Sherlock Holmes in Cape May, New Jersey

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The Conan Doyles and the Houdinis on the beach in Atlantic City

The Conan Doyles and the Houdinis on the beach in Atlantic City

This is Sherlock Holmes weekend in Cape May, so I thought I’d tell you the oddest Arthur Conan Doyle story. It is also a New Jersey connection for Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes was the ultimate reasoning machine, while his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was a gullible dope. In 1922, the

Harry Houdini and his mother
Harry Houdini and his mother

Conan Doyles and the Houdinis were vacationing together on the beach in Atlantic City. Conan Doyle was very proud of his wife, who claimed to be a medium or clairvoyant. As they were relaxing on the sand, she announced that she felt the spirits coming through. They rushed back to the hotel and Mrs. Conan Doyle went into a trance. She said that she was channeling the spirit of Harry Houdini’s mother, who had recently died. Harry had been very close to his mother, and wanted séances to be real, but wasn’t willing to accept nonsense.

They all went back to the hotel and Mrs. Conan Doyle went into a trance. She used automatic writing to transmit a note from Houdini’s mother. The note had three crosses at the top of it and was clearly written by an old Italian lady. The catch was, Harry Houdini wasn’t Italian, and wasn’t Catholic. He was Jewish. Houdini was his stage name and him mother only spoke Yiddish, not English. Clearly, Mrs. Conan Doyle was taking advantage of Harry’s grief to convince him of her powers. Harry pointed out to Arthur how unlikely it was that his mother had learned English in the short time since her death, and how unlikely an old Jewish lady was to head her notes with three crosses. Arthur Conan Doyle was furious that anyone would doubt his wife’s powers – and the two men broke off their friendship.

Cape May has two Sherlock Holmes Weekends each year in March and November.  To learn more about these weekends, go to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities.

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