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Have Magicians Helped Or Hindered Paranormal Research? Experts or Hypocrites?

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  • Have Magicians Helped Or Hindered Paranormal Research? Experts or Hypocrites?

    I will list (post 3 onwards) numerous examples of hypocrisy amongst magician debunkers who have confused the debate over psychic phenomena and whose opinion, accounts and neutrality needs to be questioned.

    Edit: Some of the information in this topic is controverial. If any magician or person is unhappy with the accuracy or content of this thread, please notify me and I can correct information if it is shown to be in error. The goal is to find the truth, not to annoy anyone.

    - History is full of magician debunkers of psychic phenomena turning a blind eye to fellow magicians misrepresenting trickery as psychic phenomena. ...... adding prejudice and public confusion over the scientific research into psychical/parapsychological phenomena

    - Worse still, magicians have often encouraged faking psychic claims in a manner that damaged the reputation of psychical research.

    - To add to the confusion intelligence organizations have long employed magicians who once faked psychic claims or opposed psychic claims .... while at the same time these intelligence/defence organizations were also secretly researching into whether psychical phenomena could be utilized.

    The general problem......

    ' ....I have come to recognize that [magicians] have a problem. Their ethic of never revealing their tricks is very necessary if they are to remain entertaining. The truth behind most tricks is not even intriguing .... They also need to create a mystique around them, while, as rationalists, denying the existence of such things as mystique. Magicians tend to fall, consequently, into a mode of permanent deception. To maintain their livelihood, they are obliged to talk in riddles; this is frustrating enough when trying to get a simple answer from them. But additionally, as with compulsive liars, we have no way of knowing when a magician is telling the truth....'

    Jonathon Margolis
    Last edited by Open Mind; March 24th, 2010, 12:12 PM.

  • #2
    Indocilis Privata Loqui
    This is the motto of the UK Magic Circle it means 'Not Apt To Disclose Secrets'

    Similarly the Society of American Magicians states 'We are opposed to the exposure of magic whether by purposeful acts or through careless or ill-prepared performance.'

    Or in the words of the International Brotherhood Of Magicians code of ethics states ' All members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians agree to oppose the willful exposure to the public of any principles of the Art of Magic, or the methods employed in any magic effect or illusion..'

    Why do people trust those who belong to a private (magic) clubs that seem to exist for two reasons (1) To share secrets on how to practice deceptive techniques on members of the public (2) To prevent those techniques becoming public knowledge or one gets expelled from the club? Always harmless entertainment?

    "The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings. "

    John F. Kennedy
    To be fair ... magic clubs are organizations with secrets, not secret organizations. But there is thin dividing line between 'trade secrets' and public misinformation?

    Government secret services or military organizations around the globe have often employed magicians. Even a way back in history, in 1853 Napoleon III employed the leading magician of the day, Jean Eugine Robert-Houdin to fake paranormal phenomena to convince the Marabouts tribe the French had superior magic powers but the magician also believed in real psychic phenomena (or did he?)

    Jean Eugine Robert- Houdin
    6 years earlier in 1847, the 'father of modern conjuring', Jean Eugine Robert-Houdin, made a signed statement that the psychic Alexis Didier was genuine and what he accomplished under those conditions were not due to conjuring.

    Over 40 years later a young magician called Ehrich Weiss used the stage name 'Professor Harry Houdini' to help boost his career, although in later years Harry Houdini wrote a book attacking the reputation of Robert-Houdin.

    Let us look at some specific magician debunkers of the distant past... leading up to more recent times.....Experts, Hypocrites or Fudgers?
    Last edited by Open Mind; March 24th, 2010, 12:51 PM.


    • #3
      Joseph Rinn
      By 1909 magician Joseph Rinn offered a prize money challenge to psychic claimants. Some scientists objected to a prize challenge as inappropriate way to test claims. Was Joe Rinn an ethical magician out to protect the public? Er ... no....

      In the 1890s Joseph Rinn suggested to his young friend, Harry Houdini, he should present his handcuff, escapology act as spirits of the departed setting Houdini free 'why not proclaim that you are released from your bonds by spirits ... let them prove otherwise' said Joseph Rinn

      Joseph Rinn later became a vice president of the Society of American Magicians an organization which at that time turned a blind eye to magician members presenting conjuring as if they had psychic abilities.

