by Floyd Roots
The annual Halloween seance at the tomb of Houdini brings surprising results.
| Every year since 1926, a group of spiritualists had met in the Mechpelah Jewish Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New York at the grave of Erik Weiss, better known to the world by his stage name Harry Houdini. Their purpose and hope was to someday call his spirit forth to communicate word back from beyond the grave. Known as the Houdini Secret Society, this ‘male only’ group embarked in rituals known only to them. Ceremonies leading up to the annual Halloween visit to the grave were held with the utmost veneration, in undisclosed places.
Before his death, Houdini had spent a great deal of time debunking what he considered to be utter nonsense. It was obvious that he didn't believe in seances or rites designed to bring back the dead. He himself was a trickster. An illusionist. He understood fully well the art of misdirection and despised those who would employ illusion as a weapon, particularly of organized religion. Yet still, year after year, they came from all parts of the world to gather at his grave, dressed in their long robes and regalia. They chanted, burned incense, and recited incantations all through the night and into the hours of early morn, guarded at the gate by their Tylers armed with ceremonial swords. These rituals were performed again and again after each diurnal rotation of the earth in hopes of receiving some sort of communication from their beloved icon. Still, nothing of the sort came.
Over the years, the burial ground grew old, and this once beautiful neighborhood in Glendale eventually turned into a slum. The cemetery fell into disrepair. Houdini’s grave became a target for vandals and street gangs looking for objects to tag with spray paint. The marble bust of Houdini himself that adorned this spot for many years was smashed to pieces.
The cemetery became largely unkept with long wild grasses and weeds jutting from the cracks and crevices of this once-great monument to the epic entertainer and his family. A sad statement of fact that nothing lasts forever. That fame is fleeting. Even the few surviving spiritualists who had made the trek to visit their long dead idol, one by one, quit coming. Death had claimed most of them. Others were too old. Many had gone to nursing homes. Some were sick and dying along with this once-great eve of observance.. The flame had gone out. None of the younger generation were interested in learning the arduous memorization of the rituals involved in keeping this tradition alive.
And so it was, that on All Hallow’s Eve night of 2013, the last member came, having traveled once again from Helena, Montana despite objections from his family. Three days by train over iron rails that had bore him many times before to this distant locale. James Mooney now carried the scepter, three-cornered hat, golden janeu, and scarlet robe of the most high master in his zippered garment bag. With the death of Benjamin Seerey during the summer, Jim was now the last one who could make it. This would be his final trip.
Standing in the old cemetery, he was once again on hallowed ground. The Houdini / Weiss plot. The plottage itself is twenty five feet deep and fourteen wide with ten headstones of various family members. At the head of the area, the main monument itself, designed in 1916 of solid granite by Houdini in honor of his parents. The impressive semi-circular structure is twelve feet wide with three shallow steps leading up to a stone bench upon which sits a pedestal that once held Houdini’s bust. Just in front of the bench, at the base of the pedestal is a life-sized statue of a woman on her knees in mourning. The names Houdini and Weiss are etched on the pedestal just below a seal of the Society of American Magicians.
His old bones hurt as he bent and laid out his impedimenta for the last time upon the velvet cloth which was spread over the bench just to the left of the S.A.M. seal on the monument. In doing so, his mind wandered back to the happier, younger times when he was among friends here at this place. The long-time Tylers, Ed and Frank, the Wardens of the East, West, South, and North at their respective places within the grounds. The brass bells sounding in echoing response as the ceremony began, to signify that all was well in the heavens and the way was being opened once again for communication with the dead who resided there, in particular, Harry Houdini. Jim sighed as he sat for a moment looking through the apparitions of his friends in his mind’s eye. Each standing ready in their vestiges for the rite to begin. This time, as in the half-dozen years before, there would be no brass bells. There would be no ‘all clear’ call from the Tyler’s station, there would be no parade of incense. No singing of the dirge. No. It was only him. He would have to do the best that he could. Standing up, he fastened the scarlet robe about his shoulders, placed the golden janeu over his neck, and then the ceremonial hat. Picking up the scepter, he was now ready to begin. In the soft and feeble tone of an old man’s voice, he commenced.
“Let everyone-” he stopped short and coughed. He had spoken too abruptly. Clearing his throat, he began again.
“Let everyone who has but an ear, hear my voice!”
