Holiday Magic

Seances have been held every October 31 since 1927 for Enrich (nee Ehrich) Weiss, a Jewish locksmith from Budapest, Hungary, who died from a ruptured appendix on Halloween. Enrich's widow, a Catholic girl from Brooklyn named Bess Rahner, hosted the most solemn of these spirit gatherings until 1936, after which the mantle for similar vigils was assumed by family members of the Weiss's heirs and friends.

In 1976, on the 50th anniversary of Enrich Weiss's death I hosted a seance in my mom's living room with a Ouija board and some neighborhood friends. We didn't conjure up the spirit of Harry Houdini that evening, but the single moms who witnessed our amateur ghost busting quaffed their fair share.

Dedication to the spirit of my childhood hero waned soon after my obsession with BMX peaked, so I threw away all my magic tricks and treats save one: a hardbound edition of Houdini's "A Magician Among the Spirits." In this clumsy tome Houdini chronicled his campaign to debunk the charlatans of his day who preyed on the will and the wallets of the weak.

Houdini's love for his own mother was Oedipal, and when she died her famous son went on a spiritual rampage. The $10,000 bounty Houdini offered to any medium or fakir who could deliver words from Mrs. Weiss in the afterlife was a king's ransom in the early 1900's, yet no one ever claimed the prize. Houdini's obsession with the hereafter never waned, and fueled his own commitment to speak to his wife Bess after his death. Bess indulged her dead husband, but only for a decade. Believers and charlatans alike have been indulging the egotistical and naive showman ever since.

Rest in Peace, HH.


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