STARRED REVIEW
October 15, 2015

The spirit world is calling

By David Jaher

Tightly paced and furiously entertaining, The Witch of Lime Street tells the fascinating story of the rise of spiritualism in the years after World War One. With an entire generation lost to the trenches and the Spanish flu, charlatans and hucksters emerged in force to put grieving families in touch with their beloved dead. This was the era of séances, table rapping, ectoplasm and “spirit photography”—done with a camera that supposedly captured an image of you posing with your dearly departed’s ghost.

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Tightly paced and furiously entertaining, The Witch of Lime Street tells the fascinating story of the rise of spiritualism in the years after World War One. With an entire generation lost to the trenches and the Spanish flu, charlatans and hucksters emerged in force to put grieving families in touch with their beloved dead. This was the era of séances, table rapping, ectoplasm and “spirit photography”—done with a camera that supposedly captured an image of you posing with your dearly departed’s ghost.

Many people, including prominent figures like Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, wanted to believe that it was possible to establish communication with the dead. Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, mourned the loss of his son, while Houdini grieved the loss of his mother. But while Doyle became a true believer and embarked on lecture tours to support the new “religion” of spiritualism, Houdini became a psychic detective, seeking proof of the fraud and fakery behind it. Houdini would know: His entire career as an escape artist was based on creating illusions using the tricks of magic. But where magicians used sleight of hand to entertain, mediums—Houdini felt—used it to deceive.

When Scientific American offered a $2,500 prize to any medium who could prove decisively the truth of their messages from beyond, Houdini was appointed to the examining committee. And thus began an epic showdown between the magician and the medium, Mina Crandon, the so-called “Witch of Lime Street.” David Jaher, a screenwriter and professional astrologer, takes this battle as the story’s centerpiece, while offering a finely drawn portrait of an era when people’s will to believe in miracles trumped the pursuit of truth.

The Witch of Lime Street is a well-researched history of the links between vaudeville, magic and mediumship told with verve and humor. Fans of Glen David Gold’s novel Carter Beats the Devil will find much to enjoy here. 

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The Witch of Lime Street

The Witch of Lime Street

By David Jaher
Crown
ISBN 9780307451064

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