A Halloween date with Houdini

The famous Brava theatre is staging the 2015 official Harry Houdini séance, as part of the Bay Area Science Festival and some famous ectoplasm is expected to top the bill

 

Are you interested in finding out once and for all whether there is life after death? And would like to commune with someone who has been dead for 89 years? If so, this Halloween, San Francisco’s Brava Theater is the only place to be see. And heard.

The famous theatre is staging the 2015 official Harry Houdini séance, as part of the Bay Area Science Festival and some famous ectoplasm is expected to top the bill. The former Roosevelt Theatre, an ex- vaudeville/movie house built in 1926 on the lower 24th Street in the Mission District, has recently undergone a $3 million renovation. And on October 31st, will host the annual attempt to bring Houdini back from the dead.

Houdini died in Detroit on Halloween, 1926, nine days after being punched by McGill student Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead. Reportedly , the punch aggravated existing appendicitis. Houdini claimed he could withstand any punch to the stomach. He wasn’t prepared for that punch.

The séance commemorates not only the famous escapologist and magician but also the late Sid Radner, who owned one of the largest collections of Houdini memorabilia. He worked with Houdini’s brother, Hardeen, at New York’s Lamb Club.

“Sid collected milk churns , leg irons, manacles, shackles, punishment suits and straightjackets. He was the foremost authority on Houdini and did much to keep the séance going,” says co-organiser Tom Boldt, from Houdini’s home town of Appleton, Wisconsin. The town has just unveiled a statue in its Houdini Plaza dedicated to its favourite son.

San Francisco magician, and séance moderator Robert Strong says “We have a full programme of entertainment with magician Justin Willman, escape artist Brian Brushwood, skeptics Jamy Ian Swiss and Michael Shermer and historian John Cox. ” Strong’s great-great uncle was Sid Radner. “Houdini performed in Frisco four times. First in 1899 and for the last time in 1923.” Psychic and medium Terrie Huberman hopes Houdini will make his fifth appearance this year. “While Mr Houdini will be invited to join our seance , he may not accept the invitation. For me, it’s an honour to even be able to extend the invite”.

Addressing doubters, magician Swiss says, “Houdini’s name still means magic. But he was also a crusading sceptic , a debunker of fraudulent séance mediums and a cutting edge examiner at the birth of the science of parapsychology.”

Skeptic Michael Shermer says he most wants to ask Houdini “ how he did the trick with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”.

“In April 1922 , Harry visited Doyle in his home and, using slate writing , convinced him you could communicate with the dead.”

In 2016 Fox and ITV Encore will air a 10-part Houdini & Doyle mini-series starring Michael Weston and Stephen Managan. “Houdini got Doyle to hang the slate anywhere. He then asked him to pick one of four cork balls and fill it with white ink. He then asked Doyle to leave the house and write down a message. Doyle chose ‘Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin’, a riddle from the Book of Daniel, meaning ‘It has been counted, counted, weighed and divided’,” Shermer explains.

“The slate spelled it out. But Houdini told Doyle it was nothing supernatural. Only a magic trick.”

Houdini was fond of saying “Don’t fool around with the fakirs”. But he promised his wife, Bess, who died in 1943, if there was an afterlife he would speak from it.

Séances were held for 10 years and then abandoned. Radner revived them, although no one has revived Harry. Yet.

“Some people make fun of all this stuff. But we hire real bona fide mediums,” Boldt says. “We have had séances all round the States and even in London.”

“We all look forward to the séance,” Boldt says. “Fans meet up to talk about Harry and to remember Sid. And maybe talk to Harry. There is a code that only Sid knew. And some handcuffs we put on the table that only Harry knew how to pick. We hope to hear from Harry soon. He once said that only when people were sure he was licked would he appear. He was a master of suspense.”

Although Cox is more realistic: “ I don’t think anyone really believes Houdini’s going to come back and make an appearance. This is all about celebrating the great man and having some spooky fun on Halloween. Harry used to attend séances in disguise, so I’ll be looking at the audience closely.” See houdini-seance.com. Tickets are $39 general admission and $69 VIP seating

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