• Victoria Kelly

Here's Why I Think Bess Houdini Spoke to Me from the Other Side

It was 2013. I was sitting at the pool near my parents’ house, pregnant with my first daughter, with a pile of books next to me. I had the idea to write a novel about Harry Houdini’s wife, but it was a daunting task, and I was filled with anxiety. I had two graduate degrees in creative writing, a slew of short story publications, but no book yet published.

To start my research, I had stumbled across an old book online called Houdini: His Life Story, by Harold Kellock, and ordered it for around $10. This book was published not long after Houdini’s death, and it was the only book about him that Bess had agreed to be interviewed for. It was in nice condition, the edges of the red cover slightly worn, but it wasn’t valuable, as far as I knew; it was a discard from the Fresno City College Library. And I was planning to make lots of notes in the margins as I read.

Then I opened the front cover, and I saw it:

“Compliments, from the woman of this book. –Bess Houdini, Aug 1, ’28.”

Bess herself had signed the book. In the years since, I have only come across a handful of her signatures; they were very rare, because she wasn’t in her own right a celebrity. As I sit here holding the book, nearly a hundred years after her pen touched the page, it’s still hard to believe this was a “coincidence.” I’d like to think this was a sign from Bess, from the other side, encouraging me to go on with it, telling me that it would all work out.

She was right.

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