Houdini's Promise to Prove Life After Death

Updated on July 4, 2020
KT Dunn profile image

KT Dunn is a Midwest native with a lifelong interest in history and mystery.

Life and Career

Ehrich Weiss, known professionally as Harry Houdini or the Great Houdini, was a world-renowned magician and “escape artist” who began his entertainment career with a trapeze act. Born in Budapest in 1874, he came to the United States with his family, where they first settled in Milwaukee and later moved to New York.

As a child Ehrich began to perform on the trapeze, then as a young man developed a sleight-of-hand magic act and worked for a time in a circus. In 1894, by this time known as Houdini, he married Beatrice “Bess” Rahner, also a stage performer, and they continued working together throughout his career.

In the early 1900s, he experimented with escape acts, most notably involving handcuffs, chains, and straitjackets, as well as submersion in a locked underwater chamber. He continued to gain greater fame as a performer, and he and Bess toured across the country and in Europe. Always physically fit, Harry utilized his strength and agility to develop a successful vaudeville act in which he demonstrated his intricate escape and illusion techniques. His popularity with audiences led him to make several movies and start his own film production company, but he eventually gave up this venture in 1923, claiming it was not profitable enough.

Houdini | Source

In Search of Truth

From the late 19th century, spiritualism had become a popular diversion in the US and abroad. Mediums held seances to contact spirits, which often produced phony results aided by props. Houdini believed that many of these practitioners were preying upon people in their time of grief who were desperate to contact deceased loved ones. By 1923 he became intent upon debunking these purveyors of false hope and learning whether spiritualism had any basis in fact.

Harry was always very close to his mother Cecilia, and some say his interest in mediums and spirit contact was prompted by her death in 1913. In any event, he was troubled by spiritual charlatanism and determined to expose it. He joined a Scientific American Magazine committee formed for the purpose of authenticating mediums. The magazine was offering a reward to anyone who could prove their mediumistic abilities, but none were able to satisfy the requirements.

Final Days

By 1925 Houdini had begun a popular show during which he personally offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could produce a supernatural event that he was unable to disprove. On October 22, 1926, while on tour in Montreal and recovering from a recently broken ankle, Houdini was resting on a couch in his dressing room. The story goes that a McGill University student named J. Gordon Whitehead and a couple of his friends were visiting with Houdini there. During the course of the conversation, Whitehead allegedly decided to test a claim that Harry had made about being able to withstand abdominal blows. Whitehead suddenly delivered several hard punches to Houdini’s stomach while he was reclining on the couch and unable to prepare for it.

Following this incident, Houdini experienced a great deal of pain, but traveled to Detroit for his next appearance without seeking treatment. Suffering from a high fever following a show on October 24 at the Garrick Theater, he finally agreed to be hospitalized and was taken to Grace Hospital in Detroit. There he was diagnosed with appendicitis and underwent surgery, which revealed a ruptured appendix and peritonitis with little hope for recovery.

Harry Houdini clung to life for another week, but finally died on October 31, 1926, at the age of 52, with his wife Bess by his side. His funeral was held in New York City with burial in Queens on November 4, 1926. Approximately 2,000 mourners were in attendance. The question persists to this day whether the blows to his abdomen on October 22 led to his death, or whether he had coincidentally developed appendicitis and failed to seek treatment until his appendix had ruptured and peritonitis set in.

Houdini in 1899
Houdini in 1899 | Source

The Houdini Seances

In 1927, the year following Houdini’s death, Bess Houdini held the first of several seances in an attempt to contact her deceased husband. Harry had told her he would deliver a message to her in the form of a secret code, known only to her, if he were able to do so from the other side. She attempted to make contact privately, and she also offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who might be able to deliver the message to her. A medium named Arthur Ford was apparently able to meet the challenge, and Bess publicly accepted the results. Ford stated that he had been able to receive the coded message, which contained the words “Rosabelle believe.” In January 1929 Bess and Ford participated in a seance in which Houdini purportedly came through. However, this was soon decried in the newspapers as a hoax, with allegations that Houdini’s secret code had already been revealed and that Ford was a fraud. Eventually, Bess did withdraw her support of Ford, and stated that she did not believe he had been able to communicate with her husband.

She continued to hold seances, however, with the final one taking place on Halloween night, October 31, 1936, the tenth anniversary of Houdini’s death. The event was a rather elaborate production staged on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood, with an audio recording released later. At the end of it, Houdini had failed to come through, and Bess announced that she had officially given up her efforts to reach him.

I now reverently turn out the light. It is finished. Good night, Harry.

— Bess Houdini

Although Bess apparently finally turned out the light, believers everywhere continue to seek a message from the Great Houdini, with seances held on Halloween night each year.

Houdini with his mother, Cecilia, and his wife, Bess
Houdini with his mother, Cecilia, and his wife, Bess | Source


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      7 months ago

      Actually, he was extremely devoted to debunking mediums, but he used to be a big fan of spiritualism, until he went to a fake seance and noticed the medium’s fakery.

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      2 years ago

      A gangbusters-of-a-hub, KT! Loved every word. And great use of graphics. I could tell that a lot of hours and research went into this hub. Way to go. I wish only the best for you.

    • KT Dunn profile imageAUTHOR

      KT Dunn 

      2 years ago from United States

      Thanks for reading, Flourish! Yes, Houdini's story has fascinated me for years. He worked so hard to achieve success, only to have his life tragically cut short.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      What an interesting story, and a tragic one, too. Those students assaulted him and ended up killing him with their "test" of his claims.

    • KT Dunn profile imageAUTHOR

      KT Dunn 

      2 years ago from United States

      Thank you so much, Mike! I wanted to do a Halloween story at the time, so this came to mind. I've always thought Houdini's life was remarkable and his death needlessly tragic.

    • Readmikenow profile image


      2 years ago

      Very well done. I enjoyed reading this and learning more about the magician legend Houdini.

    • KT Dunn profile imageAUTHOR

      KT Dunn 

      2 years ago from United States

      Yes, his story is one of incredible determination as well as an important bit of our history. Your comment is greatly appreciated, Paula. Thank you!

    • fpherj48 profile image


      2 years ago from Carson City

      Harry Houdini was a fascinating & mysterious individual whose life story is inspiring. You've done an excellent job of sharing this pertinent information with your readers. Thank you for this enjoyable article.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, exemplore.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)