What We Talk About When We Talk About Margery

Margery1925GerkeWhile eating our Greek yogurt this morning, we happened upon a Houdini program on The History Channel. (We love Houdini.) For some reason, the hour focused on how much he hated spiritualists. He hated them a lot. Like, testifying before Congress a lot. He hated them as much as his dear friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loved them. (Sidenote: Isn’t it strange that the man who created Sherlock Holmes should believe that Houdini escaped from his bonds and boxes by dematerializing and then rematerializing elsewhere.)

Anyway, we learned a few facts that we would like to share with you about Houdini’s greatest battle, that of the Boston society matron-turned-medium Margery!

This is Walter.

This is Walter.

Margery (Mina Crandon) claimed she channeled the ghost of her dead brother, Walter. (Well, hello Walter!) Here’s the thing, though: As Walter, Margery mercilessly mocked the assembled guests at her table. She was also usually wearing just her chemise and a kimono for these sessions; also, her husband used this time to display nude photos he’d taken of his wife. This was a well-to-do woman lashing out at the bourgeois society under the guise of possession! Or, to be less gender studies about it, bitch was crazy. Either hypothesis is defensible.

Needless to say, she managed to hoodwink almost everyone…to the point of coming very close to winning a cash prize from Scientific American for being a real medium. Know who was not going to let that happen? Harry

Harry showing off Margery's new box.

Harry showing off Margery’s new box.

Houdini, that’s who. He let her run through her song and dance for him, and promptly built a box that would keep her hands and legs free (during seances, those were bound to other guests) but limit her feet and head. Surprise! Walter didn’t throw bullhorns at Houdini or make a table shake!

Among her other tricks was a “teleplasmic hand” that had been carved out of animal liver. Since the hand appeared to be coming out of her lap, people quite naturally assumed her doctor husband had altered her genitalia to conceal the hand. Isn’t that the first thing you would think in the 1920s? But even with Houdini denouncing and exposing her, Margery continued performing until her death in 1941. God bless America.

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