Monday, August 10, 2015

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

Crown, 2015

The 1920's was an unforgettable era in the United States, and the biggest event to impact many lives was the end of World War I.  Millions of people died, millions of families grieved.  Not only were there big events, but big personalities as well.  One of the grandest and boldest of Americans at the time was Harry Houdini.  There were also new trends and beliefs that began to sprout, and Spiritualism was taking over the world.  Together these three combinations would make for a fascinating story....

Sir Conan Doyle, English author, became entrenched and entranced with Spiritualism when we lost his son to the war.  Through mediums, he was able to talk to his son beyond the grave through a seance.  This became a passion that Doyle brought to the United States, which created a furor and controversy and the validity of mediums and their powers.

While speaking to throngs of people in auditoriums, Doyle was able to convince many that communication with the dead was a different kind of science.  What you may not be able to see doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  With that in mind, a very reputable publication as well as scientists and professionals from Harvard, began to investigate mediums to see if they could discern between a true medium and a charlatan.  Along with the investigation, a $5000.00 award would be given to a medium who truly had the gift.  One of the many professionals on this team was Harry Houdini.

Harry Houdini was a master of deception.  Having worked his way beyond vaudeville, Harry learned and knew all the tricks of the trade and could easily spot them.  One event that bolstered Harry's goal to exposing medium frauds was the death of his beloved mother.  Even Harry wanted to be swayed to believe mediums could connect him to his dear mother, but in the end, he realized there were con artists on every corner waiting to make money from the grief of another.  This he couldn't tolerate.

With believers on one side, and naysayers on another, a medium entered into the fray claiming she was the true embodiment of a medium.  Unlike others, this beautiful woman, Margery, was the wife of a doctor and lived in a wealthy area of New England.  She didn't need the money and because of her status, many were disposed to believe her talents and story.  Why would a high society lady lie?What could be her motive?  And Margery truly had talent...but was it real or not?  A war was about to begin between Margery and Harry.  Who would ultimately win?

Steeped not only in an interesting era of history, the author creates a story centered around two people, with many other characters woven throughout to make this another piece of history not taught in most textbooks (it always seems like the best stories are left out!)  Written in narrative format, this book is enjoyable to read, and the images were peculiarly interesting.  An excellent additional to any YA non-fiction section, this could most certainly be paired with excellent YA fiction, including Libba Bray's The Diviners books.  Recommended.

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