A Writer's Tale, Literary Liaisons

A Writer’s Tale- Arthur Conan Doyle

You probably remember Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from one of the previous installments of this series, where he featured prominently on a certain cricket team of some infamy. Or perhaps you simply know him as the creator of the most famous detective in all the world (sorry Hercule). Either way, I would wager that you do not know him from the strange tale I am about to tell.
The period after the first world war was a strange one for many people. The world became a place caught between two eras; the Victorian and the modern. For Doyle, who had lost a son and several other relatives during the war, there was a deep sense of loss and emptiness. Doyle sought to fill that void in a way that may seem counter-intuitive for the creator of such a logical creature as Sherlock Holmes. He became a devout spiritualist, which was what one called rich people in that day who believed people could commune with the dead through seances.
Doyle’s rabid pursuit of spiritualism and desperate attempts to commune with his deceased son brought him to the attention of another rather famous man of the age. Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist who ever lived.
Houdini had suffered his own tragic loss in 1913. That of his mother, Cecelia. Houdini too turned to spiritualism. But instead of embracing it blindly as Doyle had, he became quite the skeptic, debunking and disproving every ghost-summoning fraud he came across. He truly wanted to believe but knew far too much about the world of illusion to be tricked by these con-artist mediums. It quickly became his mission to unmask all of these mediums for what they were, tricksters preying on the grief of broken hearts.
Houdini sent a copy of his debunking book to Doyle and in 1920 while Harry was touring England, Doyle came to see him perform.
This is where things get interesting.
Having seen Houdini’s act, Doyle becomes convinced Houdini himself is a mystic or medium of some sort. The two become fast friends, but try as Houdini might he cannot convince Doyle that its all just smoke and mirrors.
Their relationship was full of good humor and gentle ribbing. And the two men respected each other for their outstanding accomplishment in their chosen fields.
In 1922 Doyle and his family came to visit New York for a series of lectures and while there they spent a good amount of time with Houdini and his wife. During this time Doyle’s wife, Lady Jean, who was herself a practicing medium offered to give Houdini a reading. Reluctantly he agreed.
During the seance, Lady Jean recorded fourteen pages worth of writing from Houdini’s dead mother. None of which held up under Houdini’s scrutiny. Out of politeness for his friend Houdini kept quiet about the incident and merely took his leave. Doyle thought the whole thing a genuine communication with the dead.
Months later in a print interview, Houdini said he had yet to encounter an authentic medium. Doyle read the article and was enraged, feeling insulted and enraged. He called Houdini who shared his own rage at having his friends abuse the memory of his dead other in such a way.
The two had a nasty falling out, that made all the papers of the day. Such an odd pairing and such a tragic ending. All the way to his death in 1930, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the most logical detective in history believed in dead spirits and the magical powers of one of his closest friends.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat spookier edition of A Writer’s Tale.

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