Magician Howard Thurston
investigates and accepts the afterlife and the paranormal.
By Arthur Ford (medium, pictured,
Taken from Arthur
Ford's "Nothing So Strange" (New York: Harper
and Row, 1958). Chapter originally titled "A Round
with the Magicians".
Showdown with magician Howard Thurston
..... Among the best known of the magicians was Howard Thurston.
was a tall, suave and handsome man, whom I had always considered
a thorough gentleman. Therefore I was surprised when in
1927, the old New York World ran a story to the
effect that Thurston claimed he had exposed over three hundred
mediums, that Spiritualism had broken up more homes than
the old-time saloon, and that he had a gadget resembling
a watchcase in which was concealed a rubber spook that could
be blown up and operated in such fashion that it could duplicate
all the phenomena of the séance room. I asked the
World to let me answer this story, but they refused. There
was nothing particularly newsworthy about me. But the United
Press Association indicated that they would carry my reply
if I made a good story.
Now how could I make a good story of fraudulent
accusation of fraud? I thought over the fact that magicians
such as Houdini and Thurston kept on issuing open
challenges to mediums, offering ten thousand dollars for
the production of any stunt they could not reproduce by
trickery. I felt there had been about enough of this talk
and that someone should make some kind of public refutation
which would carry weight. Therefore when a friend of mine,
with United Press, suggested that I turn the tables and
offer ten thousand dollars to Thurston if he could prove
his charges, I was held back only by ten thousand good reasons.
Another friend, John Bowman, president of the Bowman Biltmore
Hotel Corporation, overheard the suggestion and handed me
a certified check. It was posted and I challenged Thurston.
Now the press had a story they could use
with relish and they did a thorough coverage. Thurston began
to explain to his friends that his press agent had overplayed
his hand. But the press demanded a showdown. So a night
was set when we were to meet in Carnegie Hall. In spite
of the publicity I was surprised to find the Hall packed.
Apparently all the magicians were there and the press was
amply represented, not to overlook the public.
I spoke first and challenged Thurston, "I
will not ask for the names of the three hundred mediums
you have exposed, but ask only that you give me the name
and address, time, and place of exposure of twenty-five,
along with proof that you did expose them." Thurston
named only three, none of them living. I could have done
better than that. I then asked him to give me the names
of only twenty-five families that had been broken up over
Spiritualism. He had no names. I could have furnished them,
knowing the movement better than he did, for there are always
individuals who make a mania of their particular religious
beliefs and ride their families to death.
He grew more nervous as we approached the
matter of his rubber spook. I explained to the audience
the method of testing physical mediumship. However, without
these customary preliminaries, I was only going to ask that
in good light before the audience Thurston produce this
rubber spook and let it walk over to me and tell me the
real name of my father. Certainly a kindergarten test for
a medium. But Thurston had forgotten to bring the spook
along. By that time I felt sorry for him.
The next day the newspapers carried a complete
account of the encounter, one paper headlining the story:
FORD AND THURSTON PUT ON SHOW AT CARNEGIE HALL ... IT FLOPPED
IN THE SECOND ACT. Thurston explained to the press again
that his press agent had got him into this fiasco, hoping
to capitalize on the Houdini technique for getting publicity.
Reasonably, Thurston's ire was high against me, which I
regretted for I admired his magicianship. I supposed our
encounter was over.
Another Encounter with Thurston
About four years later I was in Detroit. Thurston had his
magical show at a leading theater. I went with a friend.
At one point in his routine Thurston did what he called
his Spirit Cabinet Trick, and I was surprised to find on
the printed program: "This is a trick to amuse you
and it is NOT an attack upon the religious beliefs of anyone."
When he finished this trick he called for the house lights
and had them focused upon me. What next, I thought, deducing
that someone had recognized me and told him I was present.
Needing revenge, he would embarrass me if he could. Instead,
he said to the audience, "What I have just done is
a trick, but in the audience is a man whom I firmly believe
can help you to communicate with your beloved dead."
Then he asked me to come to his dressing room after the
When my friend and I went backstage to meet
him, Thurston then told me that when we had our encounter
in New York he knew very little about psychic things; just
what everyone thinks he knows which is usually less than
nothing. But he had determined to get back at me so he began
sitting with reputable mediums wherever he could find one.
"Now as a magician I know the limits of a trick,"
he said. "Under my own conditions and in my own hotel
room I have proofs of survival which, satisfy me. I am now
a member of the American Society for Psychical Research."
We became good friends and I later
attended several séances in his house.
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