Dorothy Dietrich lights the candelabra before leading the séance with a few moments of silence. Photo: Carson Kessler
On the ground floor of Harry Houdini’s childhood home on the Upper East Side, magicians and magic fans gathered around a table crowded with the legendary escape artist’s memorabilia.
Magician Harry Houdini captured the world’s attention as he consistently found his way out of straitjackets, torture chambers, and the strongest of locks and chains.
But even after his death on October 31, 1926, Houdini has continued to attract magic fans hoping to witness his greatest escape yet.
“If anyone could come back and escape from any place, even the great beyond, it would have to be Houdini,” magician Dick Brooks said of the master escapist.
Houdini’s legendary handcuffs glistened in the candlelight as magicians-turned-mediums Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks led the group in the 90th annual Houdini séance.
An annual séance for Houdini has become a Halloween tradition since the magician died. Houdini, skeptical of fraudulent mediums, made sure his wife, Beatrice (Bess) Houdini would never have to worry about false claims of his return. Together they created a cryptic code of the word “believe” from their favorite song, “Rosabelle,” so she could confirm any after-death communication was authentic.
However, after holding séances for ten years with no luck, a disheartened Bess Houdini handed the tradition down to Walter B. Gibson, a writer, who later passed on the tradition to Dietrich.
As the first woman to have caught a bullet with her teeth, Dietrich is often referred to as the “female Houdini.” Coincidentally born on the 43rd anniversary of his death, Dietrich was the first female escape artist since Houdini.
Since she first began leading the annual séances, Dietrich claims to have experienced a few strange occurrences.
“Last year, we were holding hands and a little fly landed on my arm,” she recalled. “Usually a fly will get the message and get lost, but no, it stood there for a while and then flew off and landed on the Harry’s handcuffs.”
Brooks experienced a similar oddity at the 50th anniversary séance when a picture of Houdini performing his infamous Chinese water torture cell trick suddenly fell off the wall during the ceremony.
On Tuesday, Dietrich and Brooks repeatedly asked Houdini to make his presence known. Both magicians urged him to rattle his handcuffs, blow out a candle, or flicker the lights.
However, Houdini was a little shy. No handcuffs were rattled, no candles blown out, and the lights remained off.
Despite the disappointing outcome of the séance, the magicians and magic fans continue to remain hopeful for Houdin’s reappearance next year.