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

Written by:
David Jaher
Narrated by:
Simon Vance

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
October 2015
14 hours 4 minutes
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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A very long time ago, I was a young magician. Like everyone else who entered that field, I developed a fascination with Houdini. The problem with stories about Houdini is that, nearly 100 years after his death, it is almost impossible to separate the legends about the man from the man himself. The truth is usually buried under the massive artifice created about the man--much of it created by Houdini himself. This is a legendary story, and one that has never been fully told until this book. Traces of the story have appeared in several films about the man--each, frankly worse than the ones that preceded it--and were usually either glossed over or used to create some odd, fanciful love story. The truth is so much more complicated and more fascinating that all the fictional retellings. The psychological battle between Mina Crandon and Houdini was an extraordinary one. And who came out on top can still be a matter of some debate. Putting the battle into the context of the rise of Spiritualism in the early 20th Century, Jaher does an excellent of job of untangling the threads of an extremely complicated story. At times it reads like a mystery. At times, like a ghost story. At times a story about how greed, sex and egos came extremely close to derailing a scientific study, and how easy it can be for those "searching for truth" to become corrupted. And Margery...(Mina)...for decades she's been a kind of ghost, herself. In legend, she seems to cease to exist the moment Houdini exits the stage. No one else has ever bothered to answer the question "What happened next?" This story makes her real. A complicated woman with extraordinary skill and courage, and a brazen ability to find a way to thwart almost every test condition set for her. She was ahead of her time. In some ways, I admire her. In spite of the fact that she was a fraud. She was, perhaps the greatest fraud spiritualism ever produced. Had she chosen to become a magician instead of a medium, she would have been a way better one that Houdini ever was.

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