I have already provided a summary of Houdini’s life in my review of Harry Houdini from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. This book, being less than half the size of the other, does not provide as many details or incidents from Houdini’s life.
Houdini’s tricks are continuously referred to as magic, but the author makes it perfectly clear that Houdini’s performances were entirely unmagical. Mr. Kraske even goes so far as to provide explanations for some of these tricks and puts the rest down to skill and visual illusions.
Séances are discussed. Mr. Kraske explains (I didn’t know this before) that Harry himself performed ‘seances’ for unsuspecting villagers and reaped a nice profit from it before becoming uncomfortable with this sort of deception. His methods are described in detail (how he made ‘ghosts’ appear, etc.). Not only did he pretend to put his audience in contact with the dead, he also gave ‘messages’ from them and ventured a few prophecies, some of which accidentally came true.
Later in life, Harry longed to get in touch with his mother and visited many spiritualists in the hope of speaking with her. He never found one he could trust, however, and became a ‘ghost breaker’ – a person who disproved the methods of dishonest spiritualists. Once again, descriptions are provided of floating trumpets and hands before their falsity is proven.
Harry never trusted a spiritualist, but when he lay dying, he promised his wife that if it was possible, he would return from the grave and speak with her. They even established a password so that she would know it was him. She waited for this message to come for ten years before finally deciding that he would never return.
Several pictures and posters are included in Harry Houdini. Some of them depicted Harry in minimal clothing (chest and legs are bare). Out comes the sharpie!
‘Gee’ is used once.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret