Thursday, December 2, 2010

Margery and The Bell Box(s)

On January 2 & 3rd 1925 Houdini had challenged Margery the celebrated Boston Medium to appear on stage with him at Symphony Hall. He had become fed up with the Scientific American Magazine's ability to come to a decision on Margery. Taking matters into his own hands he offered up the challenge and put $10,000 in bonds on the line. The challenge was for her to appear on-stage with Houdini at Boston's Symphony Hall and create manifestations that he could not show to be fake. In the event that Margery did not show up, he would spend the time exposing her methods to the audience. Margery did not show up either night and Houdini went about doing his exposure show to the delight of the crowds.

Let me begin with Symphony Hall. This location still exists and is still used today. The address is 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston. It's a beautiful building and apparently one of the best buildings ever made for music and acoustics. Houdini packed the house. At least one of the nights Anna Eva Fay another celebrated medium and friend of Houdini's was in attendance.

Houdini brought the 'Margery Cabinet' on stage and proceeded to demonstrate how she caused her manifestations to take place. Among the things he did was ring bells and also cause a 'bell box' to ring as well.

The photo of Houdini in the Margery Cabinet with the Bell Box in front is quite famous. I've seen this photo many times over the years. I've seen a few other black and white photos of the Bell Box as well so if I ever saw the Bell Box in real life I would certainly know it. A couple years ago I stumbled upon the Bell Box, or the supposed Bell Box, in a magic collection. It was on display with a note (see photo below). I immediately wondered to myself, "Was there more than one Bell Box because that is not the one I recall in the photos". I didn't say anything to the owner. I figured that maybe my memory had betrayed me and I was wrong. When I got home I dug up a photo of the Bell Box and sure enough, I was right. What I had seen was not the Bell Box in the photo. I asked around and everyone I asked could only recall one Bell Box.

Thank you Kenneth Silverman! His book solved the issue. There were two! One was legit, that's the one Margery was faced with. The other was gimmicked to ring, that's the one Houdini had on stage with him at the Boston Symphony Hall. By the way, there were also two Margery Cabinets as well, one tight as a drum and one gaffed.

I also found a picture of the second Bell Box in action though I'm not quite sure who that is in the photo. For those wondering what the difference between the boxes is, please notice where the opening of the bell box is on the photo with Houdini. It appears to have a 2.5 or 3 inch flap that opens on the top. But the other box opens at the end and has an additional board underneath it, and it's maybe 5 inches long. Though the rectangular shape of the boxes is the same, the tops are different. But again, thanks to Kenneth Silverman's book the mystery is solved! (Incidentally, I might have it reversed, the one in this photo could be the one Margery faced and the one in the photo w/ Houdini could be the gimmicked one. Regardless, there are two Bell Boxes)

To read more cool news about Margery, check out John Cox's site at
In the Salon de Magie Collection


  1. Fantastic. Thanks for this. Love that pic of the bell box.

    My question is what happened to the Margery Cabinet? And there were two? That's news to me. But where have they gone?

  2. Yes there were two of the Margery Cabinets. I found this info along with the two bell boxes in the Silverman book. I'd guess that one of them was probably in the Houdini Museum/Niagra Falls that burned down. I'll have to check the old 'In Search Of w/Leonard Nimoy but I swear I saw it in the museum on that show about Houdini. The second one, who knows? I'm finding out a lot of Houdini stuff is lost.

    1. Hey Dean. I watched the In Search Of episode and no Margery box shown. There was an uncommon pic of Houdini controlling Margery inside the box, which is maybe why you remembered it.

    2. Hmm, ok. Well then I've got no idea where it might be. Though, I'd have to imagine it's still around, somewhere. Bill Kalush claims he has seen the wooden crate for the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery, though its different, it's still a large wooden box once owned by Houdini. So I'd imagine someone has it, somewhere. Wonder if it's in a spiritualist museum or something as it was Margerys Box???

    3. Bill has seen the Double Fold box? Interesting. Would love to see that.

    4. I guess there must have been at least two versions of the cabinet and bellbox - the one that Margery used and the one that Houdini used in his show? But there also might have been multiples owned by Margery as well. Her primary seance room (as you know) was 10 Lime Street but she also conducted seances in a special cabin built for that purpose at her farm, and occasionally held seances at her summer cottage. She might have had copies specially built for each location.

      I dimly remember something that might have been a bellbox in my grandparents basement - when I look at one of the photos I can literally feel and see it in my hands. Whatever it was, though, was likely discarded. I was too young at the time to have any idea of its significance, otherwise I would have saved it for sure.

      So interesting - I was not aware of any of the above - Thank you!

      Anna Thurlow

    5. It's very exciting to find these historical things. Perhaps one day one of the larger Margery Boxes will turn up, IF it still exists. It's hard to say for sure. So many collectors out there and there is no database of what everyone owns. It could very well be sitting in a collection or in a store room waiting to be re-discovered.

  3. Hi Dean, I'm doing preliminary research for a Youtube documentary on Houdini and Margery. I have a recollection from my reading of years ago, but can't remember the source, that after Houdini died he appeared at a seance and issued an apology to Margery for ever having diminished her as a medium. This is remarkable if true. Can you push me in the direction of a source for this claim? Thanks. Keith Parsons.