Friday, November 27, 2015

Houdini and Margery in the apple orchards

In last year's Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody, there is a scene in which Margery (played by Megan Hobbs) attempts to seduce Houdini in his hotel room. I pegged this as "False" in my Houdini miniseries fact check, pointing out that Margery did not have the opportunity to mount such a seduction. Unlike some other members of the Scientific American committee who investigated the medium in 1924, Houdini did not stay in the Crandons home at 10 Lime Street.

But it now looks like I owe screenwriter Nicholas Meyer an apology. In the excellent new book, The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, author David Jaher reveals that Margery did tempt the magician with what he famously called her "applesauce." But the location of this alleged seduction was not in Houdini's hotel. Here truth is stranger than the fiction.

On page 257, Jaher explains:

Despite the rift, Houdini discovered that Margery rarely made critics feel unwelcome at Lime Street. After his run-in with Conant, Houdini arrived to inform the Crandons and their guests that all was ready for seance that evening. The exchange between Houdini and the psychic were refreshingly pleasant away from the Charlesgate. Margery even asked the magician, who admitted he was exhausted, if he wanted to take a nap upstairs rather than retire to the Copley. After accepting her offer, he followed her upstairs to her absent son's bedroom.

She told him that John would be thrilled to know the Handcuff King had slept in his bed. Houdini replied that he would like to meet John sometime and entertain him. Privately, though, the magician could not understand why the Crandons sent their son away from home while any scientist who could quote William James was welcome to stay there.


Sometime later, Munn heard Margery descending the staircase. Joking that she had just tucked Houdini in, she rejoined them in the parlor.

Later on page 266, Houdini himself revealed what went on in the bedroom:

Margery had tried to vamp him in her own son's bedroom, he told Prince, and when seduction failed, her husband purportedly tried to bribe him at the final Charlesgate seance.

It appears Houdini even alluded to this publicly during his anti-spiritualism lectures. On page 380 Jaher quotes Houdini as saying:

"Margery handed out applesauce to the investigators," he asserted. "I know this because I have walked through the apple orchards myself."

Boom. So...


Check out my full review of The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher HERE. The book is available on Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

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21 comments:

  1. HH most likely took the upstairs nap offer because the séance would be held that evening and the nap was not worth traveling to the Copley and back again. I don't believe he spent the night there like Carrington and Bird, who stuffed their faces with custard pie at the Crandons wondering how they struck such easy graft.

    That photo of HH and Mina gazing at each other and smiling really contradicts much of what is out there in HH lore.

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    1. I know, it's an incredible photo, isn't it? I first discussed it HERE.

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  2. In that Frenemies blog, there is a group photo of HH, Mina and company. In that photo, she is staring at HH! She just couldn't keep her eyes off him. He did have that classic Roman profile.

    It's important to remember that Margery played the medium because Dr. Crandon enjoyed it. She wasn't bilking people out of their money. The only cash she stood to make was the SA prize. I think HH went easier on her because she wasn't stealing from people. It didn't hurt that she was attractive.

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  3. Will Rogers had a syndicated Daily Telegram in the newspapers from 1926 until his death in 1935, and I noticed that he frequently uses the word "applesauce" to mean "nonsense" in these columns.

    This is not to say that there isn't a "hanky-panky" aspect to Houdini's use of the word, but Will usually applied it to things that politicians said, giving the impression that, at the time, the word was equivalent to "baloney."

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    1. Yeah, I seem to recall it being used that way in an episode or two of the The Little Rascals. But I guess a manipulative seduction -- expressions of attraction -- could be consider "baloney" that she handed out to the investigators. Hard to know the exact meaning of slang back in the day. And slang was probably even more regional back then.

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  4. Does Jaher provide any citation Or source for this event?

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    1. I don't recall whether he does within the text. I don't think so. And the book doesn't include page specific source notes.

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  5. Interesting stuff. Even though Jaher is the first to put it in print, I suspected that Margery would have tried to work her wiles on Houdini; she was pretty successful with Bird and Carrington. Houdini was right when he referred to her in a note as "resourceful and unscrupulous."

    -Meredith

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    1. And Jaher is first with this, correct? I kinda feel like I've heard this nap story before. I checked Silverman and Kalush and didn't find any mention there. Maybe in the Chris Sandford book?

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  6. Why are we assuming it is truth just because Jaher wrote it? He doesn't cite ithe source and takes liberties elsewhere, and even says in his notes that he took some creative liberties.

