Showing posts with label Margery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Margery. Show all posts

Monday, October 15, 2018

Pictures for Episode 3 of The Magic Detective Podcast

Henry Ridgely Evans Grave
Episode 3 is up and already has gotten a lot of downloads. In the episode I mention two graves that I visited, one belonging to Margery the Medium, and the other to magic author Henry Ridgely Evans. Below is an image of Margery's grave, above is the Evan's grave. If you click the links it will take you to my blog that lists the actual locations of the graves.
Margery the Medium's Grave
I also talk about my old buddy Steve Baker who was known as Mr. Escape, here is a picture of Steve. If you'd like to read more about Steve you can visit his website at

On the HOUDINI RADIO segment, I shared a piece about Queen Victoria's Dress and how Houdini obtained it. And where it is today. Below is an image of Houdini's mother wearing Queen Victoria's
If you'd like to listen to the podcast on iTunes you can use this link, or if you have an iPhone, go to the podcast app on your phone and type in Magic Detective Podcast and it should come up.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Visiting with Margery the Medium

Last week, I was in the Boston area to attend and lecture at the Yankee Gathering. This is a wonderful magic history conference put on by the New England Magic Collectors Association. When I went to the registration booth on the first morning of the conference, I found out that the festivities didn't get going until later in the day. I was very glad about this, because it gave me an opportunity to take a slight detour.

I jumped in my car, along with my assistant Denise who was traveling with me, and we set sail for Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston. I had a map of the cemetery so I knew where in the cemetery to look, or so I thought. My trusty map, with a big red X marking the location of Margery's final resting place turned out to be wrong. So we began to stroll in the vicinity hoping to come across the grave. Twenty minutes or so later, we kept turning up nothing.

Finally, I stopped and considered going to the front gate to see if they knew where she was. But then I looked, and immediately in front of me was a moss covered grave. Removing the moss reveals the name STINSON in big bold letters. It was right there next to me, the grave of Mina Stinson Crandon, better known as Margery the Medium, one of the great Houdini's toughest adversaries.

A great book about Margery and the battles she had with Houdini came out last year called The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher. If you're interested in locating the grave for yourself, it's located off of Birch Avenue in the Artemisia section.  The grave faces the road, and isn't too hard to find now, thanks to the resourcefulness of Denise.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Another Margery Book!

After finishing the book The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher, I wanted to read more about Margery. I quickly found another book called The Medium Who Baffled Houdini by Elaine Kuzmeskus, and ordered it! I was unaware when I ordered the book that Ms. Kuzmeskus was a medium herself, so this book was likely to have a unique bias that the other book did not.

I suppose this 'other opinion' is what made reading this book so interesting to me. We, as magicians, all take the Houdini account as gospel. Yep, Margery's fake, Houdini said so, she's fake. Yet there are a number of books that give a different account. Do I believe those different accounts? Not really, but I'm willing to hear what they have to say. And I'll add this, I now want to check out some of the other source material that the author used to write her book. She references the Bill Kalush/Larry Sloman Houdini book on occasion. That source is easy to check as I have several copies and the notes to the book. But I do not have the book Margery the Medium by J. Malcolm Bird which is mentioned a lot in the end notes of this book. Knowing what I know of Bird, I'll take what he writes with a grain of salt, still I'd like to find out what's in there.

Chapter 1 had me worried pretty quickly when she stated that Margery was the reason that Houdini and Conan Doyle were no longer friends. It's safe to say 'spiritualism' is what ended their friendship but their friendship was already on the rocks long before she got in the picture. Margery just made things worse for the two former friends.

The first several chapters do a good job of letting the reader know who Mina Crandon was prior to becoming Margery. And despite his name being in the title of the book, Houdini doesn't really show up until around Chapter 9. I'm sad to say that one of the unfortunate stories, which I don't believe to be true, finds it's way into this book as well. That would be the story of the ruler being hidden inside the Margery Box and years later Jim Collins apparently saying 'the boss told me to put it in there'. Again, I don't believe that. But this 'claim' comes from William Gresham and his book Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls.

One surprise I discovered in the book are the references to Anna Eva Fay and the assumption that she started her career as an actual medium, despite the fact that she admitted to Houdini that she was a fake. In addition, Houdini claimed that Fay told him all her secrets, but maybe that is not the case. Barry Wiley, the author of The Indescribable Phenomenon, the biography on Anna Eva Fay, says that is 'fantasy'.  This is an area I must research more. Fortunately, the book on Anna Eva Fay is still available and it's on my list of books to get.

