Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – Rosabelle : B-E-L-I-E-V-E by Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss takes us through the mysterious and oft disputed authenticity of spiritualism. The great Houdini yearned to speak to his mother on the other side.. and this is his story.

Rosabelle : B-E-L-I-E-V-E by Paul Andruss

picture29Houdini with his ‘Two Sweethearts’ : Mother & Wife

World-renowned illusionist and escapologist Harry Houdini was devoted to his mother. Devastated when she died in 1913, he blamed himself for being on tour and not by her side. Harry was suspicious of claims made by professional mediums, yet his grief was so great he allowed his friend Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Homes and a devout spiritualist) to persuade him to attend séances to contact her departed spirit.

Instead of desperately needed solace, all Harry found was fraud and calumny. Easily spotting the stage magician tricks  that professional mediums used to dupe the grief stricken, he wasted no time in exposing them.

Despite Harry Houdini’s life-long crusade to expose fraudulent spiritualists he never abandoned hope there was an afterlife. Perhaps it was vanity, as much as anything else, that made him promise Bess, his wife: if possible he would return to prove the existence of a life after death.

Houdini made the same pact with around 20 friends as well as Bess. To each individual he entrusted a unique secret coded message, making it easy to prove any message from beyond the grave was genuine.

On Halloween 1926 Harry Houdini died in hospital from blood poisoning caused by a ruptured appendix. Most film versions of his life have Harry dying on stage, suffering agonising abdominal pain while drowning inside his Chinese-Water-Torture-Cabinet. In fact Harry died in hospital after an operation to remove his appendix and drain the infection spreading through his body.

picture30Houdini & the Chinese Water Torture Trick

Some of Houdini’s friends openly reported mysterious events after Harry’s death: an inscription from Harry mysteriously vanished from a book; framed photographs fell from walls and a sculptured bust of Harry shattered. But none of these events were considered the unique proof Harry promised.

Soon after Harry’s death spiritualist mediums began contacting his wife Bess. Their messages were vague uplifting blandishments about how swell things were on the other side and Bess dismissed them as rubbish. Frustrated by time-wasters, Bess issued a $10,000 reward to anyone able to provide the unique secret proof she and Harry had agreed.

Legend has it Bess offered the £10,000 for a 1-year period, and it was not until the year expired that a medium got in touch with a 10-word coded message from Harry.

In fact two and a half years elapsed before Arthur Ford told Bess he had the agreed message. Arthur Ford and an entourage (including two journalists) arrived on 8 January 1929 for a scheduled meeting at Bess’ apartment. Bess, recuperating from a fall a few days earlier, had her press agent and an old friend in attendance as witnesses.

The medium Arthur Ford delivered the message: ‘Rosabelle – answer- tell- pray, answer- look- tell- answer, answer- tell’

He then added Houdini said the code was one used in one of their mind reading acts. He instructed Bess to tell the assembled group what Rosabelle meant.

In a tremulous voice Bess began to sing a song from her first show with Houdini: ‘Rosabell sweet Rosabell I love you more than I can tell.’ The message, translated from the mind reading code, was B-E-L-I-E-V-E

Stifling tears Bess confirmed it was indeed the secret message and had been delivered as she and Harry agreed. She then dramatically swooned.

The next day the story made headlines around the world courtesy of the journalists attending the séance. It seemed not even eternity could hold Houdini.

picture31Press Cutting

When the spiritualist medium gave Bess the coded message she had agreed with her husband, Harry Houdini, before his death, Bess swooned exclaiming… ‘Yes, yes. That is the message. Harry – Harry!’

picture32Medium Arthur Ford with the invalid Bess who had taken to her bed

Soon afterwards Bess recanted, claiming it was a magician’s trick. It may not surprise anybody to know it was a trick; but it was Bess who was the magician’s stooge.

Stooge seems a harsh word to describe a grieving widow. It is not meant as an insult. All magicians’ used stooges – accomplices, planted in the audience – to be chosen seemingly at random, and used at crucial points to help the magician achieve the impossible.

The truth is Bess was not a strong, independent woman; not Houdini’s equal partner. Like most marriages of the period, while Houdini was the big man; the breadwinner, Bess played second fiddle as his devoted, adoring companion; in short the wife.

Houdini treated her like child. Constantly reassuring her with love-notes and arranging exaggeratedly romantic, clandestine dates together. Bess and Houdini could not have children. Anecdotal evidence suggests Bess had a medical condition. She was described as frail and was often ill.

There was never any doubt Houdini’s mother came first. If Bess was resentful she did not show it. It was not until her mother-in-law’s death Bess got her husband’s full attention.

Even then she shared him with the phony mediums he used, and exposed in trying to contact his mother. And she shared him with flesh and blood rivals too: Houdini’s other women.

Perhaps because of their claustrophobic relationship, Houdini’s death devastated Bess. The first anniversary of his death found her physically and mentally exhausted. A diary entry for October 1927 reads; ‘Dined at Village Grove – home early, no drink or weed.’

picture33The widow Bess: as trapped by Houdini’s death as she was by his life.

