Foiling the Frauds: Some of Vera Van Slyke’s Colleagues

the-v-filesI’ve never located a copy of Vera Van Slyke’s book Spirits Shouldn’t Sneeze: A Decade of Defrauding Mediums (1901). It must not have sold well, or there would be copies available in used book stores. This book played a key role in sparking the friendship between Van Slyke and Lucille “Lida” Parsell. Lida had been a phony medium, you see, but she eagerly consented to be interviewed for the book.

Katherine Nabity, who writes The Writerly Reader blog, has been a kind supporter of my efforts to share the chronicles my great-grandaunt Lida wrote about Van Slyke’s ghost hunts. Katherine blogged about some books by Vera’s colleagues who debunked psychic mediums. (I don’t know if these authors also shared Van Slyke’s conviction that some spirits trespass into the realm of the living — unsummoned.)

Harry Houdini challenges a psychic medium by secretly ringing a bell with his toes

Katherine provides summaries of two books written by Van Slyke’s contemporaries, namely Elijah Farrington’s Revelations of a Spirit Medium (1891) and David P. Abbottington’s The History of a Strange Case (1908). She includes the more recent Tricks of the Mind, by Darren Brownbook, a book published in 2007. The post ends with a nice list of similar works. Sadly, Spirits Shouldn’t Sneeze isn’t among them.

However, the list includes Harry Houdini’s A Magician Among the Spirits (1924). Early in his career, the great escape artist called upon Van Slyke to help him escape from a blackmail attempt. “Houdini Slept Here,” which is found in Help for the Haunted, recounts how a psychic medium demanded money from Houdini to keep quiet about sensitive information allegedly divulged by a spirit! I won’t spoil the ending, but the story provides some evidence that it was Van Slyke who first inspired Houdini to join the campaign against fraudulent mediums.


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