I will say this, if the accounts discussed in this book are even half true, then Margery didn't really get going until after Houdini had died. She, via Walter, presented some very unusual spirit manifestations. Some of them sound like they came right out of a magic catalog, and others are almost too fantastic to believe. There was one that she did on multiple occasions where someone would bring wooden rings, of different types of wood (different colors). And Walter would link them. Some sitters claimed they could see a gap forming in the rings and then sealing up. The ring test was sent off to a researcher for verification unfortunately, the rings were damaged. Thanks Postal Service!

One of the more unusual effects is Margery's trance state in which she could be heard to snore, yet her Spirit Guide Walter, could be plainly heard and understood. Is this just someones imagination running wild or was this really the case? Oh, and the levitation of tables and other objects. Again, sounds like a magic trick, but it takes on a whole new dimension in the seance room.

One big drawback in this book are the number of grammatical errors and spelling errors. There are a lot of errors. There are also some mistakes with dates, for example Houdini's mothers death is listed as July 17, 1914, not 1913. But overall the Houdini information is good, with just a couple exceptions.

A final interesting fact about the author, Elaine Kuzmeskus, was actually hired to be the medium for one of the Official Houdini Seances held at the Goodspeed Opera House in Haddam, CT. I'm guessing there was no word from Harry, again.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is clearly pro-Spiritualism, however the author includes many examples of fakery and spirit fraud, even with Margery. I believe my next book will actually be the booklet below. I need to get Houdini's take on this whole affair and compare it with accounts in this book and The Witch of Lime Street!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Witch of Lime Street -Book Review

The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher is a book about the life of Margery the Medium. The subtitle of the book is ‘Séance, Seduction and HOUDINI in the Spirit World’. Houdini plays a part, but he is a secondary character even though his image and name appears on the cover of the book. Speaking of the cover, it might be the coolest book cover of ANY book with Houdini because this book cover GLOWS IN THE DARK! It’s very subtle, but I think the glowing in the dark cover and spine add to the already spooky subject matter.

When I heard that a first time author was writing this book, I had my doubts about the quality of the content. But having read the book AND listened to the audio version as well, I can tell you that Mr. Jaher did an outstanding job of research. The book is well written, entertaining and filled with history.

I had never been that big a fan of Margery until fairly recently. I think for me my interest began when I saw the actual Bell Box that was used in the Margery/Houdini Séances. I also got to see the so-called spirit-fingerprints that Walter, Margery’s spirit guide and brother, apparently created during a Séance. Shortly after this, I started to correspond frequently with the late escape artist and Houdini historian Norman Bigelow, about Margery. I wish Norm had lived long enough to read this book, I know he would have enjoyed it.

David Jaher does a great job of laying out the details for the reader of Margery’s character before becoming a medium and after and then during the last days of her life. It would seem that Mina Crandon was a fun loving individual. When she became Margery she developed a seductive air about her. She was overly flirtatious with many men on the  investigative committee. No doubt her suggestive behavior helped to take many of them off their game. Despite this she still had standards of behavior that can be seen when Malcolm Bird tried to bring a prostitute to Margery’s Lime Street home and he was abruptly chastised by Margery and turned away.

Margery was a complex woman. Early in the book, it’s apparent that she doesn’t believe in any of this ‘spirit nonsense’. Though skeptical, she still attends a séance with a friend and encounters a medium who shares a revelation with her that she has a future in the spirit business. Sure enough, she eventually becomes the best-known spirit medium in the country. Oddly, though she likes presenting séances she claimed she didn’t want publicity. She doesn’t even use her real name Mina; rather she uses a form of her middle name Margery. And though she doesn’t want the publicity, she is competing for the top prize in country, to be examined and proven to be genuine by a committee of investigators from The Scientific American Magazine. Yes, she was a complex woman.

Houdini is in the book because he plays a major part in the investigation of spirit mediums during the 1920s and he is an important player in the investigation of Margery. The author shares Houdini’s encounters with Conan Doyle and their early friendship as well as their eventual parting of ways. This helps to set-up Houdini  as an authority on fake mediums, for the reader. Even one of Houdini’s spirit debunking co-workers, Rose Mackenberg, gets featured in the book.

There really is no better person to spot a spirit faker than a knowledgeable magician. I preface that with ‘knowledgeable’ because if the magician doesn’t know anything about fake spirit work, they’ll likely be as taken in as anyone else. Houdini was not the first to expose mediums though he was arguably the most famous debunker. Magicians were involved with exposing mediums since the very early days of Spiritualism. John Wyman, known as Wyman the Wizard at one point helped to investigate the Fox Sisters. John Nevil Maskelyne, in England, went after the Davenport Brothers. So magicians have been at the forefront of investigating fake mediums from the start.

