The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini

Unlike an average Fringe activity, The Strange Friendship between Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini does not seek out to advert, entertain or mystify its audience. It seeks to welcome the converted and the curious to Spiritualism and after-death research. Presented in the Spiritualists' National Union's room in The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, with its high ceilings, grand staircase and front-room café serving £1 teas and coffees, it truly has a peaceful atmosphere to be mindful and relaxed in, whether as a sceptic or a Spiritualist.

Stek introduces Conan Doyle's and Houdini's relationship with Spiritualism.

Welcoming each individual with an annotated bibliography and a copy of an interview with Arthur Conan Doyle from 'beyond', Robert Stek stirs up the fervour and curiosity of his audience. Commencing with an obligatory Sherlock Holmes joke – “I believe our tent has been stolen, dear Watson!” – Stek introduces Conan Doyle's and Houdini's relationship with Spiritualism.

With Houdini being sceptical and Conan Doyle a Spiritualist, there is a keener focus on Conan Doyle's life within this conversation. A video of Conan Doyle discussing his ideology is a fascinating thing to witness; even just to see Conan Doyle's mannerisms (and his dog!) as he explains his spiritual thinkings is impressive. Stek reassures that these videos can be found on the Internet by anyone interested.

Aiming to prevent the ideology sweeping over the audience's head, Stek breaks down the various definitions and sects of Spiritualism and the methods in which mediums can be validated and tested. Though the process and theory of the verity of séances, mediums and Bibliomancy is an exciting and engaging topic, it did distract from the main thrust of this presentation: Conan Doyle and Houdini's spiritual relationship. Unfortunately the tail-end of the presentation needed to be moved forward quickly and cut short, which meant the pièce de résistance of actually hearing a recording of these men in a séance lost its climax.

Open to discussion and feedback, Stek is positively proud to show the audience his findings. However, as too many topics are covered in a short time-frame and become a touch information-heavy in some instances, it's easy to nod and summarise with one doubting audience member's citation of David Hume: “extraordinary events need extraordinary evidence”. 

Reviews by Lydia Nowak

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The Blurb

Arthur Conan Doyle investigated psychic phenomena objectively as a member of the Society for Psychical Research for years, before becoming convinced of their reality and following spiritualism as a religion. Houdini famously debunked phony physical mediums, but was hopeful that he could receive a valid communication through a psychic medium from his deceased mother. This presentation will highlight their history together, examine novel research methodology, and feature a 10 minute excerpt of a sitting with a psychic medium, during a reading in which both men were contacted.

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