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The Houdini Code

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The Houdini Code was the supposed secret message between Houdini and his wife Bess that would be used to contact her in the afterlife, which he didn't think was possible.

Houdini was a skeptic on the subject of spirits returning from the dead to speak to the living. He battled spiritualists in court, the most famous being the Boston medium named Margery. He duplicated the same "ghostly" phenomena as the mediums in a special Spirit Cabinet built for both courtroom use and for his stage shows. He argued at length with friend and ardent supporter of psychic phenomenon, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Houdini's Secret Message

Despite his skepticism, Houdini and Bess devised a secret message that was to be used to test the validity of any so-called spirit message coming from either of them, should one or the other pass.

Houdini died on Halloween in 1926. His wife Beatrice (Bess) offered $10,000 to anyone who could produce an authentic message from the spirit of her husband. Every Halloween for the next ten years she held a séance, hoping in vain for Houdini's spirit to turn up.*

Houdini séances

Bess began the tradition of holding a séance to see whether Houdini could escape from death. These séances provided rich publicity and Bess was dedicated to promoting the Houdini name.

Arthur Ford hoax

In January 1929, Arthur Ford's crony Francis Fast claimed that he brought word to Mrs. Houdini that Ford was ready to crack the secret code. She was not in the best of health. She had fallen down a flight of stairs a week earlier and was also battling influenza. A reporter for the New York Evening Graphic, described Mrs. Houdini as in a "semidelerium" from her illness and medications. Even so, she allowed a séance with Ford in her home on January 8th.

At that sitting, Fletcher relayed the secret code from Houdini. The message was said to be based on both sentimentality and an old vaudeville mindreading routine. The message was, "Rosabelle- answer- tell- pray, answer- look- tell- answer, answer- tell". Bess' wedding band bore the inscription "Rosabelle", the name of the song she sang in her act when they first met. The other words correspond to a secret spelling code used to pass information between a magician and his assistant during a mentalism act. Each word or word pair equals a letter. The word "answer" stood for the letter "B", for example. "Answer, answer" stood for the letter "V". Thus, the secret phrase spelled out the word "BELIEVE".

Bess Houdini publicly avowed that only she and Houdini knew the code. Ford even got Mrs. Houdini to sign a document stating that Ford got the message right.

On January 9th, the day after the séance, Mrs. Houdini was quoted in the New York World as saying: "I had no idea what combination of words Harry would use, and when he said 'believe,' it was a surprise".

On January 10th, Edward Churchill of the New York Evening Graphic declared the Ford séance a monumental hoax and wrote a false accusation that Ford had admitted that he got the secret code from Mrs. Houdini.

Ford didn't pursue the matter any further and he didn't collect the $10,000.[1]


A code used between Houdini and Bess was published the previous year in 1928 by Harold Kellock in his Houdini, His Life-Story.

Ford's literary executor, Canon William V. Rauscher, and his biographer, Allen Spraggett, believed they found evidence that the séance had been faked.[2]

Continuing the tradition

The 1936 séance was the last one that Bess conducted. Ten years was enough, and she admitted that she had never received the message from Houdini. For ten years, Bess presided over annual well-publicized séances held on October 31, the anniversary of Houdini's death. Though she stopped participating in 1938, séances to contact Houdini continued.

The magic fraternity quickly took on the task of the annual séances, with numerous notable magicians heading the table, including Walter B. Gibson. A photo of the 1948 séance [3] shows Walter B.Gibson at the top center, with Sidney Radner, Bob Lund, Litska Raymond and Chrystal Dunninger at the table as well. There is even a Houdini Seance room in the famed Magic Castle in Hollywood. Despite all of the effort, attention and interest, Houdini has apparently not spoken to anyone since he breathed his last earthly words to his brother Hardeen on Halloween night in 1926.


  2. The Houdini Code Mystery; A Spirit Secret Solved by William V. Rauscher (2000)
  3. 1948 Houdini seance photo
  • Colin Groves in Skeptical - a Handbook of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, ed Donald Laycock, David Vernon, Colin Groves, Simon Brown, Imagecraft, Canberra, 1989, ISBN 0731657942, p16
  • Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead, by Allen Spraggett with William V. Rauscher, New American Library, 1974
  • The Houdini Code Mystery: A Spirit Secret Solved by William V. Rauscher (2000)
  •, Arthur Ford hoax, webpage found 2008-05-20.