One thing that puzzles me is where Margery learned her tricks of the trade? It’s clear that she used deception. But she was creating manifestations that no one else was doing. And she continued to evolve over time adding more and more unique effects to her Séances. A great example would be the ectoplasmic arms and hands that would mysteriously protrude from her body yet no trace of them could be found after the Séance.

I really enjoyed The Witch of Lime Street. I’m not the only one, as the movie rights to the book have already been picked up. Will we see a Houdini/Margery movie? Time will tell. But what a fascinating movie it could be. It’s a very unique chapter in history and frankly I think we owe it all to Houdini. Without him, I don’t think there would have been as much press exposure.  I also think this unique confrontation would have likely been forgotten over time without Houdini’s participation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Episode 2 Magic Detective Show

Here is Episode 2 now online. Once you watch the episode, head over to the blog article which gives more information about Episode 2. Enjoy!

Episode 2 Additional Information

For the record, I love searching out the graves of dead magicians. Mainly because it's so darn hard to find the graves of living ones. On Episode 2, I showed three photos of graves of magic related people. The first was the grave of Anna Eva Fay Pingree. Anna Eva Fay was a phenomenon in her day. She was born Ann Eliza Heathman in 1851, just at the time that the Fox Sisters and the Davenport Brothers were making news as spiritual mediums. She apparently showed signs of having 'the gift' and was encouraged to move in this direction. Ann met a man who would become her manager and he taught her the actual gifts (the methods used by fake mediums).  They created an act where she would present 'Light and Dark Seances' on-stage for audiences. Among her interesting creations during the 'light seance' was the effect we know today as The Dancing Handkerchief.  Her 'dark seance' sequence was similar to the Davenport Brothers act, she would be tied to a chair inside a cloth cabinet and bells would ring, tambourines would play and other manifestation would occur.

Over the years she would move away from the seance aspect of the show and move more towards mentalism effects, all with a 'spirit' kind of theme to them. She retired from show business in 1924 and settled in Melrose Mass.

The next grave belonged to Mina Stinson Crandon, better known as Margery the Medium. She was the medium who The Scientific American Magazine was going to acknowledge to the world as being  a genuine medium and could really speak to the dead. Well, that is until Houdini got wind of this and he stepped in. Actually, he more than stepped in, he took over the investigation and an all out war ensued! Houdini had a special wooden box built to house Margery and prevent her from causing the manifestations to happen by her own hand. Her spirit guide 'Walter', who was her deceased brother, still spoke however and could be quite the salty tongued spirit.

Houdini successfully prevented the Scientific American Committee from awarding Margery with any sort of authenticity certificate.

She lived on Lime St in Boston and is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery. The photo was provided to me by escape artist and investigator Norman Bigelow. Norm is currently offering a lecture about Margery and Houdini and other mediums.

Last up is a fellow who I've done a LOT of research on, William Henry Palmer, who performed under the stage name of Robert Heller. He was quite the performer. His show included not only magic, but mind reading and music. You see, Robert Heller was an accomplished concert pianist. The Library of Congress even has several of his pieces of sheet music in their collection.

Heller traveled the world presenting his magic. He actually was from England but his career really blossomed in America. One of his most popular feats was his Second Sight routine. This was an early version of what we think of today as mentalism or mind reading. Heller used multiple methods to read the mind of Haidee Heller, a woman he called his sister but apparently she was not. Incidentally, there is a wonderful story I read that happened between Robert Heller and Haidee. After the musical section of the show one night, he and Haidee got into a quarrel behind the scenes. She refused to come out for the Second Sight routine. So Robert Heller walked out and announced "Ladies and Gentleman, this is the part of the program where Ms. Haidee Heller comes out, except tonight she refuses to do so. Let's wait and see." He then quietly took a seat on the couch and began to twirl his thumbs not speaking a word. A few moments a red hot Haidee came storming out. Heller said "Ah! I thought so" and they continued with the show.

Robert Heller died unexpectedly in November of 1878. He was on tour in Philedelphia and had performed at the Concert Hall on Nov 26th, but showed clear signs of being ill. It was pneumonia and he died the next day. His body was sent to Machepelah Cemetery in Philidelphia and was placed in a vault there. Sometime later it was moved to Mt. Moriah Cemetery where he remains to this day.

