Below is an extract from an article published in the Washington Times where Harry Houdini answered a question about his stance on spiritualism. The writer believes that Houdini is hypercritical in his approach and doesn't acknowledge what it would take for a spirit or ghost to communicate with the living. He suggests that perhaps this attitude is why he has not witnessed proof. Houdini responds with an open mind but citing his disappointing results thus far. He acknowledges his past biased approach but attests that he does indeed go into each investigation he does with an open mind and after all of the fraudulent activity he was sadly been presented with, he continued to go on in his search for the truth.
Scores of letters today wore received by Harry Houdini, master magician and student of psychic phenomena, who has consented to answer, through The Washington Times, questions on matters pertaining to communication with the spirit world. Houdini avows he is open to conviction on the Subject of spiritualism, but in three decades of world-wide research he has uncovered no direct evidence of the professed powers of mediums. Houdini does not claim to be a clairvoyant. He will answer no questions on love problems or other matters which do not reach into the realm of his study. Letters addressed to him through The Washington Times, and received today, are answered as follows:
Question: I have had the opportunity to visit the Rialto and give the photoplay, "The Man Prom Beyond," the "once over." I think some of our American slang is seond to none In conveying an Impression, and always "gets there." I was born In Glasgow, Scotland - you know that old city - about fifty years ago. Since that memorable day one of the subjects that has ever been all-absorbing to me Is that which you ao strongly oppose in your lectures and your demonatrations; namely, spiritulism.
I venture this expression at your invitation to state that the subject as handled by you, In your capacity as the world's most famous magician, is simply the coordinate opposite to the truth, a view which is but the legitimate outcome of your life's work. For I am sure you will concede that your mind has been ever and always intensely active in accounting for any and all occurrences on the natural plane as being of material origin and to a greater degree mechanical.
At the early age of eighteen years, I was engaged in Bathstreet, Glasgow, as a public healer. At that time Prof. Bodle, the electrical expert, was operating in the city. On many occasions I have had successes where the worthy professorr had failed. This was in connection with the Spiritualist Association. Later I took up the theological study of the phenomena and with the Stevensons - famous in Scotland as mediums -inaugurated what was then denominated the Church of the Prophets. This, by the way, was a celibate organization. During that time we had exclusive circles to which strangers were never admitted. The results on these occasions were real and true beyond a doubt.
From there I came to America and lectured in New York and Baltimore on the subject that is through affiliation with the movement. And later I spent fourteen years In the scientific studv of theology. The founder of the colony in which I lived was the most prolific writer on
the subject - scientific.
On the other hand I have seen your performance on manv occasions. The manner in which you accomplish your show is almost incredible to me. I do state that whereas I have seen into the intricacies und complexities of the spirit world. I have signally failed to comprehend: that is to be able to understand how you accomplish such wonderful things. Nor do I consider myself a novice.
You can never truly conclude that because you can duplicate the doings of the spirits to your entire satisfaction that that is a sure sign that the other fellow was doing a Houdlnl also. There is but one reason why. in my mind, you have failed to meet success In your Investigations - you are hypercritical.
Think of this - few people, very few have the courage to go into a room and be confronted with what they regard as a ghost. The rule works both ways. Spirits In passing through the veil of the medulla to the natural plane do so with as much fear and trembling.
They have to be encouraged- helped, not opposed mentally or physically.
In this, I am not assailling you, many men of the stage using such methods to amuse. Only I do regard you the cleverest of all, out in view of what I have seen and come through for the sake of investigation, I cannot realise howthe subject has evaded you as it has. Of one thing I am certain, absolutely, your present-day opinion of the subject of spiritism is most erratic.
DR. JAMES W. CALDERWOOD.
Answer: The most casual perusal of your letter would show me that you are a most earnest student and tolerant of other students. You may say that I am hypercritical and you infer that I have pursued my investigations with my tongue in my cheek. Most solemnly I assure you that this has not been the case. At a seance, allow me to affirm, none has a more open, a more sympathetic mind than I. Because, doctor, my purpose is not to say spiritualism is a snare and a delusion. I am mining for the truth, and hoping to strike it, despite long years of disappointment and disillusionment.
In the meantime. I believe myself entitled to publish the results of my Investigations; to publish the truthful results, uncolored by prejudice.
Perhaps you think that my training as a magician has unfitted me mentally to be a studious observer of the psychic. I admit that in the first yrars of my work, the mechanical and other material means known to me In the practice of magic tended to close my eyes and ears to open minded study. I have overcome this fault, realising that my work would be lost labor If I did not do so.
The crystallised result of my research Is that I can give a definite material reason for every spiritualistic phenomenon witnessed by me. I cannot truthfully claim to be able to explain everything I have seen during my study, or to duplicate everything.
Still I am unconvinced of the ability of spirits to communicate with the living world. Believe me, this is no cause for pride In me. I do not regard the results of my work in the light of an achievement. On the contrary, I assume a negative viewpoint:
Namely. I have failed to find spiritualism what its proponents claim it Is. My hopes have been raised again and again as spiritualists hail a new medium as the living vindication of their cause. One by one, I have seen these mediums, exposed as frauds, drop from public esteem and from public notice. Is it not then remarkable, doctor, that I am still open to conviction?
Mr. Houdlnl today accepted challenge. sent to him through The Washington Times, purporting to be from the General Assembly or Spiritualists of New York State, offering $5,000 to any person duplicating eight alleged manifestations of spirit power, or producing them through trickery, fraud or deception.
The manifestations are materializationon of etheric or astral forms while confined in a wire enclosure; writing of intelligble message on the inside of sealed slates; correct playing of the piano by one who has never played and has no Instruction; correct writing and of a speaking foreign language by one who has never known or been instructed n
that language; levitation of ponderable bodles without mechanical or physical force; production of Independent voices, and the correct and accurate description of the dead by one not knowing the dead.
"I accept the challenge, through The Washington Times," announcedMr. Houdlnl today, "and would prefer that the test be made as soon as possible, as I would desire to Incorporate the results In my book on spiritualism, now in preparation. I
am very anxious to see clear proof of communication with spirits, and conviction on this score would be worth far more to me than $5000.
The Washington times. [volume] (Washington [D.C.]) 1902-1939, August 25, 1922, HOME FINAL EDITION
So what do you think? Is Houdini hypercritical and not giving spiritualism enough of a chance or is he right to be so analytical in his approach?
I will publish more of this Q & A's from archived articles over the coming weeks.
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