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Review: The Witch of Lime Street
May 19, 2018

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I recently finished reading David Jaher’s fascinating non-fiction book, The White of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. I adored it.

Spiritualism first arrived in America in the mid-1800s with the Fox sisters, mediums who used the cracking of their ankles to fake their way to ghost communication fame. This was soon after the end of the American Civil War so there were lots of people grieving for lost loved ones and looking for a way to connect with them on the other side.

Spiritualism gained a huge following for the rest of the 19th century and then became popular again after World War I when—once again—friends and relatives of dead soldiers sought séances and mediums in order to have some closure.

You can learn more about séances here.

Harry Houdini, who made his living from daring stunts and trickery, and a handful of men were tasked with seeking out mediums who could potentially have real abilities. They interviewed many spiritualists, some more impressive than others, but they all agreed that Mina “Margery” Crandon either had real abilities or was especially good at tricks. Houdini was more of the mind that, and excuse my language, you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

This book covers their search, much of the recorded experiments with Crandon at her home on Lime Street in New York, and the aftermath of their research. In addition, it goes into previous spiritualists who rose to fame, including Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a friend of Houdini’s until they had a falling out because of their disagreements on the religion. The Witch of Lime Street is an entertaining dip into 1920s American culture that doesn’t include gin or jazz. If you’re into the more scientific look at how spiritualists faked their tricks, or just want to know what the heck was up with ectoplasm, this is a must-read.

I expect it will make a fantastic film as well!


If you want more spiritualism and séance goodness, check out my historical fiction novel, The Spirited Mrs. Pringle now available on paperback and at all major ebook retailers. (Audiobook coming soon.)

Jillianne Hamilton is a history enthusiast and the author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle (historical fiction), The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street (historical romance), and The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII (non-fiction). Jill launched The Lazy Historian in 2015. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada’s beautiful east coast. Learn more.

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1 Comment

  1. Erm, first paragraph… The White of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. :;chuckle::

    I read this book October 2017 while at a cabin in a state park surrounded by woods and hiking trails and evenings and nights enjoying a log fire and reading or playing 500 Rummy with my daughter. Although fairly familiar with spiritualism, Houdini and Doyle I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed it immensely.

    I’ve had these on a self planning to read them for over a year. Had hoped to read them this October along with rereading a nice copy of Doctor Jeckyll and Mister Hyde I have with Barry Moser woodcut illustrations, as well as a copy of Dracula (with an orange cover with black lettering) published in the late 20s or early 30s. Oh well, next October when there is a full moon on Halloween…

    https://www.goodreads.com/series/66751-harry-houdini

    I did manage to read Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October this month.

    Reply

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Hi, I'm Jillianne.

I'm a historical fiction writer, a lover of history, and a hoarder of books. I'm the author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle, The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII.

The Lazy Historian is a history blog featuring stories from the past with sass. With a focus on Western European and women's history, I delve into anything fascinating. Learn more.

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