Incidentally, these three folks were all connected in two ways. First they all had a connection to Houdini. Anna Eva Fay and Houdini were friends. Margery and Houdini were friendly enemies. Houdini re-discovered the grave of Robert Heller. Second connection is they all presented seances!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Margery the Medium's Grave

Long before the Long Island Medium got her own TV show, there was Margery The Medium. I've written about Margery before, but I wanted to show  you this wonderful picture of Margery's grave. The man in the photo is famed escape artist Norman Bigelow and he graciously has allowed me to post the photo here.

Margery was kind of Houdini's arch nemesis. She had everyone at the Scientific American Magazine fooled into believing she was a legitimate medium. Houdini got wind of that and said "NO WAY!" and forced himself into the investigation and proved that she was using trickery. The battles between Houdini and Margery were priceless, though all these years later I can't help but wonder how much of that was for show.

An interesting note on the grave stone itself is the name above Margery's. By the way, Margery's real name was Mina Stinson Crandon. The name above hers on the tombstone is WALTER Stuart Stinson.
If you're familiar with the story of the seances that she put on before the Scientific American Committee and Houdini, Walter was her brother and spirit guide. Walter was also known to use some rather politically incorrect language. But he was dead, so no one cared, lol.

Monday, October 31, 2011

How Margery Outdid Houdini

Yes, believe it or not, Margery the Medium did outdo Houdini, but not in the way you might be thinking. Houdini died on Halloween Oct 31, 1926 at the age of 52. It turns out that Margery lived to be one year and one day longer in age. Let me explain. She died on November 1st, 1941, she was 53. So that makes her one year older than Houdini was when he died and she stayed around one extra day, dying on the day after Halloween ( I'm taking a bit of artistic license with the math)

Margery is an interesting character. I'm still waiting on the book Witch of Lime Street, that John Cox first let us all know about.  There is something terribly fishy going on between her and Houdini, in my opinion and I'd like to find out more.

Now if you'd like to hear about Margery from the side of the Spiritualists, below are two videos of Leonard Spicer, a Canadian Medium who is lecturing on Margery. Houdini-files will recognize the errors in statements, though there aren't many. I'm not agreeing with this fellow, I just thought you might enjoy hearing what the other side says about Margery.

To read more about Margery, take a look at my previous blogs:
Margery and the Bell Box(s)
Houdini Didn't End Margery's Career

Friday, December 3, 2010

Houdini didn't end Margery's Career

The Scientific American Investigations and then Houdini's out right war on Margery the Medium were not her undoing. She continued for sometime afterwards. She was also continually scrutinized and tested. It was during one of the later tests that things went bad for her.

Margery, whose real name was Mina Crandon, always spoke through her spirit guide Walter. It turns out that Walter was her deceased brother. Walter was a character in real life and no less the character in his spirit form. He was outlandish and abrasive and had no problems challenging the challengers. During one of the Scientific Investigation tests Walter called out Houdini specifically for hiding a ruler in the wooden box in which Margery was secured. Sure enough upon investigation a ruler was found. Houdini denied the charge. Years later, Jim Collins, one of Houdini's assistants admitted that he put the ruler in the cabinet after Houdini told him to do it. Houdini was determined to get Margery no matter the means or the method.

Margery did have a number of unusual manifestations that took place in her seances. Of course the spirit voice of her brother Walter was the one consistent one. But at some point she also had ectoplasm exude from her body. She and her husband asked the investigators not to touch the ectoplasm as it would cause Margery harm. One article I read said that after an investigator did touch the ectoplasm, Margery suffered great pain for days following. Among the other manifestations; objects moved on their own, lights came on and off, ghostly hands touched those of the other sitters and many more.

The committee was divided on their decision as to whether Margery was legit or not. This of course enraged Houdini, which led to him going after her on his own at the Symphony Hall exposure. In late 1926, Houdini was contacted by investigators again about Margery and he considered getting involved in the case again but he never did because he died in October of that year.

Margery continued her seances and continued being investigated. In 1929 she exhibited a new spirit phenomenon. A block of hot wax was set on the table in front of Margery and she caused her spirit guide Walter to leave a wax impression of his finger prints. Amazing! Except it was discovered at a later date that the finger prints were actually those of her dentist, the man who provided the wax originally. This revelation seems to be her ultimate undoing.

One of the wildest things is reading the reports of these investigations. Some are really pro-Margery and anti-Houdini and others are anti-Margery and anti-Houdini. Houdini doesn't seem to come out very well in many of the articles I've read.

A final note, apparently Walter was not done speaking. In 1994 Walter spoke again through a medium and said that it was Dr. Crandon who set up the fraud because so many people were out to get Margery. Really? I mean, really?

Margery's House in Boston on Lime St Today

To read more about Margery online:

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