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The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  1,913 ratings  ·  454 reviews
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 glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss
Hardcover, 436 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Crown
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anieva Yeah, it left me asking a lot of questions, too, despite the fact that it was seemed so bogged down with details in some places (and was generally a b…moreYeah, it left me asking a lot of questions, too, despite the fact that it was seemed so bogged down with details in some places (and was generally a bit wordy, anyway). Also, footnotes with references would have been nice. (less)
Kristen The book stated he grew up to later attend Harvard and become a surgeon like Roy. He also did not like to discuss the seances.

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Average rating 3.40  · 
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Nov 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The narrative suffers from two issues. One is the classic "I have done my research and now YOU WILL ALL PAY" syndrome that crops up in nonfiction, where the reader is a captive audience for the author and their years' worth of detail-laden research, and pages are devoted to side characters and incidents that don't really advance the plot, but the author by-god found out about them. The second is a careful determination to be objective. Like, really objective. And when you are writing about the s ...more
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
While the 1920’s are well known for flappers, jazz, and speakeasies, I wasn’t as aware that séances were so popular in both America and Europe, but it makes sense. Lots of people had lost loved ones to the double tragedies of WWI and the worldwide flu epidemic that followed, and modern spoken-word transmission wonders like the telephone and wireless radio made communication across distant planes of existence seem possible, even likely. So likely, the venerable Scientific American magazine held a ...more
The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher is a 2015 Crown publication.

I stumbled across this book while browsing through my Overdrive Library offerings and was immediately drawn to it because I’ve looked for a book like this one that delved into the Spiritualist craze which was so popular beginning around 1916 and throughout much of the 1920’s.

Sir Conan Doyle was a devout spiritualist and did much to bring it into the mainstream, as did Houdini,
Mar 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Phew! That was a slog. Still, I'll start with what was best about this one: the cover. The jacket art for The Witch of Lime Street may not look like much by the harsh light of day – a conventional, “society matron” sort of book you might think – but at night, when the lights are out, the jacket glows a wonderfully lurid lime green! Actually, I hadn't initially realized it was glow-in-the-dark and was quite startled when, on my first night with the book, a powerful green glow was emanating from m ...more
Rebecca Renner
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs
In his book The Witch of Lime Street, David Jaher paints a picture of a lesser-known aspect of the Roaring Twenties: its obsession with the occult. Many families lost loved ones in the Great War’s trenches. A growing number of them, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, took solace in Spiritualism, which taught that death was not an end but a new beginning. This interest brought the concept of seances into the public eye. Even Scientific American did a series on occultism, eventually hosting a conte ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
In the early 20th century, spiritualism was all the rage....mediums raising tables, channeling the spirits of the dead, strange rappings, ectoplasm, etc. There were thousands of mediums across the country who were fleecing those who were desperate to contact dead relatives. When the famed author of the immortal Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became an outspoken believer and lecturer in spiritualism it came to the attention of scientists, doctors, psychologists and other men of science, ...more
N.N. Light
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I knew nothing about this time in American History but since I've always been fascinated by Houdini, I picked this up. Well written with a balance of viewpoints, The Witch of Lime Street is a must read.

My Rating: 5 stars
dianne b.
Jul 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating archetypically “American” story. Several of the characters have, through dint of sheer will, recreated themselves in the image they desired; something still doable in the early 20th century. Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss, decides to master the impossible and along the way prove all “spiritualists”, necromancers and their ilk - fake. He is especially pissed off by the serious attention paid to “the witch of Lime Street” who is a beautiful Boston socialite married to a Harvard s ...more
Oct 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Wandering, inconsistent, and more lurid than expository, the story and the breadth of research is interesting, but the actual execution made this book almost unbearable to read.
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
Well, well, a book about seances and Spiritualism, Houdini and assorted 'experts' from various fields of science (many with Harvard and similar backgrounds) and a medium named Mina (or Margery) Crandon.

First off, what I thought most compelling was to imagine what my family thought of all this. Oh, how I wished my grandmother was still around! My grandmother had a high school education, but was always so aware of what was going on around her in the world. Very well-read woman for someone from the
The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher was a bit of a disappointment. The subtitle is Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World and quite a big deal is made about the fact that "Margery," the so-called "Witch of Lime Street" and famed medium has to prove herself to Houdini. It's presented as a duel between the two. But--Houdini disappears for a large portion of the book.

The beginning alternates between giving us the background on Houdini and how his escape artist abilities lead him to
Dec 15, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I really wanted to like this book. The subject matter seemed right up my alley.

However I just could not get past the authors writing style. I'm not sure that it's badly written so much, as writing style really grated on me. I found myself rereading sections over again to try to figure out what point the author was making, or what the point had to do with the story he was telling.

The author seemed to switch between 'novelized' telling of the story, and a historical telling of what happened. I w
Marjolein (UrlPhantomhive)
3.5 Stars

Read all my reviews on

The 1920s were a fascinating time but below the extravagant surface there was still a lot of sorrow and grievance from amongst other things the first world war and the Spanish flu pandemic. Even though I hadn't heard of it before, I find it not surprising that in this particular atmosphere Spiritualism was at it highest. Together with the ever emerging science which had already proved thing that were thought to be impossible ju
3.5 stars
Wow, who would have thought Houdini would have had time to practice all of his tricks with all the time he was spending trying to show that Margery was not a medium?

