There are affiliate links in this post. Read my disclosure policy to learn more.
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.
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.)