Back to SherlockPeoria front page

The View from the East End (62)

By Inspector Hopkins

April 8 , 2007

ACD and Houdini

 by Inspector Hopkins 

As I mentioned last time, there is some discussion going on about the dealings between these two men, and the newcomer to Sherlockiana might be interested to learn more about this.

Also, as I had promised, I did manage to (*ahem*) “dig up” more information regarding Houdini, and his relationship with Watson’s literary agent.   Whether or not it turns out that Houdini was indeed murdered, I resent the vague implications raised by AOL’s news stories that the creator of Sherlock Holmes was somehow connected to this unfortunate event. I refer to their statements about Kalush’s and Sloman’s remarks about a November 1924 letter in which Doyle said that Houdini would “get his just deserts very exactly meted out . . . I think there is a general payday coming very soon”.  This remark implied that ACD was somehow against Houdini, or perhaps suggested that he looked forward to Houdini’s demise.  (At the very least it was typical sensationalism used by the media to grab the public’s attention).

After I “dug around” a bit more, I came away with a different opinion.

These two men were on quite friendly terms with each other. There are many references to this fact, some of which I will give below. Many articles on the web clearly state that ACD and Houdini were friends in spite of any disagreements which they may have had regarding Spiritualism. ACD was an avid believer in the subject, but Houdini was on a constant search for the fraudulent presentation and exploitation of the popular belief in Spiritualism. It seems that being a magician, Houdini was more easily able to ascertain fraud and trickery during a séance, for instance, than ACD was.  Doyle did agree with Houdini that fraud should be exposed because he thought it was an impediment to the Spiritualism movement, but he still wanted to believe in séances, fairies, etc. In addition, Doyle was so impressed with Houdini’s talents that he firmly believed that the magician had extra special spiritual powers of his own.

Both men, however, had their own personal interest in séances because they each had deceased relatives that they wanted to make contact with. But, looking at some of the published photographs on the web, it is difficult to believe in the realities of these fairies and séances. The fakery and fraud seems to be quite obvious, at least to me.

For example, check out the photos in this link:

After doing a bit of research on séances, I learned about “ectoplasm”. This is a supposed emanation coming from the body of a “medium” during a séance session, looking something like cookie dough. This substance could emanate from a medium’s mouth, nose, ears, etc. and transmitted, or enabled, a spirit to appear.  During a séance, neither the medium nor this material was allowed to be touched by any of the audience members, and these sessions were usually carried out in darkened rooms. Kind of makes you wonder why that was so, doesn’t it?  Houdini also investigated ectoplasm.  See this link for information:

Sometime in the 1930’s a Canadian medium named Mary Marshall supposedly emanated ectoplasm containing the spirit of ACD himself.  See this link for the photo:

Hmmm . . . that “spirit” looks an awful lot like the photo of ACD in my Doubleday.

For much greater detail, the interested Sherlockian may also check out these links:

To wrap up, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was indeed a fascinating man, and the more I read about him and learn about his life and interests, the deeper the appreciation I have for him! As I progress in Sherlockiana, I will discover even more about him, and I encourage all newcomers to do the same. But with all due respect to Watson’s literary agent, I must conclude that séances, fairies, ectoplasm, etc. do indeed fall under the category of deception and fraud. This particular Sherlockian must remain flat-footed on the ground.

(Now where have I heard that phrase before?)

Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I am as always,

Yours Faithfully,