2018-11-07 / Front Page

Waiting For A Magician Named Harry

By Liz Goff
When Harry Houdini died of a burst appendix on Halloween night, October 31, 1926, he left behind code words with a number of people, promising to use the words to contact his friends some Halloween night if he found it was possible to communicate from beyond the grave.

The master magician’s gravesite at Machpetah Cemetery in Ridgewood boasts an ornate monument marking his final resting place, along with smaller headstones marking the burial sites of his family members.

To reach Houdini’s gravesite visitors must pass by a solemn statue of a veiled, grieving woman, climb two steps to reach a mourning wall that bears his name and an ornate stained glass emblem that recognizes Houdini as president of the Society of American Magicians, a post Harry held from 1917 to 1926.

A stone bust of Houdini’s head that sits near the gravesite mysteriously disappeared for more than 30 years – only to suddenly reappear several years ago. Vandals who broke into the cemetery in 1975 destroyed the original monument and other tones at the gravesite. Replacement stones were also stolen or vandalized.

Officials at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pa. later installed a heavy, concrete monument at Harry’s grave, along with stones that have remained intact thanks to a team of grave watchers dubbed “Houdini Commandos” who keep watch over Harry’s final resting place.

The cemetery is closed to the public and to curiosity seekers on Halloween, but it remains open to a group of magicians who hold a spectral ceremony in Harry’s honor.

Each Halloween night since Houdini’s death, a group of magicians hold a séance forming a semicircle around the grave while reading excerpts from Harry’s burial service. After the readings, a wooden wand is snapped in half over the gravesite – a symbol of the death of a magician and the loss of his power. Several people in the group use the code words left behind by Harry in an effort to reach him beyond the grave.

A group of magicians gathered at the gravesite on October 31, 90 years after Harry’s death, hoping to receive a message from the man dubbed the greatest escape artist of all time. But Houdini failed to communicate – further proof of his belief that it is impossible to speak from the grave.

A group of magicians marking the 50th anniversary of Houdini’s death reported an incident that left them wondering if Harry had indeed finally “broken through.” During the ceremony, a photo of the master magician fell to the ground from its place at the gravesite, leaving the group to wonder. Was it a sign that Harry had actually been able to return from the grave?

Throughout his lifetime, Harry made it his mission to expose frauds, charlatans and clairvoyants who claimed that the dead returned in spirit form. Houdini was staunchly committed to proving that the dead could not return as spirits.

If anyone would be capable of freeing himself from the bonds of the grave, wouldn’t it make sense that the feat would be accomplished by Houdini, the greatest escape artist who ever lived?

Believing in ghosts is not just an American phenomenon. Many of the great masters of literature wrote of ghosts and spiritual beings, conjuring up some of the world’s most classic horror stories.

What is a ghost? Is it, indeed, the earthbound spirit of the dead? Or are ghosts and poltergeists merely energy forces, or blurred images of careless time travelers?

Whatever they are, researchers of the paranormal agree they do exist. People see them, feel them, hear them and even smell them. Mediums communicate with them and clergy exorcise them. They appear again and again, stirring our curiosity and defying our sense of reality.

Call Machpelah Cemetery at 718-366-5959 to arrange a visit to Houdeini’s gravesite.

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