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?
"Jaher brings Harry Houdini's crusade against Spiritualism back into popular knowledge in his gripping first book...a fascinating look at the Spiritualist movement in 1920s America." (Publishers Weekly)
"Jaher's narrative style is as engaging as his character portraits are colorful. Together, they bring a bygone age and its defining spiritual obsessions roaring to life. Fascinating, sometimes thrilling, reading." (Kirkus Reviews)
"A beautifully written, deeply researched, and delightfully mysterious tale of grifters and ghosts in the Jazz Age. David Jaher writes about the battle between science and spiritualism with a charming combination of sympathy, skepticism, and suspense. Jaher has made a great debut as a historian and a story-teller." (Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America)
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Houdini, Conan Doyle and Marjorie
Yes, to anyone who had an interest in history, famous people and alternative thinking. It is truly fascinating.
Occult America is quite similar, with a history of alternative approaches to the spiritual.
Simon Vance is one of my favorite narrators and I loved all the voices. But perhaps my favorite in this book would be the voice of Walter.
I think probably the most moving parts were the invasive, sometimes cruel, and character destroying attacks and investigations that Marjorie (and other psychics) endured. Proving herself a valid medium must have meant a great deal to her to allow it to go on for years and to endure so much with such an obliging attitude.
This is such a complex book that there is a great deal that one could comment on. First, it seemed to me that the rigid examination of alleged psychics was extreme and one wonders why the same kind of rigorous examination hasn't been used to question the tenets of most religions? Another thing that stood out to me is that "The Great Houdini" was really quite a petty and vindictive person who would not allow anyone to surpass him. Somewhat of a different view than is popular. Also, just the overall story of the famous people involved in the early Spiritualist movement both in the U.S. and Europe was intriguing. I suppose the question of whether life continues after death will continue to go on as it is human nature to want to know the unanswerable questions. This book was researched beautifully and gives one a feeling of being there as an observer and being part of a new way of thinking in a new century. Really brilliant!
- Blue Dragonfly "BlueDragonfly"
Great History of a Fascinating Cultural Phenomenon
- R. Schechter