Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Houdini Fake News Or Laurel/Yanny 1926?!

Houdini leaving Congress (Library of Congress Photo)
There was one exchange that took place during Houdini's Feb 26th testimony before Congress, that I left out of the previous article. I wanted to double check some things before I posted about it. I must admit, I was excited about using the popular term 'Fake News' in a headline, especially given that it was from 1926. But before I could make the accusation, I had to check one source. Now that I've done that, I'm more confused than when I started, lol.

The story appeared in a number of newspapers on Feb 27th, 1926. It was put out by the Associated Press (AP) and picked up all over the country. One of the things that is mentioned in the various articles is the fact that Capital guards had to be summoned to stand ready to prevent any physical combat between the spiritualists, fortune tellers and Houdini. This I believe, though it was not recorded in the Congressional record. You see, a booklet was published by the Washington Government Printing Office called 'Fortune Telling-Hearings Before The Subcommittee on Judiciary of the Committee on the District of Columbia House of Representatives-69th Congress First Session on H.R. 8989'. This is the complete transcript of events that took place during the hearings. And, it's basically an eye witness source for what took place that day.

Before I go to the source, let me give you the essence of the 'fake news story'. Houdini, according to the stories, says that persons claiming supernatural powers were nothing but fakers. This part is true, and is reflected in the transcripts. Though a couple papers put down the word 'fakir' instead of 'faker', which is something different altogether.

Next, the stories say that Houdini offered $10,000 to anyone who could tell him what was in a telegram he tossed upon the table. Representative Reid, Republican from Illinois, spoke up and said, "Why it says, 'I can't be there today'." Houdini replies, "That's a guess, and you are not clairvoyant." Reid responds, "Oh yes I am!" and the audience bursts out laughing. The articles further state, that it turned out the Illinois representatives quotation of the telegram was correct, but Houdini insisted it was all an accident.  Wow. how embarrassing for Houdini. This was reported by the AP and went out to newspapers all over the country.

There is one small problem. It's not clear that it happened that way. Here is the dialog straight from the transcript:

Mr. McLeod: It is possible to have a genuine clairvoyant, is it not?
Mr. Houdini: It is impossible, I claim. I will give $10,000 to any clairvoyant in the world that will do one test.
Mr. Reid: What is the test?
Mr. Houdini: Any test I want them to do.
Mr. Reid: Let us get the $10,000
Mr. Houdini:Unfortunately, I didn't bring it with me. But I can telegraph for the money, if you wish.
Mr. McLeod: There are witnesses here.
Mr. Houdini: They will say under oath and swear to it; I tell you I would not believe a clairvoyant or fraudulent medium under oath, so help me God.
Mr. McLeod: Wood you by proof?
Mr. Houdini: By proof, yes: certainly by proof.
Mr. McLeod: Here is a witness that can prove it.
Mr. Reid: How long have you been fighting them?
Mr. Houdini: About 35 years.
Mr. Reid: Have you been fairly successful?
Mr. Houdini: I have had more mediums arrested in two years than have been arrested in seventy, because I know their tricks; I know how to catch them.
Mr. Houston: You have never tried to catch them on a test, have you?
Mr. Houdini: On a test (turning to the audience) Tell me the name my mother called me when I was born? {no response from audience}  Tell me the pet name my father used to call me? {no response from audience} (At this point Mr. Houdini threw on the committee table the crumpled up piece of paper.)
Mr. Houston: We ought to know something about the subject matter.
Mr. Houdini: You asked for a test?
Mr. Houston: Sure.
Mr. Houdini: Here is a telegram (turning to the audience). Read that, you clairvoyant mediums and show me up. Tell the contents of the telegram. {no response}
Mr. Reid: I will tell you what it says: " Please send more money."
Mr. Houdini: Does anybody want to read that wire?
Mr. Reid: I have made a guess.
Mr. Houdini: She {indicating one of the audience members} is a clairvoyant.
Mr. Reid: I said, "Please send more money."
Mr. Houdini: You can make your own deduction. That is just what it is. You are not a clairvoyant?
Mr. Reid: Oh, yes I am (laughter from audience)
Mr. Houdini: All right, if you are clairvoyant, tell me what this wire is. Go ahead {producing another telegram}
Mr. Reid: It is asking if you didn't come?
Mr. Houdini: No, sir. Everybody guesses at it.

The sections in red are the most important. The newspapers record that Reid said, "I can't be there today." But what Reid actually said was, "Please send more money." So they got that wrong. Houdini doesn't admit that Reid correctly guessed the message in the telegram either. What he says to Reid is: "You can make your own deduction. That is just what it is." Then he adds, "You are not clairvoyant."
Congressman Reid was making light of most of the days events, and here is another example. But I don't see here where Houdini replies, "ok you guessed that correctly, let's try again." NO, he  says basically,"that was a guess". But he pointed out that Reid was not clairvoyant and really the question was to the crowd. When Reid would not stop, Houdini hit him with a test all his own, which he got wrong.

Now, I've read this numerous times. Perhaps: "You can make your own deductions. That is just what it is." could be interpreted to mean, 'You can make your own deductions. Your statement is correct'. But I tend to think, IF that is what was meant, then it would have followed with a notation about laughter from the audience or the audience getting out of hand. Because the next line has that. And surely if someone guessed correctly after Houdini made such a grand statement, the audience would have gone crazy. Not to mention the fact, that Reid doesn't say anything about claiming the $10,000 prize. And given his antics during the day, I can't see how he would have missed such an easy joke. Later sections of the report do show when the proceedings had to be stopped because the audience was getting out of hand. Don't you think a room full of fortune tellers and mediums would have gone wild over someone apparently beating Houdini at his game? I am unclear now. At first when I read it I didn't think that was the case. Now, after having read it numerous times, I can see the other side of the argument. One this for sure, it makes for a funny story and that's why the papers ran with it. Is it fake news? Probably not, although I did think so at first.

Tell me, what do you think? Do you think Reid guessed it correctly? Or do you think he got it wrong and Houdini just moved on to another test? Maybe it's a case of Laurel/Yanny from 1926, you hear it one way or hear it another, lol?!

Part 2 of Houdini In Congress will be coming in a couple days.

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