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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Invisible Girl: Houdini Evaluates Koons, 1922

In this photograph, made for Popular Radio magazine in 1922, Houdini
demonstrates the concept of the "Invisible Girl," the hollow Buddha
receiving radio transmissions from a nearby confederate. Houdini was
convinced Koons used a similar method in the 1850s.
Posting a curious artifact stumbled across while putting all the puzzle pieces of the Koons family together, uncovered while researching Koons' "Spiritual Machine." It appears Houdini weighed in on the table's true purpose--though generations later and wholly incorrectly--when he claimed in the October 21, 1922 Literary Digest that Koons' table was merely an elaborate transmitter for a hidden accomplice, which demonstrates his failed understanding of the reported phenomena, more than anything:
"...the first application of the principles of radio to spiritualistic manifestations was in 1852, when Jonathan Koons, a farmer of Dover Village, Ohio, installed a “spirit machine”—described as a “crude structure of zinc and copper for localizing and collecting the magnetic aura.” But in the magician’s detailed account of this ancient trick he tells us that the apparatus consisted merely of hidden speaking-tubes that led to a confederate in the next room, known as the “invisible girl."
It's an interesting theory, anyway, and one that Houdini himself was able to aptly demonstrate. But as we've come to expect from Houdini's séance-busting efforts, the means are overly-elaborate, and a reflection of the magician's reliance on mechanical means to produce manifestations. Houdini must not have known that the spirit room was not located in the proximity of the Koons' farmhouse, and was a simple freestanding, dirt-floored log cabin routinely inspected by hundreds if not thousands. And he likely didn't research the accounts of the crowds that often assembled around the room during seance sessions, hampering any chance of an outside confederate. No, as is usual for Houdini and his other like him--as much as I love them the whole motley crew--the magician resorts to grand mechanical theories to explain relatively simple psychical phenomena, and fails to account for the skills of a talented medium in a dark room filled with believers. But it's an act I'd most certainly like to experience.
The same article includes another variation of the wirelessly-transmitted
spirit communication apparatus, in a spirit trumpet we would dearly love
to document should any readers know of its whereabouts.