      Harry Houdini
      Harry Houdini and his wife Bess made a living from a fake psychic medium act from 1895 to around 1899. They also made money from selling bibles during this time. (No I am not religous)

      By the 1920s, Harry Houdini was involved in prize challenges. His home basement had a mass of information on not just psychics but those researching psychic claims. How did a very busy Houdini obtain all this information?

      Some today think Houdini worked for the US and UK secret services, who helped his career. Was Houdini a Spy?
      The Secret Life of Houdini The Making of America’s First Superhero Derren Brown Blog

      While Harry Houdini was claiming in public he had never encountered real psychic phenomena, in private to other magicians William Goldston, Harry Price, etc. they got the impression Houdini secretly believed. Harry Price had a letter from Houdini supporting a paranormal claim.

      Next up, magician Joseph Dunninger ....
      Last edited by Open Mind; October 16th, 2009, 08:11 PM.


      • #4
        Joe 'the amazing' Dunninger
        Famous mentalist/magician, another close friend of Harry Houdini, involved in prize challenges during the 1930s-1950s ....

        At last an honest magician? Apparently not, he presented his mentalists act just like a psychic causing great confusion at the time on and off stage .....

        ' Both Dunninger and Kreskin fostered the belief that they are actually psychic. Their press material and the writings of Walter Gibson, who ghosted books for them, promoted their reputations as psychics. I’ve spoken to magicians who knew. Dunninger and Kreskin, and the general, though not universal, impression is that they both believed themselves to actually be psychic...'.

        Magician George Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal
        Walter Gibson was a magician too, so arguably he knew he was promoting fake phenomena

        Kreskin who has been at times supported by skeptical organizations opposed to paranormal claims!

        These 3 magicians have confused public opinion.

        Back to Joe Dunninger .... after Houdini's death, a psychic called Arthur Ford apparently tricked Bess Houdini Is this plausible? Bess was a fake psychic herself decades earlier. The newspapers reports claimed he had cracked the Houdini Code – Houdini had reportedly returned from the dead..... until a few days later, the newspapers then claimed fraud. Joe Dunninger had been approached by a man (a tramp according to some sources) who helped to discredited Ford's claim. Others think Bess was involved in a hoax to further associate psychic claims with fraud in the publics mind.

        After Arthur Ford died, magicians reportedly found clippings left inside books that further suggested Ford was a fraud, did Ford really accidentally frame himself or did someone plant it there knowing some magician researchers would find and report it? This is a reoccurring theme in other cases too, seeming evidence of fraud emerging after the original witness/claimants have passed on.
        Last edited by Open Mind; October 28th, 2009, 08:23 AM.


        • #5
          John E Wilkie
          Head of the US secret services from 1898. He admitted he employed magicians. Previously he and his father were Chicago newspaper men, the place where Harry Houdini's career took off big time.

          Wilkie was only an amateur magician himself but he caused much public confusion when as an newpaperman invented the Indian Rope Trick myth around 1890..... When magicians founded the UK's Magic Circle over a decade later ... eventually they formed an occult committee to investigated psychic claims. One of the first things they did was investigate and challenge people to perform the Indian Rope Trick.... *if* some magicians knew the real origins of the hoax/myth, then investigatin a false claim was always doomed to fail?

          To add to the confusion .... it seems Wilkie believed some psychic phenomena was real. Even his parents claimed .....

          '... A prominent Chicago journalist, Mr F. B. Wilkie reported that his wife asked him one morning in October 1885, while still engaged in dressing, and before either of them had left their sleeping-room, if he knew anyone named Edsale or Esdale. A negative reply was given and then a " Why do you ask ? " She replied : '* During the night I dreamt that I was on the lake-shore and found a coffin there, with the name of Edsale or Esdale on it, and I am confident that someone of that name has recently been drowned there." On opening the morning paper the first item that attracted his attention was the report of the mysterious disappearance from his home in Hyde Park of a young man named Esdale. A few days afterwards the body of a young man was found on the lake-shore.

