Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini and an attractive middle aged Bostonian physician’s wife, Mina Crandon, turned medium, square off in this intriguing book that focuses on the age of spiritualism that captivated the US and England following WWI (then known as the Great War). The Witch of Lime Street, SĂ©ance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, written by David Jaher explores the time period and the overwhelming need for many families to communicate past the veil with their loved ones in the next world – those lost to the Spanish flu epidemic or to the Great War. It was a time of table knocking, spirit trumpets, flying tables, ectoplasm and charlatans posing as mediums with a direct line to the spirit world – and Houdini was committed to defrocking the imposters. 

The friendship between Sir Arthur and the illusionist Harry Houdini (and contortionist/escape artist) is well documented in a number of other books.  This book is different because it focuses on the popular Scientific American magazine contest to find a true medium who could produce physical phenomena – such as flying objects or ectoplasm…mental mediums need not apply. If it could be proven that trickery was not involved (and a panel of judges including Houdini who had made it his life’s work to unmask frauds) then the prize was $5000.

And the chase to find a real medium was on ----and Mrs. Crandon was just learning that she indeed seemed to have psychic powers. As the book progresses the author does a good job of introducing historical figures and debunking the frauds. It is a good read and if mediumship, magic and history interest you, a very entertaining read. It is also very sad – how many people were (and still are taken in by fraudulent claims). But, I'll let you read and discover for yourself if  Mrs. Crandon was declared a winner by Scientific American after all the other claimants to the title were defrocked by Houdini.

I received an advance copy from the publisher