His utterance echoed though out the maze of monuments and walls of stone where the drifting shadows of the dusk played. In response to his statement, he could hear in his mind, the voices of his missing brothers answering in unison.
“Behold us, O Master! For we hear your call and heed the summons to do service to the calling which is our’s and thine!”
“Warden of the South!, Has anyone a request of this lodge?”
“Yes, Oh Master, we have come with a united desire, to call forth the spirit of our beloved brother Harry Houdini”
“Then let me offer an incense so that the ascending smoke will signify our rising prayers and pleading for audience, if but for a moment, with Harry Houdini.”
With this, Jim struck a blaze with his feeble hands and lit a punk. A thin waft of smoke began twisting upwards.
“Come forth from your rest Houdini, give us audience. Give us hope. Give us comfort. You said upon your dying bed, that if at all possible, you would return to this earth on the anniversary of your passing, on All Hallow’s Eve. We know, that with God, all things are possible. We know that you are now with God. Beseech Him Oh Harry! Return to us! We are gathered here to await your recur.”
Once again, an echo was returned by the members of the lodge, only this time, a bit louder, a bit plainer than he had expected.
“We are gathered here to await your recur.”
It was at this point that Jim began to come back from his near trance-like state. All of the years of ceremony were embedded deep into his brain. He could replay every single word of the Houdini resurrection rite in his head, and hear their voices, but this was much different. His imagination had never been quite this vivid. As he began to awaken, he felt the late Fall dampness of the air. He caught sweet the scent of decaying leaves. His eyes, for the first time in many years, began to focus with a clarity that he had long forgotten. He slowly lifted them, turning his face towards the burial yard.
There, in the mist of the late evening’s dying light, standing with folded hands and facing his way, were all of the attendants of the politesse. These were not the ghostly images of his thoughts, his dreams, or his imagination that he had borne all of these many years of lonely vigil. They were flesh. They were solid. They were young. He knew these men. He had spent a good part of his life in fellowship with them. As he looked about the points of the assembly, there stood Sven, Charlie, Bruce, Ed , Frank, Michael, Maurice, Tobias, and Benjamin. The Wardens, Tylers, and Officers of the Lodge.
He knew these men, these brothers, these dear old friends to all be dead. Some of them for many years. They were the assembly, yet they were not dressed as one would expect. There were no robes. No hats. No staffs. No jewels. Simply dress suits of various shades. Sven wore a topcoat which was his custom. Jim had forgotten about Sven and his topcoat! What a pleasant memory!.... But hold back, this was no memory. This was before him as he lived and breathed.
At that moment Jim came to fully realize what stood before him, and it felt so odd. So strange in that he was not afraid of these dead. Not at all. He found himself joyful at seeing his old friends again. The details of the clothing. Bruce’s crooked smile. The briar bowl of Frank’s ever-ready smoking pipe jutting from his vest pocket. And Maurice! Aw, Maurice! Standing with his hands folded behind him, rocking back and forth on his heels with that silly way of his! Such a warm twinkle with his smile! He could feel the emotions of this unexpected homecoming begin to rise from his inner being.
As he began to step onto the first descending ledge towards his companions, he felt a firm hand on his right shoulder, pulling his motion to a stop. He turned about to come face to face with the one whom he had never met, yet had spent so many hours of his life in study of, in awe of, in quest of. It was Erik Weiss. Harry Houdini.
Once again, this odd feeling returned to him. He was not afraid. He was not uncomfortable in any way. This was normal, natural. The actual presence of Houdini himself was not as he had imagined. He was a handsome figure. His eyes, unlike his photographs, were not at all menacing. They were amazingly deep and welcoming, and a blue such as he had never seen. The lines in his young face, the unique smile. The broad shoulders. He had never imagined the actual personage. Then, grasping and firmly patting Jim on both of his shoulders, and with a soothing voice, he spoke.
“Lodge is dismissed Jim. Time to go home.”
The sun rose crisp on the streets of Glendale, Queens, New York. Upon the steps of the Houdini / Weiss monument on that frosty November morning, a visitor on her way to Bauer family plot was quite taken back to discover the body of an elderly gentleman lying in a fetal position on the cold granite, surrounded by curious objects of ancient ritual of which she had no understanding. However, looking upon Jim’s frost laden face, she did understand one thing. The old man’s smile. This man had died peacefully.