Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"It affords me pleasure to address you for a few moments on the subject of Spiritualism"

On December 3, 1925, at approximately 7:53pm, Houdini gave a radio address via station WTIC in Hartford, CT. In this address he spelled out his exact position on Spiritualism and issued his famous challenge for proof of authentic psychic phenomena or any "weird power" not explainable by science (thereby expanding his challenge somewhat).

Houdini felt this statement was important enough that he signed each page of his typewritten speech and had it witnessed and time stamped by a WTIC representative. What he said that evening -- or even the fact that he made this address -- has never appeared in any book to the best of my knowledge.

I own the original signed and witnessed speech that Houdini made that night. I figure it's not doing magic historians any good tucked away in my bookcase, so here is the full text of what Houdini said that night on WTIC.

If you are familiar with the cadence of his speech as heard in the famous wax cylinder recordings, you can really hear his voice in this.

Ladies and Gentlemen: --
It affords me pleasure to address you for a few moments on the subject of Spiritualism, and so that there is no misunderstanding regarding my attitude, I want it distinctly understood that I am not attacking the religion of Spiritualism, as that is what a number of Spiritualists claim.
I respect the genuine believer and I know many people who believe in the intercommunication with the dead, just the same as I know of Hindus who sleep on sharp pointed nails.  Although I do not believe in their particular belief, nevertheless, I respect them for their sincerity.
So that the "listeners in" may know my object, I am the spokesman for an aggregate sum, closely amounting to $50,000, which is sort of a premium of reward to any human being gifted as a psychic who will prove under test conditions, without a shadow of a doubt, that the disembodied spirit can return and manifest with physical activity.
I am not a skeptic - I am willing to believe and my mind is wide open but in 35 years, I have never met a medium who could convert me.  It has been my adventure to go to seances and detect noted mediums, fraudulently producing manifestations.
I would like to hear from anyone who is acquainted with a medium who I can present before the Committee of the Scientific American, which I represent and one of the Committee.  Some medium who under laboratory conditions would submit to a Group A of Harvard professors selected by Dr. Morton Prince, Editor of Journal of Social and Abnormal Psychology who did me the honor of selecting me as one of Group A.
So that the "listeners in" will understand what is desired, the medium must present, not necessarily an invisible intelligence performing any acrobatic stunts, but if they are endowed with any strange or weird power, not explainable by any known science, the reward will be given to them without question.
The inspirational medium who under test conditions can prove the authenticity of their information, not by coincidence, chance or pre-arrangment, to the best of my knowledge could apply to the latter committee, but not to the Scientific American, as they demand physical activity for their reward.
I shall be at the Parsons Theatre all this week and then at the Opera House, Worcester, Mass. next week and would be delighted to hear from anyone who has a medium to report to me.
Now, please understand, this is not an attack against the religion, as everyone has a right to their own belief, as long as it does not conflict with the laws of the country or humanity.

He then annotates the speech by hand:

I also added "Here is a kiss for all the little girls." 
                                            Goodwishes
                                         Harry Houdini
                                               7:53 PM
                                            Dec 3/1925

                          WC Johnson - WTIC - Hartford
                                               12/3/25.


It's not generally known that Houdini did a lot of radio in the final years of his life. Radio was quickly becoming the mass media of the day, and Houdini was on top of it. Not only did he make speeches like this, but he also cut promos for his theater appearances. In fact, following the infamous dressing room punch and performance at the Princess Theater, Houdini went and did an interview with a Montreal radio station. With so much material, I firmly believe there must be undiscovered recordings of Houdini's radio work out there.

What about this one? While it appears to have been done live, it may be possible a recording was made. It was the Great Houdini after all. And having the precise date and time could be the key to discovering a recording if one exists.

Happily, WTIC-CT is still around (it's part of CBS Radio), so I sent off an inquiry to their Public Affairs dept. see whether they could find anything in their archives. Unfortunately, word came back that they were unable to turn up anything in their records. Dang. Although having some experience with archives, just because it's not in the current database doesn't always mean it's not in the vaults...somewhere. I'm not giving up hope.

So, for now, we don't have Houdini's radio voice. But we do have his words.

John Cox Collection

UPDATE: The search is on for Houdini's WTIC radio broadcast.

9 comments:

  1. Ladies and Gentlemen, That is what a historical Home Run looks like! Wow! Awesome!

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  2. This is fab - you've really excelled yourself! You're right you know ... if you've listened to those old recordings, you can hear his voice saying the words. I really hope something does turn up in the archives. You never know ... if the Beatles had "lost" tapes then anything is possible.

    Houdini was such a paradox ... a rational guy who sometimes behaved a bit irrationally, particularly when inflamed by passion. But on this score (spiritualism) he was absolutely right. There were people who just didn't want to hear what he was saying because it didn't fit with their own agendas. Not much new under the sun there, I suppose.

    I once read an article written by an idiot who described Houdini as a "one trick" person who would not be so famous if he was around today. Not much understanding there of what drove him to be what he was or how intent he was on being if not the first then "the greatest" at whatever he chose to do. He was certainly very good at getting people talking and thinking. It really makes me wonder what he would have done with a greater gift of years at his disposal.

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  3. Astonishing. Had no idea this existed. Thanks for sharing and for setting an example to other collectors.

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  4. Thanks guys. I've owned this for a while. My father got it for my birthday many moons ago. (It's actually dated on my birthday -- Dec 3 -- something he didn't even realize.) But I always felt a little guilty about owning it. It just seemed too important to not be out there. Now it is. This is what's great about having a blog like this.

    But I'm afraid that's probably the coolest thing I own. All down hill from here. ;)

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  5. It's a bit confusing. What are the two committees -- Scientific American and a separate Group A committee? Scientific American requires physical manifestation, and Group A studies anything weird? "Inspirational medium" seems to refer to mediums who give information but not physical manifestations.

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  6. Good question, Eric. Not sure what "Group A" is. Something to investigate.

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  7. How cool is THIS?! It IS easy to hear Houdini speaking after hearing his voice on the wax cylinder recording. Thanks for sharing with us as usual!

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  8. This was VERY interesting! I remember arguing with magicians, before the cylinder recording surfaced, that with Houdini's love of gadgets, there MUST be a recording out there SOMEWHERE of his voice! They all said "if there was, it would have surfaced by now". Imagine my GLEE when i heard that cylinder recording for the first time {AND the smug look i had on my face re: what was said!}. I have been a fan of old time radio for many years, & know radio transcriptions & wire recordings surfacing from that time are VERY rare, BUT, just like the cylinder recording, they MAY still surface one day. The one lone copy might just be in an attic somewhere waiting to be found. Who knows. Let's just keep hoping, & not give up, just like i didn't. :)

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  9. Also, to further prove my above point that it may be possable, A film of the great scotch singer of music hall & vaudeville fame, Sir Harry Lauder, a film thought to be lost for all time, was found, of all places, on a PIG FARM! So, you never know!
    Bill Smith

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