Bess had been drinking heavily, using prescription drugs and marijuana, since before Houdini’s death. Now her addictions spiralled out of control. She mixed with ‘colourful characters’ in the wild jazz-age nightclubs she frequented – including Arthur Ford; the medium who would deliver her husband’s secret coded message.

Although Bess claimed not to know Ford, she had been infatuated with him for at least a year before the séance. They planned a lecture tour together based on its successful outcome – the grieving widow and the medium who bought her sceptical husband back from the dead.

As if this was not damning enough, one of the journalists who witnessed the Houdini séance claimed she wrote the story before it actually happened. The whole charade was dictated – word for word- the previous day by Bess.

In a classic entrapment scenario, she invited the medium Arthur Ford to discuss the previous day’s séance in her apartment while her editor and a colleague, concealed in the kitchenette, recorded everything on a Dictaphone. Initially triumphant, Ford’s bubble was soon burst as he realised the journalist would not succumb to his charms, wheedling, or even threats.

On Halloween 1936, on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood, Bess conducted a final Houdini séance. Like all the others it failed. At its conclusion, Bess dramatically put out the candle she had kept burning beside the photograph of her husband since his death. She later commented… ‘Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.’

picture34The widow Bess on the cover of an American magazine for magicians

©PaulAndruss 2017

Thanks to Paul for this fascinating article on a subject that still enthralls millions around the world today… I took the liberty of looking at some statistics and found these on the official American Federation of Certified Psychics and Mediums

Psychics’ annual earning, and wealth:

  • Approximate annual earning of a very successful psychic in the United States (Celebrity-psychic and mega name): Over $5,000.000.
  • Approximate annual earning of a reasonably successful psychic in the United States: $500,000.
  • Approximate standard annual earning of a psychic in the United States: $150,000-$75,000.

And with some honesty they also shared this….

  • Approximate number of clients’ complaints and psychics’ rip-off from 2011 to 2015: 1,600.
  • Approximate number of psychics who were convicted for fraud from 1995 to 2015: 350.
  • Approximate number of psychics who were charged but not convicted from 1995 to 2015: 700.
  • Approximate number of psychics who have illegally taped conversations with clients and a third party (State and federal crimes-felonies) from 1995 to 2015: 10.
  • Approximate number of psychics/mediums who had troubles with the law for the past five years: 2,137.
  • Approximate number of psychics/mediums who have hired lawyers for a libel suit, whether filed with the court or not (2007-2012): 12.
  • Approximate $amount earned by psychics/mediums who have scammed clients in 2011-2012: $200,000.000.

About Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.

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Thank you for dropping in today and as always please leave your questions and comments for Paul… thanks Sally.


32 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – Rosabelle : B-E-L-I-E-V-E by Paul Andruss

    • Sadly there hucksters in all walks of life. I knew someone who worked in the finance department of a famous Cancer charity and heard some outrageous stories of how grieving people’s donations end up as Bonuess for the directors and their favourites. One particular story that has always stayed with me is how a Deputy Director’s secretary got £30,000 bonus for working very hard for him one year. This money is donated by people who have lost loved ones to cancer. Now you might ask what this has to do with Phoney mediums. Sadly I think no matter noble people’s initial intentions they go out the window when they discover the gravy train – and sadly people who have lost people are always at their most vulnerable. Pxx

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mary glad you enjoyed it. It is interesting to see BIiopics of Houdini because Bess is always presented a strong and brave, in actual fact she was very much the person society made her. Houdini adored her but sadly never treated her as a equal or stayed faithful. Society at that time was geared against women- from the vote to inheritence to medical treatments for hysteria or moral rectitude (such being committed to an asylum for having a child out of wedlock). So I am not blaming Bess for being weak. Being undermined and playing second fiddle for decades would undermine the best of us, especially when treatments for perceived hysteria involved Opiates to quiet you down or shut you up.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This was a fascinating read again. I remember this article because I too was fascinated by Houdini. Loved the psychic earning statistics at the end. Man. am I in the wrong business LOL 🙂 ❤ xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Weekly Round Up – Bloggers, Authors, Music, Health, Food and Funnies. | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  3. A very entertaining article. I don’t know about Ford or any other mediums. But I would suggest reading “There is a River” by Thomas Sugrue. It’s a biography about Edgar Cayce. He was a psychic in the first half of the 20th century. People came to him who the medical professionals had given up on. Many were terminal or had suffered great pain throughout their lives. He would go into a trance and diagnose what was wrong with them and tell them how to cure what ailed them. He had a 98% cure rate and he never took a dime. He died broke. By the way, he had no medical training. He came from the back woods of Kentucky and had no formal education.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andrew firstly I have no axe to grind. People must be free to believe what they want. I heard of Cayce years ago through reading books like Supernature. (Fantastic read, thoroughly enjoyable excellent piece unimpeded by the rigorous requirements of science.) Fascinated by your reminder of him I quickly looked up Cayce and came across this.
      One of the sources mentioned is the American magician the Amazing Randi- who I have got a huge amount of respect for (he basically blew Uri Geller out of the water.) If you don’t mind I will tell you an Amazing Randi story…
      A UK nobel prize winning physicist was investigating Spoonbending – there are actually lots of sound reasons. He got together a group of children renouned for this ability. Put the kids in a room by themselves and low and behold- bent spoons. Before he published he thought he should check and got James Randi along. Randi suggested fitting the room with a two way mirror. Low and behold the children were not bending the spoons with their minds. When Confronted the children’s parents’ indignant reactions where inevitably.. “Well little Jimmy bends the spoons with his mind at home.”
      The conclusion in the prestigious physicists paper was something like…
      Just because kids bend spoons manually while i am watching them does not necessarily mean they don’t bend spoons with their minds when I am not.
      Now you can either think that is a beautifully ballanced conclusion or the physicist was on drugs. All my best mate Paul


