This week’s challenge at Monday Artday is “hidden message“.
Harry Houdini, in addition to being one of the world’s greatest magicians, spent a portion of his life exposing fraudulent psychics and bogus clairvoyants. Houdini showed that psychics were using tricks that he, himself, used in his magic act. This practice eventually broke up his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a great believer in spiritualism.
Prior to his death in 1926, Houdini told his wife Bess (who was also his stage assistant), that if there was a way to send a message from “the other side”, he would find that way. They devised a secret message. The message was based on both sentimentality and an old vaudeville mind-reading routine. The message was “Rosabelle- answer- tell- pray, answer- look- tell- answer, answer- tell”. Bess’ wedding band bore the inscription “Rosabelle”, the name of the song she sang in her act when they first met. The other words correspond to a secret spelling code used to pass information between a magician and his assistant during a “mind-reading” act. Each word or word pair equals a letter. The word “answer” stood for the letter “B”, for example. “Answer, answer” stood for the letter “V”. Thus, the Houdinis’ secret phrase spelled out the word “BELIEVE”.
Bess held a yearly seance, on October 31 the anniversary of her husband’s death. In early 1929, a very ill Bess was approached by Reverend Arthur Ford, a young and eager medium. Within weeks, Ford triumphantly announced that he had successfully delivered the correct message to Houdini’s widow. It did not take long for the press to discover that Ford’s claim was a hoax; and that Bess had inadvertently revealed the message to several reporters a full year before.
The 1936 séance, atop the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood, was the last one that Bess conducted. Ten years was enough, and she admitted that she had never received the message from Houdini. (Actor William Frawley died in the lobby of the Knickerbocker in 1966. Read all about it HERE, in a previous post.)
Bess died in 1943 and was not permitted to be buried with her husband at Machpelah Cemetery because she was a gentile. Bess Houdini is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
(CLICK HERE to see a larger version of the illustration and look for the hidden messages.)