SPOOKSTERS OF MAGIC PAST AND PRESENT
Houdini Seance 1977
by Dorothy Smith
How did the Magicians of the past handle the 50th anniversary of Houdini's Death? With a seance in one of the spookiest houses on earth, the Winchester House. For those who do not know, the song "Stairway to Heaven" and movie "Rose Red" are both loosely based on this scary house. In 1977, "The New Tops" printed the following article with pictures about the Houdini seance in the Winchester house.
The largest, most complicated, exclusively private residence in the United States, the former home of only one tiny living lady, yet inhabited through the years by the ghosts of many disembodied souls --that was the unique setting last Halloween for Peninsula Assembly No. 94, Society of American Magicians, when they celebrated National Magic Week and commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the death of their great compeer, Houdini.
Holding their "Houdini Spirit Seance" in the world-famous Winchester Mystery House was considered so rare a combination of supernatural elements and magical talents that it attracted the attention of local and metropolitan newspapers, television and radio. It was a real coup for Bob Horton, program chairman, who planned the event.
Starting with a tour of the sprawling mansion, guests in groups of thirteen climbed several of the thirteen sets of stairs -- some with one-inch risers, opened doors against blank walls -- tall doors and short doors, counted thirteen panels on ceilings, and saw other oddities that were said to have been designed by the spectral nightly visitors with whom the widow Winchester had communed.
They were told by guides that Mrs. Winchester had been born Sarah Pardee in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1839. During the Civil War she had married William Wirt Winchester, son of the inventor of the Winchester rifle. Their only child had died in infancy and Winchester himself passed away in 1881. Deep in grief, Sarah consulted a seeress who said she had been cursed by the spirits of all those killed by the Winchester gun and that her own only escape from early death was to buy a house and build on it continuously. Advised by doctors to move to a milder climate, she purchased an eight-room farm house in San Jose, California, in 1884 and over the 38 years of her life there, the simple cottage grew to the present 160 rooms. Though never finished, it has been designated both by the state and federal government as a historic land-mark.
After eating a delectable buffet served that night in the 13-cupola'd greenhouse and enjoying the close-up magic of Jack Zenger and Patrick Martin, S.A.M. members and guests were directed to a nearby unfinished salon and seated around small tables. In the eerie half-light they could see the round seance table at one end of the room and a curtained stage at the other.
Jack Zenger, President of S.A.M. Assembly 94, introduced Bob Horton, who conducted the commemorative "Houdini Spirit Seance," exhorting the great magician to manifest his presence by using one of the traditional props on the table: book, bell, rope, tambourine or slate. Onlookers concentrated tensely on Houdini's picture, illuminated by a single candle, but no sign from the outer world was detected.
A "Nostalgic Seance" followed, reminiscent of the 30's, with Frank Franali acting as medium. Two messages, written by unseen hands, were received -- one on a slate and the other on a tablet of paper. A skull clacked its jaws and the table rose into the air.
The seated guests then faced the stage and were entertained by a show entitled "Mystic Magic of the Mind." Dick Goode caused a light to flash by sheer concentration and predicted on a slate the city and date called out by one of the spectators. Steve Dawson read a comic poem which demonstrated the magic effect of word-twisting; he then performed a novel card force. Lastly, Daryl Bern called for a cassette which had been in safekeeping since the October 11 Assembly meeting. At that time he had forecast inaudibly on tape answers to spontaneous questions asked aloud by other members, such as: "What will be the price of IBM stock on October 29?" and "What headlines will be on the front page of the Palo Alto Times on October 30?" and "What team will win the National League baseball series?" When played back on Halloween, the questions and Daryl's predictions were correct in every detail. This "first" in prediction technique has baffled the whole assembly, but it's one thing that Daryl is not telling!
Everyone agreed that this Halloween celebration was one long to be remembered, combining mental miracles and ghostly phenomena in the haunted atmosphere of Winchester Mystery House.
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