The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher
Age range: adult | Paperback: 448 pages | Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (October 11, 2016)
About The Witch of Lime Street
History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so-called Witch of Lime Street, whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal.
The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamor, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.
Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery’s powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee. Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified. Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince…the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini.
David Jaher’s extraordinary debut culminates in the showdown between Houdini, a relentless unmasker of charlatans, and Margery, the nation’s most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry and the competition that brought them into each other’s orbit, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: Is there life after death?
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My Thoughts on The Witch of Lime Street
I can’t say exactly what drew me to this book in the first place. While not my typical read, the title sucked me in with promises of Houdini facing off with the great medium of his time.
I wasn’t disappointed.
The writing flowed well and kept me captivated. The story is wildly interesting. I had no idea that spiritism was such a big thing in America and involved such prominent names.
More than once, parts of the story freaked me out a bit. The seances could be quite spooky to read about. I can only imagine how much spookier they were for the people experiencing them. Even though mediums were routinely exposed as false, that didn’t diminish the eerie feeling that permeated throughout the book.
When it comes to complaints about the book, I have only one. It was too long.
The historical account was enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck and make my arms break out in goosebumps. But it took so long to get anywhere with the story that it frustrated me. There are a lot of in-depth backstory about people that don’t have much, if any, relevance to the story.
Length aside, The Witch of Lime Street is fabulous. A well-researched and fascinating account of a time in our history when science and spiritism nearly joined hands.
Content: Some scary scenes and some suggestive content.
Source: I received a copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program.
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