If the most famous magician in history were to come back from the dead as a publicity-related favor for any group or organization, it would probably be the skeptics.
Harry Houdini spent most of his career debunking psychics and scamsters, convincing the world that these people are frauds -- not worth the price of admission. He was so dedicated to this end that, nearing his death, he told his wife a secret word and said that if returning from the great beyond were possible, he would come back to her with that word.
Since his death on Halloween in 1926, there have been a number of seances held in the Houdini museum and elsewhere, each aimed at summoning the magnificent mystifier. Most of these rituals are performed by kooks and hucksters (as James Randi says, "woo-woo"). But now a group of local skeptics -- with help from some big-name celebrities -- are gonna give it a try themselves.
"If he was going to come back for anyone, it would probably be skeptics and magicians like us," says Justin Robert Young, who runs weirdthings.com, which will be streaming the seance live. The ritual will also stream on randi.org (the James Randi Educational Foundation site) and itricks.com (another site operated by Young and a friend).
Famous atheist Richard Dawkins and hushed magician Teller (as in Penn & Teller) have committed to helping out by providing new secret words, says Young. "It should be a fun exercise, and maybe we can coax Houdini out of whatever nether realm he's been hiding in," he says.
Young says this event won't just be skeptics mocking the silly believers (I'm sure there'll be at least a little of that) but rather a chance for the skeptic community to perform a large experiment. "The focus won't be, 'Oh hey, here's a lot of silly crazy things, and they're all wrong and we're so smart.' We're publically keeping our fingers crossed that we're the first people Houdini contacts."
The ritual will be overseen by the master of debunking himself, James Randi. And the proceedings will be open to the public. There will be rehearsals at the JREF headquarters in Fort Lauderdale on Friday and Saturday afternoon and then the real deal Saturday night -- all Hallow's Eve. Young says anyone who wants to help out can email him at [email protected]
By the way, Houdini's wife eventually gave up on the prospects of her husband returning and told people their secret word. It was: "Believe."