This is one of the strangest celebrity friendships you’re ever going to find…and not for the reasons you think. Doyle and Houdini both flourished when spiritualism was at its height – not religion, but the belief in and the obsession with attempting to contact ghosts. While one of them believed passionately in the undead returning to this realm for one reason or another, the other scoffed at such possibilities and the people who claimed to be able to facilitate meetings as swindlers and frauds.
You’re likely thinking that the man who wrote the critically thinking Sherlock Holmes is the latter, and the performance artist is probably the one with his head in the spiritual realm, but, if so, you are wrong.
Houdini and Doyle became friends due to their shared interest in spiritualism, though they were drawn to the fad for totally different reasons. Doyle because he legit believed all of it, and Houdini because he wanted to believe so that he could speak once again to his beloved mother. He struggled to see the truth in the whole ‘contacting spirits’ thing, and given that he faked his own seances early in his career, that makes perfect sense.
There was, in fact, a booming business in capitalizing on people’s grief at the time, so his skepticism was well-placed.
The disconnect in their ways of thinking came between the friends quickly, with Houdini performing tricks in order to show Doyle how easily things could be faked, and Doyle’s head exploding because he still thought it was real.
The final straw was when Doyle’s wife produced 15 pages that she claimed came to her from Houdini’s dead mother.
It probably would have behooved Doyle’s wife to do some research; the pages were written in perfect English, but Houdini’s mother was a Hungarian immigrant with only a tenuous grasp on the language.
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