Atlas Obscura

Séances for Houdini: A Halloween Tradition

Harry Houdini circa 1920.

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Every year on Halloween, magic enthusiasts across the country gather to rouse Harry Houdini from eternal slumber.

When the great escapologist died on October 31, 1926, he left a promise to his wife Bess: If possible, I will contact you from beyond the grave. Every Sunday thereafter, at the noon hour of Harry’s death, Bess Houdini would lock herself in a dark room, sit beneath a portrait of Harry, and wait for a message from beyond. If it were indeed possible to communicate from the next realm, Bess would receive a clear sign—before Harry’s death, the pair had agreed on a secret phrase to convey: “Rosabelle, believe.” (“Rosabelle” was the name of a song Bess performed in the early days of their courtship.) 

In addition to these solitary, weekly listening sessions, Bess led a full séance every October 31st. This tradition continued for a decade after Harry’s death, after which a resolute Bess put an end to the annual event. The final séance took place at Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel in 1936. As far as anyone knows, Harry did not make an appearance. Here is a partial audio recording of the proceedings: 

Bess died in 1943, but the traditional Halloween séance for Harry lives on. This year, the Official Harry Houdini Séance is taking place in Danvers, Massachusetts—the site of the 1692 Salem witch trials. Atlas Obscura will be attempting to make contact with Harry during a 40-person ceremony at a secret Hollywood location.

If you would like to speak to Harry but can’t make it to a séance on Halloween, you can stage your own version. The Houdini Museum, located in Scranton, PA, is encouraging individual communication attempts:

We are asking everyone on the web to attempt to contact Harry Houdini sometime during Halloween for the 24 hours of October 31st and email us with any results and lack of results. No kooks please, this is a serious seance test and seance tribute.

Once Halloween is over there is always the Magic Castle, which conducts Houdini séances on demand, provided you supply “light paperwork and a $300 deposit” and arrive in formal attire.

Visit Atlas Obscura for more on Harry Houdini.

Houdini’s grave at Machpelah Cemetery in New York.

Other stories of posthumous communication: