Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Margery Files revisited - the first seance

Today we have a very special encore presentation of "The Margery Files." Once again Anna Thurlow, the great granddaughter of Mina Crandon a.k.a. Margery the Medium, is giving us an exclusive look at rare artifacts from the private Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection. Says Anna: "You have drawn such a lovely narrative with these artifacts it just feels wrong to not include this."

These are Dr. Crandon's actual notes on the first Houdini-Margery seance held on July 23, 1924. What makes this seance of particular interest is it was the only one held at the Crandons home at 10 Lime Street in Boston. Later sittings were moved to the Charlesgate Hotel where Scientific American committee member Dr. Daniel Comstock (who founded Technicolor) kept an apartment. Perhaps this is why this one sitting had the most detailed notes by Dr. Crandon. It's also maybe why this sitting produced the most spiritualistic phenomena.

This fascinating two-page document provides a moment by moment account of what occurred in the darkened room. I love how it describes when Houdini had control of Margery's hands he "explored each arm to the shoulder to insure that it was her two hands." (A lot of touching went on during these things.) The notes are signed by Houdini and the other attendees; J. Malcolm Bird, O.D. Munn, and R.W. Conant, the assistant to Dr. Comstock who couldn't attend. "Psyche" is Margery.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge

Houdini explained much of this phenomena in his booklet, Houdini Exposes the tricks used by the Boston Medium "Margery." Margery's ringing of the Bell Box -- here called a "contact board" -- was done by her foot (I covered some of that here). The floating megaphone that landed at Houdini's feet on his command was actually sitting on top of Margery's head, like a dunce cap, and flung with a snap of her neck. Of this particular method Houdini would later write, "This is the slickest ruse I have ever detected."

However, the third paragraph describes phenomena involving an "illuminated plaque" – a piece of cardboard that was placed atop the Bell Box -- which moves and actually levitates. This is downplayed in most accounts of the seance. And while Houdini included an illustration of the plaque in his Margery booklet (near the back), he doesn't mention the phenomena in his actual account of the seance, nor does he make any attempt to explain it. Maybe the "ruse" was so simple he didn't feel a need to expose it? Or maybe he couldn't? Hmmm...

Also, some accounts of the sitting say Margery's Victrola (which played Drdla's Souvenir) mysteriously "started and stopped" during the seance. However, I don't see this reflected in the notes. To me it appears that the Victrola winds down naturally during the length of the sitting, and when it stops (once) Dr. Crandon gets up to restart it. I don't believe this is a record of any Victrola-related phenomena. I just think Dr. Crandon is chronicling everything that happened during the seance so it's clear who had "control" of Margery at all times. Houdini also makes no mention of the Victrola in his accounts.

This is the pleasure of being able to do research from primary sources that one can make fresh discoveries and refine past interpretations. Once again, thanks to Anna Thurlow for sharing these amazing artifacts and allowing all of us to play the role of research detective among...The Margery Files!

Click here for a page with links to all seven installments of The Margery Files.


  1. Wow, what a nice bonus. This was an incredible series. Thank You Anna and John!

  2. I was unaware of Margery until I saw the History Channels profile on Houdini this morning... FANTASTIC Women Miss Mina & Anna!

    1. I agree, AmberVision. Mina and Anna are both fantastic. :)

      What was this History Channel show? A few people have mentioned it today. Was it "Decoded"?