Friday, November 24, 2006

Houdini: December 1923

The same time Lovecraft and Eddy were talking, fellowshipping, and writing stories for Weird Tales, Houdini was in the midst of the greatest battles and attacks of his life against the Spirtiualist Crime Syndicates.

This extract is from the Skeptical Inquirer, July-August, 2005 by Massimo Polidoro.

There once was an Italian ... medium who had both the pleasure of astonishing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the "honor" of being unmasked by Harry Houdini ... Nino Pecoraro (born in Naples in 1899). Pecoraro's first big break came when Conan Doyle visited the United States in 1922 for a lecture tour on Spiritualism. During his trip he visited a number of mediums and, on April 14, he attended a seance with Pecoraro. The meeting had been arranged by Hereward Carrington, a well-known psychic investigator. Nino was tied with picture wire and placed in a darkened cabinet. There were shrieks, a toy piano on the table tinkled, and, between hymns, Sir Arthur spoke with the spirit of Palladino. ... Sir Arthur was very impressed by the medium.

Houdini's turn to be impressed came the following year. Scientific American had launched a challenge to all psychic mediums to perform their feats under controlled conditions and win a prize. Houdini, formed a committee to decide how to prepare the tests. In December 1923, the committee ... stumbled upon Pecoraro.

... Carrington, a member of the committee ... proposed ... Pecoraro held four seances for the Scientific American judges, on December 10, 14, and 18. During the first seance, Nino was tied to a chair with sixty feet of rope, beside him was a table with tambourines, bells, and trumpets; he was then hidden from view by a curtain. After a while, noises were heard from behind the curtain: raps, rings, and shrieks by Nino. At the end of the seance, Nino was found lying on the floor, still tied to the chair. The same things happened during the second seance. O.D. Munn, the editor of Scientific American, suspected that Nino had been able, somehow, to free one hand and to play the instruments. He thus wired to Houdini ... Houdini took the first train and, when he arrived at the December 18 seance, he was amazed ... Nobody, he explained, could be securely fastened with one long piece of rope: it was too easy to get some slack and get flee. He cut the rope into dozens of shorter pieces and with those proceeded to tie Pecoraro: it took him almost an hour and forty-five minutes to finish the job. After that, all the phenomena disappeared and Nino did not win the prize.

... Houdini described the episode to his friend Harry Price in a letter dated December 19, 1923: "Last night I tied up a medium for the Scientific American. He is called the 'boy wonder' but is 24 years of age. There were no manifestations with the exception of raps which he managed to make by striking his foot on the side of the cabinet. They asked me to tie him up so that he could not move--and he stayed put. Personally, I believe the man is mad and thinks the 'spirits' help him. " be continued ...

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