The magician died 90 years ago, but that hasnt stopped enthusiasts from gathering in New York to reach him in the afterlife even if hes been quiet so far

In the back room of a restaurant on Manhattans Upper East Side, posters of Harry Houdini lined the walls and a pair of his iconic handcuffs lay on a table. We have your handcuffs, Houdini. Please, open the handcuffs, Dorothy Dietrich, a fellow magician, said. She sat at a table with other magicians and magic fans, holding hands.

Curious Houdini enthusiasts and members of the media watched her, wondering if the famous magician would speak from the afterlife.

A seance for Houdini is a Halloween tradition, held every year on the anniversary of the magicians death 31 October 1926. This particular gathering was at Sojourn, a restaurant on the ground floor of a building where Houdini lived when he was a child, with Dietrich and her fellow magician Dick Brookz serving as mediums.

Dietrich, a director at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has presided over Houdini seances for many years at the museum and promised the event contained no trickery. It shouldnt be a show, it should be a way to find out can you communicate with the beyond or not, she said on Sunday. Its not going to be a sham, because certainly magicians could pull that off easily.

In the 90 years since Houdini died, he hasnt said a word, though Dietrich has witnessed a few curious occurrences during past seances. Im not saying it was Houdini, Im not saying it wasnt Houdini. Im just saying we had some interesting things happen, Dietrich said. Once, a framed photograph of Houdini fell and the glass shattered during a moment of silence. Another time, a candle flickered with no explanation and a thunk of falling wax interrupted the moment of silence.

On Monday, onlookers were hopeful that something would happen. Antonie Becker, an actor and artist, and Alec Mathieson, an actor, met in line and chatted about possible paranormal encounters as they waited for the event to start. Mathieson, a fan of Houdini since childhood, described himself as open minded about the idea of a seance. Im ready to believe anything, Becker concurred.

Dietrich herself seemed to still have hope that Houdini would make himself heard. Heres my opinion: if anyone could escape from the beyond, what do you think? It would be Houdini, right? she said.

The tradition of the seances began after the magician died. Houdini, who exposed fraudulent mediums purporting to commune with the dead, devised a system with his wife, Beatrice, before he died to test whether such communications were really possible. They created a secret code a cryptic combination of the word believe and their favorite song, Rosabelle so she could confirm it was him genuinely returning to the land of the living and not a trick by a medium. Beatrice held seances for ten years, hoping to hear from him. She passed on the duty of holding seances to Walter B Gibson, a writer, who then passed on the duty to Dietrich, Dietrich said.

Good
Good night, Harry: a table full of artifacts related to Houdini. Photograph: Nicole Puglise for the Guardian

After an hour of discussing Houdinis history and the various artifacts present a photo of Houdini with his wife and mother, and a recording of Beatrices last seance, along with the handcuffs and posters both Dietrich and Brookz did magic tricks as an offering to Houdini. Dietrich escaped from a straitjacket.

After a man blew into a shofar, Dietrich and Brookz asked Houdini to ring a bell, open the handcuffs, make the candle flicker or make his presence known around 1.26pm, his supposed time of death. Direct our energy to the handcuffs, everybody in the room, Brookz requested of the audience. The restaurant cooked what were supposedly Houdinis favorite foods, such as bread and butter custard and chop suey, said owner Sammy Musovic at the beginning of the event.

But despite the groups efforts, the magician did not make an appearance. Dietrich blew out the candles. Good night, Harry, they said in unison.

What most people dont realize is that Houdini never said that he would come back. He said he would try to come back, Dietrich had said during the interview. The seance was a way to test whether it is possible to communicate with the dead as well as remember the story of Houdini.

After the event, Mathieson said he wasnt surprised that Houdini didnt make an appearance. I dont think he would be surprised, either, he said with a laugh.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/oct/31/houdini-seance-new-york-dorothy-dietrich

Houdini fans hold annual seance: ‘If anyone could escape the beyond, it’s him’
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