          This case was carefully investigated and authenticated by Dr Hodgson, and bears some unusual features.
          Nor was it only his parents making psi claims, John E Wilkie himself also wrote to the Society of Psychical Research in the early 1900s claiming he had a real psychic experience along with an esteemed friend as witness (who asked him to write to the SPR about the event)

          How does one make sense of this? Did he genuinely believe in some psi claims? Was he and his parents just hoaxers? Or perhaps the secret services had a policy of promoting fake psychic claims while discrediting real psychic claims?
          Last edited by Open Mind; October 28th, 2009, 08:43 AM.


          • #6
            John Mulholland
            Magician John Mulholland was recruited by the CIA in 1953 to teach covert operators "the art of deception". Editor of the largest magic magazine of the 1930s, in his youth was taught magic by Harry Houdini's personal secretary John William Sargent

            John Mulholland was reportedly part of the MK-ULTRA project, to test people (apparently without consent) with LSD and other drugs etc. some have claimed he may have used slight of hand techniques to spike drinks. Over decade earlier he had written a book debunking psychic claims, however the 1953 project reportedly also involved some ESP research.
            Last edited by Open Mind; September 6th, 2009, 09:55 AM.


            • #7
              Harry Price

              Researcher/magician Harry Price, another friend of Harry Houdini, offered a prize challenge in the 1920s. In the 1930s he was trying to introduce UK legislation that would have restricted research and public performance of psychic claims during WW2.

              While Harry Price supported several claims psi phenomena were genuine, winning the initial support of proponents, he became viewed with suspicion by both psi proponents and opponents.

              Interestingly Harry Price experimental controls in labs were carefully designed to prevent fraud and he had documented evidence of psychic phenomena e.g. Stella Cranshaw lab experiments .... however Harry Price effectively wrecked his own research/reputation by making media shows out of testing more ludicrous claims such as a talking mongoose, turning a goat into a man .... which of course gloriously failed.

              Harry Price first supported the claim of psychic Rudi Schneider who was very successful in his lab in front of other witnesses (including magician William Goldston, author of over 40 books on magic) .... . Price even challenged magicians £1000 to replicate the Schneider effects (none took up the challenge, one of the Maskelyne's family of magicians withdrew) ...... however Price then discredited Rudi Schneider over a single unproven incident of alledged cheating, which even if true doesn't seem likely to explain prior successes.

              Further chaos ..... Harry Price, was alledgedly found with pebbles in his pocket during a poltergeist case, was he faking phenomena or framed? Or was he just causing chaos for publicity? Ironically skeptics trust Price if discrediting a claim but claim he was a cheat when he supported several claims.
              Last edited by Open Mind; October 28th, 2009, 08:51 AM.


              • #8
                William E Robinson
                In 1893 magician Zanzic (using the name Professor Slater) and magician William E Robinson set up a séance palour costing $5000 to make money from faking psychic medium phenomena. The business came to an end when a client died who had paid for sex with prostitute pretending to be his dead wife. According to one book, the Chicago Police let the two magicians off!

                In the 1890s William E Robinson wrote a book on magic called 'Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena' which probably encounraged even more magicians to pretend to be mediums .... There is the possiblity William E Robinson became involved in spying the book contained 37 methods of secret writing, how to read other peoples letters without opening them, how to shoot a cap from a fountain pen (Kalush/Sloman 2006)

                William E Robinson, a friend of Harry Houdini, was also an assistant of leading stage magicians before mysteriously becoming more elusive (and illusive) around 1900 - apparently not even Robinson's brother could find him - eventually magician Billy Robinson was discovered shot and fatally wounded in 1918 during his stage act disguised as the Chinese magician 'Chung Ling Soo' ..... Harry Houdini and a few other magicians knew Chung Ling Soo's real identity during this time, although it seems Robinson's brother approached Houdini trying to find out about his brother.
                Last edited by Open Mind; September 9th, 2009, 06:34 PM.


                • #9
                  Wow, fascinating dialog so far!


                  • #10
                    The Maskelyne Family
                    3 generations of magicians who opposed psychic phenomena claims (except for disputing ideomotor effect) and whose opinions on events have just been trusted by skeptics. They were involved in prize challenges to psychics, although a couple of proponents also made prize challenges for them as magicians to replicate psychics claims under identical conditions ... one of the Maskelyne's lost a challenge and another Maskelyne withdrew from the challenge to replicate psychic claim in the same conditions.

