Laying a ghost

15th June 2024. Reading Time: 4 minutes General, Harry Houdini. 814 page views. 0 comments.

We look at a magazine feature on Joseph S. Dunninger, a friend of Harry Houdini's who continued with his work after he passed. It is an interesting insight into just how some paranormal 'tricks' were performed.

Harry Houdini is most well-known as one of the world's greatest magicians and escape artists.  He also spent the last years of his life using his knowledge of sleight of hand and deception to expose fake spiritualist mediums who were making money using tricks of deception.  I have a large catalogue of articles I have written about Houdini, which you can check out here.  Here is a picture of my office so you know just how far my obsession goes.

Now onto this week's feature.  A feature spotlight on a friend of Houdini's who was seemingly carrying on with Houdini's work and also had a pact with Houdini on how they could make contact with each other should Houdini pass away.  As we sadly know, he life ended prematurely, and despite many attempts to contact Houdini, he never answered back .... or did he?

The following appeared in

PIX magazine Volume 27 No 17 on 3rd of May 1952

* This has been translated by trove and may contain errors.  I have tried to correct as much as I could.

Laying a ghost  
FAKED PHOTOGRAPH of two “spirits” in a haunted house was produced by a common type of trick photography—composite made by double exposure. Some mediums after a suitable “spiel” show their clients such pictures to prove existence of ghosts, will sell for a fancy figure.  If you believe in ghosts, spirits or spectres, this series may give you a new slant  
EVER seen a ghost? American Joseph S. Dunninger hasn’t and he’s so sure nobody else has he’s willing to pay £4460 to anyone who can produce the genuine article. He is the chairman of an organisation that calls itself the Universal Council  
of Psychic Research and specialises in laying ghosts and exposing mediums who claim to be in touch with spirits of the departed. He has for years challenged mediums to produce spooky effects which he cannot duplicate or explain by natural or  
scientific means. None of the mediums, who take £2 -million from the US  

SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPH was made during a seance of Nine Pecoraro, famed medium who mystified the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Pecoraro subsequently signed a confession admitting he had no spiritualistic power and that this photograph was made by careful exposure. But if such a person as Conan Doyle, famed for his member of the public Dunninger estimates,  
REMARKABLE ATTEMPTED FRAUD unveiled by Dunninger is shown in this double-exposure photograph. Some years ago he accepted the challenge of a noted medium to enter the house of a dead man and read a book opposite the dead owner's favorite chair. according to the medium, as Duñinger read, the spirit of the departed returned sat alongside Duninger. The medium produced this photograph to prove it But ghost-layer Dunninger proved the picture was only a clever piece of negative-faking by the medium's photographer.  
TIED IN A CHAIR behind a curtain "while audience sits in the pitch-dark room, Dunninger, playing medium, slips a hand from his bonds, pulls telescopic rod and phosphorescent cloth from under his waistcoat, waves it through curtain to show dupes “ghost.” public annually, has yet accepted his offer.  Dunninger was a close friend of the late Harry Houdini, famous stage magician and arch-foe of frauds. Before he died Houdini gave Dunninger certain key words which he said would identify any genuine manifestation of his spirit He even named an hour and a day when, if able, he would rap on the headstone of his grave. Vigilant observers, many believers in spiritualism, gathered. But Houdini didn’t get through.  Dunninger recalls that Margery X, a famous Boston medium, many years ago mystified so many people that a committee was appointed to decide whether she should get a £2500 award for genuine spirit manifestations.  Houdini dared her to perform her seeming miracles from a cabinet made of oak an inch thick.  
Belief in immortality  
Margery declined. Then Houdini offered to forfeit £2500 if he could not reproduce all the manifestations of “Walter,” the ghost she allegedly controlled. Like Houdini, Dunninger hates the cynical willingness of mediums to profit by the desire of many people to believe in immortality;  their faked devices to convince the gullible they are acting as intermediaries between the  
living and the dead.  In this series of pictures Dunninger exposes some of the tricks employed by mediums in their seances. For example, he shows the mysterious ectoplasm as nothing but a piece of cloth dipped in phosphorescent liquid.


THIS SHOT, like those of the cloth “spectre” on opposite page, was taken in the light to show how a “spirit message” is produced. Dunninger, with his “client” holding his hands, grips the chalk in his teeth and writes on a  
slate. With a little practice, any medium can do this trick in the dark;  
Ghostly voices  
Dunninger shows the tin trumpet mediums use to produce ghostly voices at seances. The trumpet is merely an amplifier, made of thin aluminium. A low whisper at the narrow end produces a deep sepulchral tone.  
Ghostly writing  
In a dark room it is just as easy. Here Dunninger pushes the point of a specially made pencil between the ridges of a sealed velvet bag, writes a message on the card inside. When the client opens the bag he’s told a ghost did it.  
Ghostly noises  
Knock, knock. Who’s there? The piece of apparatus Dunninger is attaching to the top of  the door is wound up with a key, produces spirit raps in rhythm, bamboozles the suckers Medium can conceal it in pocket before seance.  

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