Born Ehrich Weiss (1874 - 1926), Harry Houdini is the world's best-known magician, famous for his daring escapes: from a straightjacket while hanging upside down several stories above a busy street; manacled, then nailed into a packing crate and tossed into a river; or searched and locked in a jail cell. One of his posters billed him as "The World's Handcuff King and Prison Breaker."
Houdini was also a famous ghostbuster, using his knowledge of magic to expose such alleged paranormal marvels as "an Egyptian Miracle Man," "the Spaniard with X-ray Eyes," and numerous spiritualist mediums producing bogus séance "materializations."
After his death at the age of 52, on Halloween 1926, Houdini's wife Bess attempted to communicate with Houdini's spirit through mediums, using a secret code the couple had prearranged.
After ten years, and only one pretended contact (by fraudulent medium Arthur Ford), Mrs. Houdini extinguished the "eternal light" she had kept by his portrait, stating: "Houdini hasn't come. I don't believe he will come." Today, séances to reach Houdini continue to be held each Halloween at various locations, including CSICOP's headquarters at the Center for Inquiry, Transnational in Amherst, New York.
Some have thought that Houdini's pact with his wife indicates he was a spiritualist, but a poster for his anti-medium crusade is unequivocal: "Do Spirits Return? Houdini Says No— and Proves It."
Although the legendary magician invariably fails to appear, the séances underscore his skepticism of spirit communication and help keep his important legacy alive.
Shown here with a framed photograph of him in chains is an "Authentic Key from the Personal Collection of the Great Harry Houdini." Stamped "CORBIN. PAT'D. 87.," the key has a provenance that traces back to Houdini through his brother the magician Hardeen, who inherited the collection of locks and keys at Houdini's death.