      • You obviously have an axe to grind. What, pray tell, does a spoon-bender have to do with Cayce? Read the book and then get back to me.

        “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
        Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


        Liked by 1 person

      • No, Andrew not at all, I do not want to convince anyone of anything. Edgar Cayce and spoonbending – both are examples of how popular reportage can distort facts that are part of the public record. best Paul.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like a fascinating read.. I have met a number of ‘practitioners’ being in the field of alternative medicine and you can usually spot the ones in it for the money… quite rare in my experience but they still get people to believers who swear by them.. I am drawn to some of the placebo studies that have been done.. and interestingly the ones that involve animals are fascinating..they don’t understand the placebo influence and yet they get benefit from ancient healing therapies such as acupuncture and reiki… thanks for sharing Edgar’s story will look for his bio…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sally your statistics are fantastic. It is heart breaking how the bereaved are preyed on by people. And should there be an afterlife and genuine mediums, they must be just as mad at fraudsters who are bringing them into disrepute. you research made an excellent codicil to the article.Paul xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wanted to find out more after reading the post again.. and recently there was a woman who actually told people she had terminal cancer and scammed thousands out of friends, family and well wishers.. That is bonkers.. I always say you have to be careful what you wish for.. As to bonuses for charity officers… you get a salary and that is it.. the street collections are the worst as there are the tin collectors who are under a supervisor who gets a cut of the take, who is under a manager who gets a cut and then it gets handed onto an area manager and so on.. a pyramid scheme with barely 10p of your original pound going to the people who need it.. Of course there are honest charities but I steer clear of the major ones and find a local charity who is I can physically see is making a difference and what you see is what you get.. Cannot stand scam artists.. and have met a few…Thanks again for a wonderful post.. and a discussion magnet clearly.. hugsxx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sally don’t! Charities dishearten me so much. You want to do your best but they just scam the good and the vulnerable.My “friend” attended a marketing seminar by the Charities marketing dept all earning commercial rates and they bluntly said the old ways of sucking money out of people were not working anymore and it was more effective to get the grieving emotionally involved with races for life and bake sales as this way you were getting the grieving to do your work for you. Charities need to be accountable and a law should be passed so that directors are paid fair but not extortionate wages and no bonuses… and Bloody bankers too – it is our money they goof around with and when they lose it’s not their fault but when they do their job they pay themselves huge bonuses! Pxx

        Liked by 2 people

  5. An interesting tale as always, Paul and some lively conversation…I am the most sceptical person on this earth and never like Sally give to a charity unless I have seen what they do and definitely none of the big charities…The world is full of liars and charlatans and the gullible and that is unlikely to change….You but coming didn’t you? Haha…Years ago ( 40 plus) now I attended a reading with a friend it was a group one about 12 people…We went for a laugh and hellbent on disproving absolutely everything…I won’t bore with a blow by blow of everyone just what she told me…1.She described a necklace to me told me the clasp was broken told me that the person who gave it to me wanted me to get it mended and wear it. 2. She mentioned a man with deep scars on his body called Tom who was a Japanese Prisoner of war and 3. She told me she could see a house the house of my dreams that was far away she told me it didn’t cost very much but she couldn’t see why and also told me that the name had the word water in it…
    The description of the necklace was spot on and it was at the bottom of my jewellery box as the catch was broken and it was given to me by my nan…No one knew or could have guessed that. No 2 when I arrived home and told my disbelieving hubby was his uncle who I knew as Uncle Hen his real name was Tom and he was a POW and had the scars but never ever discussed it as many didn’t…No3…Became reality about 5 years ago so a good 35 years after the reading and I had forgotten …The beautiful Blue house we found in Phuket was my dream home situated on Waterfall Road however I didn’t know that until I happened to ask for a translation to write the address and it was a while after when our conversations turned to readings that it came back to me …I will add I have never been to another reading as she was so eerily accurate for a few of us …It scared me somewhat…So I never say I do or I do not I sit firmly on the fence but in my mind, I think some people can see 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

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