Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were well known for their constant debate on the existence of the supernatural. While Sir Arthur was a solid believer and regular participant in seances, Houdini believed it was all vaudeville trickery designed to separate man from money during the pursuit of communing with dead loved ones. In an age where the Spanish Flu and The Great War had wiped out a huge swathe of the American population, even as families were just a few generations removed from the American Civil War, seances and the supernatural practically became a religion. Spiritualism rapidly became a huge fad and brought forward thousands of self-proclaimed mediums with the ability to speak to the dead.
Scientific American decided to take matters into their own hands and test the powers of these so-called mediums. Using what was high-tech equipment at the time and a series of tests, the magazine offered a cash prize to anyone who could prove that they really cool reach through the veils and communicate with the dead. One by one, charlatan after charlatan fell victim to the elaborate testing. It was one particular medium, the beautiful wife of a local doctor, that changed everything. Known as Margery (the doctor and his wife tried to keep their real name out of the papers), this young woman seemed to be able to communicate with her deceased brother, William, as well as convince him to activate musical instruments, play pranks and tease those involved in the study. Her home on Lime Street became a favorite place for those who wished to be scared silly during a seance. However, Houdini was the only one left not convinced by Margery’s powers. Thus began one of the most famous spiritual showdowns in history, recounted by David Jaher in The Witch of Lime Street.
The Witch of Lime Street describes the beginnings of the Spiritualism movement as well as the initial onset of Mina Crandon’s transformation into Margery, aka The Witch of Lime Street. While the book is utterly charming like Margery, it is also incredibly detailed and dense, like Scientific American. David Jaher tells the story with a solid blend of fascinating anecdotes and facts of the time period. The Witch of Lime Street is detailed, thoughtful and a delightful read for someone who either has read all about the Spiritualism movement, or had never heard of Houdini and Sir Arthur’s friendship over the debate of the spirit world.
The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher is now available from Crown Publishing. Look for it on Amazon
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for an honest review.