Foul-mouthed and violent, the supposed Walter would cause the table to levitate, bells to ring, spirit trumpets to float, stop clocks, and pull hair and harass the sitters. Later in the medium’s life, Walter claimed to produce “ectoplasm” in the form of hands and nebulous shape-shifting animals. Starting in July 1924, Mrs. Cranston, under the pseudonym of Margery, came under scrutiny by The Scientific American magazine which had a two rewards of $2,500: one for anyone who could demonstrate that they could talk to the dead under controlled conditions, and one for an unquestionable psychic or ghost photograph. One of the judges in the contest was Harry Houdini. Houdini and Margery went round after round and eventually Houdini proved her false. Undaunted, she continued and was finally caught and denounced by other investigators. This is the story of that battle, showing how far people who are otherwise brilliant will also themselves to be lead down the garden path by trickery because they desperately want to believe. It shows also how scientists set up a control situation, and how a cunning faker can fool them even then. Houdini wasn’t a scientist, but he understood all the tricks used by stage magicians and he could then set guard against them. Controlled investigation of such claims is still carried on today by the James Randi Foundation. If a reader would be interested, Randi’s book Flimflam is a treat to read! I give this book five stars plus! Quoth the Raven…
After World War I there was a rise in popularity a new religion referred to as Spiritualism due to the claimed ability of the mediums who practiced it to reach and converse with loved ones who had passed away. So widespread did the movement become that there were churches and national societies of Spiritualism popping up everywhere and even various scientists began to sit in on the occasional séance in an effort to research the phenomenon. With such well-known proponents claiming the truth of it as author Arthur Conan Doyle, spiritualism was making headlines. As a result of popular appeal to investigate, the Scientific American launched a contest offering a large monetary prize to any medium who could withstand the scrutiny of and convince their five-man investigative panel. Among the panel was the renowned magician Harry Houdini, who believed all mediums to be a particularly low level of charlatan preying upon the emotions of the grief-stricken. Houdini vowed to disprove any medium when he eagerly joined the committee. Though not many mediums were daring enough to go up against such a panel, there were a few, all eventually outed, until the famous Mina Crandon, known colloquially as the medium Margery. In attempting to disprove Margery, Houdini faced his greatest battle and the committee was split between believers and doubters, though even the doubters were hard-pressed to come up with an explanation as to how Margery was creating so many special effects. In The Witch of Lime Street, author David Jaher has deftly re-created a fascinating time period in history in which a particular belief system rose to prominence then crashed and fell out of favor. In the middle of it all, Conan Doyle, Margery, Houdini and the panel of judges battled it out in a ghostly showdown that is riveting and meticulously detailed. An excellent read. Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Easy to read and very detailed