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    1. Yeah, pretty much. At some point you just have to decide whether you feel you are in the hands of a trustworthy author or not. Not every sentence can be sourced. But Jaher's writing style makes it clear (to me at least) when he's taking liberties, creating conversations, for example, that may not have played out exactly as written. But the existence of this event would not fall under that category, even though the conversation he plays out in the room -- the last chapter in the book -- clearly is a liberty. But he says that on the following page.

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  7. How many times did HH attend Margery's séances? I count 4 sittings in total:

    1. The first sitting on the evening of July 23, 1924. HH arrives in Boston with Munn, they check into the Copley Plaza Hotel and head out to 10 Lime Street where they have dinner with the Crandons and sit for the séance. HH and Munn go back to the Copley.

    2. Munn and HH return the next day for the follow up séance. Afterwards, HH takes the midnight train back to 278.

    3. A familiarization séance takes place at Comstock's Boston apartment on August 25th with Margery inside the Fraudproof Box. Front of box busted and so on.

    4. HH's last séance with Margery in the Fraudproof Box. Nothing happens except the ruler episode.

    If HH took a nap at the Crandon home, it had to be on the first or second July trip. The last 2 séances were not held at Lime Street. Nothing in Christopher's Untold Story about the nap.

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    1. I believe there was one final seance at the Charlesgate with a control device devised by Comstock.

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  8. Ah--you're right. I assume the Charlesgate was the name of Dr. Comstock's apartment? His restraint was some type of knee high apparatus to control Margery's feet. Apparently HH showed up in gym clothes to allay any suspicion that he was concealing anything.

    Amazing that they all dined together one last time before this last séance.

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    1. Yes, the Charlesgate was a residential hotel. It's still there.

      I've always been curious above that final Margery restraint device. Never seen a pic. I love that HH showed up in gym clothes.

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  9. Even assuming Houdini really did tell Prince (who is that?) about this, I would take it with a grain of salt anytime someone claims they were vamped by anyone, especially when the vampee has an interest in discrediting the vampire and is famously egotistical. Houdini could have innocently misinterpreted/exaggerated whatever it was Mina said to him at their house. I don't know the Bird/Carrington story—I've heard they were "charmed" by her, but I don't know exactly what that means—but Margery was called "the short-skirted medium" in the press (as I saw in your Houdini's-spiritualism-scrapbook post), and it seems like the idea could have been to discredit her by portraying her as an unscrupulous female using her wiles. Maybe that was her MO, but I can't help wonder about it.

    I think you should make another photo-stamp that says "Maybe"!

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  10. Prince refers to Dr. Walter Franklin Prince. He had a doctorate in psychology from Yale and was the chief research officer of the American Society for Psychical Research. Prince was a member of the Scientific American committee along with Houdini, Carrington, Bird, Dr. Comstock, and Dr. McDougall. The Scientific American had offered a cash prize to any medium/psychic that could produce real phenomena.

    Bird and Carrington had spent a few weeks as guests of the Crandons at their 10 Lime Street Boston home. Preliminary séances were held during this time to see if Margery was up to snuff. Bird admitted to having stayed with the Crandons for three weeks. Houdini suspected that Bird had fallen in Margery's rabbit hole and wanted to award her the SA prize money. All this happened shortly before the July 1924 séances that HH attended to catch the blonde witch in fraud.

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    1. Thanks for the info on Prince. I had searched the site, but didn't find the relevant result.

      "had fallen in Margery's rabbit hole"
      what does THAT mean? I can't tell if people are saying that he just developed a bit of a crush on her, which she encouraged, or if she seriously traded actual sex for his committee vote. Which seems extreme to me.

      I just got "The Witch of Lime Street" from the library, so that may help.

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    2. Hereward Carrington and Margery had a physical relationship. Mina spoke openly about that later in life. But it wasn't just about the seance -- there was a love affair there. Carrington wanted to elope with her. Bird was in love with Margery and she knew it. But she said nothing physical ever happened between them. She did not find him attractive. I'm not sure about Prince. But there was a lot of sexual energy flowing around that seance room. I sometimes wonder if Mina and Dr. Crandon were what today we'd call "swingers."

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  11. Agreed, the Crandons appear as an early 20th century version of a swinging couple. Dr. Crandon seemed to get a kick out of having other males in his house salivating over his wife. This man went to work at his medical job knowing that Bird and Carrington were at 10 Lime Street with his wife!

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