I had never heard about any of this. That there was a contest set up by a science magazine to find a "real" medium and the monies that were spent to discover one. How Houdini would denounce every one that they brought forward. Then how when they brought forth Margery how he went on a one man crusade to denounce her abilities
May 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I would give this book a 3.5. I was a goodreads first reads winner of "The Witch Of Lime Street;Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World" This is pretty unique book. I have never read a book that had to do with Seances. The world has just gone through World War one.and the Spanish flu. So man people lost loved ones. They yearned for a way to contact them. In the 1920s.Seances,and Quija boards were very popular. As a result many so called psychics came to be claiming they can contact th ...more
8/6/2015... WON a copy of this ARC in the Goodreads Giveaway!
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Although I believe all Spiritualists are basically flim flam artists, I get a kick out of reading this stuff for the same reason I like anything involving circus freaks, medicine shows etc. While I was aware that Spiritualism was huge after the Civil War, I didn't realize just how much of a fad it was in the 1920s. In retrospect it makes perfect sense because almost everyone knew someone young who had died, either in "The Great War" or the Spanish Flu epidemic.

While I had heard vaguely about som
Bob Schnell
Advanced Reading Copy Review Due to be published October 2015

This is the full story, as much as it can be told, of Harry Houdini's war against fake mediums and spiritualists and the one woman who fought back against his accusations. Any one familiar with Houdini's story knows of his mission later in life to expose the charlatans who claimed to be able to speak to the dead and allow them to manifest themselves in our world by moving things, knocking on wood and other parlor tricks. Lesser known i
Sep 05, 2016 rated it liked it
The negatives:
The author really should have thought long and hard about his target audience. If his intent was to sell this to academics who want every tiny detail [although they prefer it annotated, footnoted, cross referenced and with a bibliography exceeding 3 pages] he did pretty good. If his intent was to sell this to the general public the book should have been half as long with only ‘facts’ shared that supported and advanced the story. The plot suffered; trying to keep track of it was kin
World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1919 carried many souls from this earth. But could those left behind actually still communicate with them? It is this question that is at the heart of The Witch of Lime Street David Jaher presents the background of the time, and those who championed each side, including Sir Author Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. The two sides debated mightily with perhaps the culmination being offered by Scientific American magazine: $2500 to any medium who could physic ...more
Beth Cato
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating book! Jaher delves into the spiritualism craze of the 1920s--considered by some as a "new science" deserving of study alongside the atom--and frames it along an epic battle of wits and sleight of hand between the famed Houdini and Margery, a doctor's wife from the Boston elite who began to channel her dead brother Walter. The aftermath of the Great War left many families desperate to connect with the dead, and always--always--there are grifters ready to pray on that desperatio ...more
Dec 26, 2015 rated it liked it
What happens when a master magician decrees that contacting the spirit world through a medium is paramount to fraud whilst also delighting in fooling and tricking people with sleight of hand and misdirection. A lot of the time Harry comes off as a paranoid psycho as he starts to surrender his own life in order to ruin someone else's and while the book raises many question it does not overly side with either participant. ...more
What a story. I knew some of the bare bones: Houdini's deep attachment to his mother, and the failed attempts to hear from her after her death; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's extraordinary credulity for mediums and fairies. I did not know about the magazine Scientific American's contest attempting to find a medium with verifiable ability, or about Margery the Medium's quest to win it.

How disappointed Houdini would be that, ninety years later, we as a culture are still every bit as credulous as Doyle
Nov 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Harry Houdini, arguably the world’s best magician, performed feats that made people believe he could dissolve his body – get out of perilous situations – and then put his body back together again. He also performed feats of “mentalism” causing people to believe he could converse with the dead. In actual fact he could do neither. He knew what he accomplished was done through misdirection and trickery, but the public in the 1920’s wanted mystics, spiritualists and mediums.

Arthur Conan Doyle, the
Amy Sturgis
This is an excellent and engaging look at the Spiritualism movement in the 1920s (on both sides of the Atlantic), the believers who advocated a new religion based on communication with the dead, the mediums who fueled seance fever, and the skeptics who sought to analyze the phenomenon and debunk the charlatans. David Jaher focuses his attention on a controversial contest sponsored by Scientific American, which offered a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic after passing rigoro ...more
Susan Barton
During the 1920s, after so many lives were lost during World War I and a deadly flu epidemic, people were eager to stay in touch with their departed loved ones. And so the age Spiritualism and Mysticism was born. While some people embraced the practice of séances, mediums and other forms of divination, others were eager to debunk the charlatans who preyed upon unsuspecting participants.

David Jaher goes into painstaking detail to provide the background story to the legendary showdown between bel
Melissa iorio
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stumbling on another book, out of many, which I 'did' read, marked read and rated and it's back off the "read" shelf??!! There are 'so' many like this I'm wondering if Goodreads did a major reset while I was gone months ago and now I'm stumbling on a chasing books I 'know' I read, reviewed and at least rated?! Anyone else have this issue going on. I can't even begin to say how many books/reviews/ratings this has happened to for me. Very upsetting. Not doing another review because it's been since ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting tale, well written and researched, but I'm not sure it merited 412 pages in the telling. The poetry that prefaced each (brief) chapter was almost entirely extraneous, for starters. Too bad an editor couldn't have pared down this somewhat repetitive account. ...more
RJ McGill
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I may be in the minority with my opinion, but I enjoyed this book.

David Jaher really did his homework, and it shows! He has put together an unforgettable story from a bygone era when seances, spiritualism, and mediums took center stage...with the Great Houdini determined to prove the whole lot of it fake. Many great minds came together to test the abilities of those who claimed to be communicating with the dead. I was absolutely engrossed, as page after page Jaher takes the reader behind the cur
Kim McGee
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
It is the roaring 20's and the world is waking up to a new day - this one is faster and more adventurous than before but many are still grieving the loss of loved ones killed during the Great War in Europe. The combination of grief, relief that the war is over and a new "try anything" spirit in the 1920's lead many to believe in a new science - spiritualism and seances to speak to the dearly departed are all the rage. Men and women from all walks of life are part of this but it is the wealthy wh ...more
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