One of the more engrained Houdini myths is that his interest in spiritualism and crusade against fakes began with his mother's death in 1913. It didn't. But I've already tackled that in a post HERE. The question I want to tackle today is what did motivate him to begin exposing spiritualistic fraud?
Turns out Houdini answered that himself in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on September 26, 1925. It's a story that opens a door to a wider speculation, which I will get into in a moment. But first, here's that interview with the key paragraph excerpted:
Houdini, born in Appleton, Wis., has been actively experimenting with spiritualism since he was 17, soon after his father died."My father left his insurance papers in an usual state," said Houdini. "Innocent then, my mother and I went to a spiritualist."Three of the four mediums enabled us to talk with my father. He said he was perfectly happy. It seems strange to me that my father, knowing or pinch circumstances, would say any such thing."That's what started my suspicions and caused me to expose this cruel deception to the world."
So there we go. Houdini smelled a rat as early as the 1892. But for me this explanation has embedded within it something even deeper.
What I find most interesting here is his mother's participation. It begs the question: Did Cecelia Weiss believe in spiritualism? Could she even have been an ardent believer?
If so, this would explain the conflicting nature of Houdini's obsession with the subject. On one hand, he was committed to protect his mother by sussing out the frauds that he saw prying on grieving windows like herself. But was he also driven to redeem his mothers belief by finding the real thing. Hence, Houdini's search for a real thing was every bit as strong as his hunt for fakes.
I really think this could be a key to Houdini's psyche and I have thought this for some time. But evidence is scant. Because just as we have a Germany problem, we also have a "Mama problem."
Houdini was buried with all his mother's letters forming a pillow under his head, so no conversation between them survives. Therefore, we really don't know all that much about the most important person and most influential relationship in Houdini's life. How many of those letters discuss spiritualism, I wonder?
Food for thought!