                    Jasper Maskelyne claimed (or his ghost writer claimed) he did extraordinary spying work during WW2 ... however his version is inaccurate, according to others much of the information was invented.

           (click on picture for details)
                    Last edited by Open Mind; October 3rd, 2009, 07:48 PM.


                    • #11
                      Hey - I like the idea of the reverse challenge - getting a magician to perform like a psychic under similar conditions. Testing like that might really produce some interesting results.



                      • #12
                        Originally posted by FastEddieB View Post
                        Wow, fascinating dialog so far!
                        Instead of rolling your eyes, you are welcome to dispute or correct the information. Some of these magicians are at the foundation of skeptics dismissal of all paranormal claims.

                        Do you not want to know about the historical foundation of organized skepticism of paranormal claims and how magcians with double standards seem to have misdirected the debate? If you don't recognize the names, that is not my fault.

                        And don't worry I will get to the hypocritical behaviour of more recent magicians in due course


                        • #13
                          Harry Kellar
                          Another leading magician of his day. Friend of Harry Houdini, Houdini claimed he took the name 'Harry' after this hero.

                          Magician Harry Kellar once was assistant to the Davenport Brothers around 1870 ...viewed by nearly all magicians as fraudulent mediums (fraudulent magicians?). If the Davenport Brothers were total frauds then Kellar probably assisted them in building cabinet tricks?

                          Harry Kellar then went on to become a successful stage magician. He was regarded as an expert on levitation tricks.

                          After becoming a successful magician, Kellar also tested the levitation claims of psychic William Eglinton, Harry Kellar writing '"I went as a sceptic, but I must own that I came away utterly unable to explain, by any natural means, the phenomena that I witnessed on Tuesday evening."
                          Last edited by Open Mind; September 6th, 2009, 12:03 PM.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by OC68
                            Their unwarranted, relentless attacks on Alex, the anger so many of them feel towards him, even going so far as to describe him as the "enemy"- their behavior just doesn't strike me as that of a normal, well adjusted adult. So what is it that makes them lose their minds, that generates the level of animosity where Alex ends up being their "enemy", that triggers this "intensely emotional response"?
                            I think maybe I do understand this attitude - perhaps I was once a bit like that myself. If you are REALLY convinced that psi etc. is non-existent, then you 'know' that anyone claiming otherwise is guilty of gross carelessness or deliberate fraud!

                            BTW, thanks Open Mind for a really interesting thread!



                            • #15
                              The mysterious Harry Day - real name Edward Lewis Levy? Help solve a mystery...

                              British Member of Parliament around the 1920s, Colonel Harry Day reportedly earlier did espionage work ... also a magician who wrote articles for Harry Houdini's family run 'Conjurer's Monthly' magazine. Millionaire Harry Day also owned several theatres and was often Harry Houdini's agent.

                              While Harry Houdini was in a prize challenge with the psychic claimant Margery Crandon, Harry Day contacted the US Secret Service in Washington to investigate the Crandon's over someone's allegation that they were resonsible for missing adopted children ..... Arthur Conan Doyle tried to find out who made the allegation, Harry Day reportedly replied it ' would be a breach of confidence if I were to reveal the names of those who called my attention to the original circumstances

                              (Almost certainly it was Harry Houdini - he knew they were being investigated)

                              After the death of Harry Houdini a year later, Harry Day's house was reportedly broken into and gifts from Houdini were vandalized. Was someone looking for information on Houdini?

                              The above information comes from magic historians Kalush/Sloman book.

                              Why did Harry Day change his name from 'Edward Lewis Levy' ? Does anyone know?

                              (Note: I am not claiming the case of Margery Crandon was false or genuine ..... one could equally speculate it is a staged farce by intelligence organizations for the media..... did the secret services try to discredit proper scientific psychic research by promoting hoaxes for other (unaware) magicians to debunk?

                              Edit: Read later posts on Harry Day ....
                              Last edited by Open Mind; January 5th, 2010, 11:18 PM.