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 For the uninitiated, a séance is a gathering of a small group of individuals who sit together in an attempt to speak to the spirits no longer of this world. At least one member of the group is usually a medium or at least possessed of some paranormal powers. Early séances were conducted by private mediums who took no fee for their ‘services’. Later, professional mediums with dollar signs in their eyes arose and their séances were available to the public for a fee. Unfortunately, many of these séances were sittings that later were proven to be hoaxes thus damaging the reputation of the séance and true mediums. In fact, Harry Houdini was one who helped expose these hucksters.

A dark or semi-dark séance room is believed to be most favorable for phenomena because light is said to often interferes with spirit manifestation. Skeptics have often noted that this type of environment invites fraud, and the demand for darkness was an early hindrance to discovering the manipulations of fake mediums. However, darkness is essential for the production of psychic phenomena, and many remarkable effects have been said to be produced in good light.

After World War I, there was a resurgence in the spiritualist movement as many grieved individuals and families longed to contact those loved ones who had perished in battle. Supposed mediums were there to fill the need for a public that was so desperate and willing to believe. The best ‘mediums’ were masterful tricksters and show people, and their séances were thrilling multimedia performances of spirit channeling, levitating tables, floating tambourines, written messages from the dead and spontaneous manifestations of ectoplasm. The performances were quite ingenious and succeeded in fooling many otherwise intelligent people. Harry Houdini, being a magician and a rather ingenious fellow himself, knew that these séances were just clever hoaxes.

Houdini set out to and did expose many of the fraudulent mediums that took advantage of participants and demonstrated how these mediums performed tricks and stunts to simulate spirit manifestation. Houdini did not necessarily believe that spirits of the dead could not be contacted. Aside from his fame as a stage magician and astonishing escape artist, Houdini was just as well known - especially in the later part of his career - as a debunker of spirit mediums and phony séances. He felt, however, that if it were possible for anyone to come back and make themselves known, he would find a way to do it.

For many years after Houdini’s death, his wife tried real séances in an attempt to contact her husband, but to no avail and eventually she gave up. Even now, there are some mediums who attempt to contact Houdini, usually on Halloween night which is when he died. As of yet, there has been no success.