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The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World

de David Jaher

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4467056,561 (3.6)51
History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so-called Witch of Lime Street, whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal. The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics--and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities. Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes' creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery's powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee.  Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified.  Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince...the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini. David Jaher's extraordinary debut culminates in the showdown between Houdini, a relentless unmasker of charlatans, and Margery, the nation's most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry and the competition that brought them into each other's orbit, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: Is there life after death?… (més)
  1. 00
    The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Boston's Great Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer de Roseanne Montillo (asukamaxwell)
    asukamaxwell: Same era, certain locations (ex: Beacon Hill) and historical figures (ex: Comstock and Dr. Holmes) appear in both. They compliment each other very well.
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Es mostren 1-5 de 74 (següent | mostra-les totes)
I quite enjoyed this book, though it occasionally made me angry. It was well researched and cleverly presented. I think, in order to maintain some tension and mystery, the author withheld some information until the very end. It sometimes seemed as if Houdini were intentionally being presented in a bad light. A negative story implying Houdini had evidence planted was within the text, while a footnote revealed it was a confederate of the medium that provided the so-called "information" about said plant. That is an example of the kind of thing I am talking about.Still, all in all an enjoyable and informative read ( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
I liked the book, but it was a struggle at times. Too much unnecessary information bogged it down. Sometimes the writing just didn't flow. Normally, I wouldn't finish a book with those characteristics, but I went through this one because I was so interested in the subject. If you are really interested in that part of history and the subject, I'd recommend it. But, if you're not, I wouldn't. ( )
  MickeyMole | Oct 2, 2023 |
Interesting read about an alleged spirit medium and Harry Houdini's quest to discredit her. ( )
  LynnMPK | Jul 1, 2023 |
2.5 stars....a book of two halves. The first half of the book dragged on in excruciating detail and would have benefitted from some serious editing. 200 or so pages into the book and Houdini had still yet to meet the "Witch of Lime Street"... The pace picks up in the second half which is much more readable and enjoyable and you finally get to the meat of the story. ( )
  MerrylT | May 18, 2023 |
For millennia, religion, spiritualists, and ghost hunters have maintained that contact with the dead was possible. Lots of money was easily made by all of these groups by fleecing people into believing there might be something beyond the grave (religious groups are still raking it in.) Magicians, knowing how easy it is to fool people, have none of it. This book details the interaction between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a believer, Houdini, definitely not, and Margery Crandon, a very clever purported spiritualist.

The early 20th century was beset with occult fever. Possibly related to the huge number of dead from the "War to End All Wars," numerous psychics and mediums (mediae?) popped up playing on the need of comfort for the bereaved, some "gauzy borderland" where the dead and living might mingle. In an effort to bring some science to the craze, the Scientific American offered a prize of $2500 (the equivalent of about $37,000 today) to anyone able to show and prove physical manifestations emanating from the dead.

Crandon looked to be the easy winner of the prize until Houdini entered the fray and insisted all her conjuring, voices, and sounds were fake. The group fo scientists the magazine had assembled to test her claims had been bamboozled, some by her (she had a sexual presence that was powerful), others by their failure to understand how they were being manipulated. When she began producing "ectoplasm" from, her "nether" regions, I have to say, it got really goofy.

I listened to this book as an audiobook. It's well-read and quite fascinating as a mirror on the 20's, 30's, with a peak into the lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini. Some of the minute detail of the seances got a bit mind-blowing but not so much that I wouldn't recommend the book. ( )
  ecw0647 | Feb 18, 2022 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 74 (següent | mostra-les totes)
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Magick...is the most perfect and chief science. - Marcus Agrippa
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For my grandmother, Henrietta Jaher, and the memory of her son, my father, Frederic Cople Jaher
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A woman in a black velvet coat pushed through the revolving doors of the Grosvenor Hotel and waving a miniature Union Jack in each hand waltzed slowly around the marble hall.
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Then he put a bullet through his own temple and joined them in that place where the big tent is struck and the barkers are silent.
Where are the monstrous men with chests like barrels and mustaches like the wings of eagles who strode across my childhood's gaze? Buried, I suppose, in the Flanders mud. - George Orwell
You were once wild here! Don't let them tame you!
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice.
One did not summon men like Comstock and McDougall from Boston or pull Houdini from whatever skyscraper he was hanging from...to test some quack just off the train from Lily Dale...
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History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so-called Witch of Lime Street, whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal. The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics--and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities. Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes' creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery's powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee.  Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified.  Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince...the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini. David Jaher's extraordinary debut culminates in the showdown between Houdini, a relentless unmasker of charlatans, and Margery, the nation's most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry and the competition that brought them into each other's orbit, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: Is there life after death?

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