On Wednesday, it was announced that Dorothy Young died at the age of 103. An accomplished dancer and arts patron, Young also was the last surviving woman that shared the stage with the great magician Harry Houdini. She joined his act in 1925 at the age of 17 after auditioning by dancing the Charleston. She left the act the following year, and Houdini died two months later, on Oct. 31, 1926.
In a magical twist, the day after the last of his stage show assistants died, Houdini received a Google doodle celebrating his life and work. It’s his 137th birthday today.
The Google Doodle, while in the style of an old marquee magician’s poster, does not have the secret phrase on it, I’m still confounded by the timing. Just as the last remaining ember of his great show exits this earthly plain, he shows up grinning on our computer screens.
Though perhaps best known as an escape artist, Houdini had a second message: searching for a way to communicate with ghosts. After his mother’s death, Houdini became infatuated with finding a medium who would help him contact her. When he discovered most were using two-bit magic tricks to fool their clients, he incorporated a whole segment into his road act on debunking spiritualism. Despite his disappointment in the more earthly methods of mediums, he never gave up hope that he would find a way to contact the other side.
And if he couldn’t prove it in life, he would prove it in death. Before he died, like the showman he was on Halloween, he reportedly left a code phrase for his wife, Bess, so that when he returned to walk the earth as a spirit, she would recognize him. The phrase? “Rosabelle believe.” She held yearly seances each Halloween in the hopes of hearing those words. The tradition still continues around the country. Were they perhaps waiting on the wrong day? Should they have been waiting on his birthday?
It’s a coincidence, you may say. I say, the great magician still thrills.