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October 31st is a day inextricably tied to the paranormal, to haunted houses and the ghostly costume parties of Halloween. But the 31st also marks the anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini, the magician whose life was surrounded by a cloud of paranormal speculation.
Despite a life of daring jailhouse breakouts, manacled bridge jumps, and Chinese Water Torture Cell escapes, it was a few strong punches to the gut in a dressing room that ultimately brought about his death. Houdini died of complications of a ruptured appendix in Detroit on Halloween, 1926.
As an outspoken debunker of spiritualists, Houdini went to great lengths to prove his point, even sealing himself in an underwater coffin for an hour and a half to rebuff the claims of a mystic performer.
Houdini sought instead to display the strengths of the human body. His debunking of mediums eventually caused a public falling out with his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and a leading advocate of spiritualism.
After Houdini’s death, his widow Bess held a decade-long series of séances every Halloween to contact her husband beyond the grave. This seems like a strange performance after Houdini’s record of dismissing such events. But it somehow seems natural that if escape from the afterlife was possible, Houdini would be the person to find a way to make it happen.