Long Island Medium comes to Appleton. What would Houdini think?


    It’s almost like having Joe Biden campaign from the steps of Ripon’s Little White Schoolhouse.

    Or for the Chicago Bears to schedule one of their home games at Lambeau Field.

    Theresa Caputo, the famed psychic of television’s “Long Island Medium,” will take the stage on Wednesday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. She’ll talk of her life and pass on messages from beyond while standing just a few short blocks from the site of Houdini’s childhood home.

    The famed escape artist and Appleton’s pride was a household name for his death defying feats. Though he held a particular drive for calling out those who claimed to speak on behalf of the dead.

    Harry Houdini is his later years went to all lengths to show that purported communication with the dead was no more supernatural than his own incredible acts as a performer.

    They were tricks — it was a performance art — and while seances were often well performed, they came through false pretenses and at a great expense to the grieving people of his era.

    So what would Houdini think?

    Far be it from me to question Caputo’s spiritual claims or on-stage processes. I’ll cede those debates to others. Though it’s fair to say the live show in Downtown Appleton is an appearance at odds with its place.

    Houdini never lost his fondness for Appleton. 

    If we rewind the calendar 95 years, it was Houdini who was traveling from stage to stage. 

    And he offered appeals to reason into addition to the daring and amazement from which he built his fame.

    On Nov. 20, 1924, Houdini paid a visit to the Kenilworth Hippodrome in North Carolina. The night before, he stood before an audience in Johnson City, Tenn. 

    Accounts from the Tennessee appearance serve as a prime example of Houdini using his prestige as a weapon against those who made big dollars through false psychic claims.

    Houdini began with his lecture,  “Can the Dead Speak to the Living?” He opened the floor to questions. He conducted a seance and through it highlighted the deception at play in what was pitched at communications with the other side. 

    It was only after those exercises that his audience witnessed his famed straitjacket escape.

    Now 95 years later, how would Houdini approach a still fervent popularity of all things psychic?

    Would he shake his head in discovering that his tireless efforts to pull back the curtain couldn’t stem the tide of those who so deeply long to hear from the dearly missed?

    Or would there be solace that in an Internet era, all of the tricks of the trade among charlatans are readily available to those willing to look and consider? 

    I suppose there’s another possibility.

    Would the world’s greatest performer of his time be ready to admit he was wrong about the whole thing?

    If that’s the case, a certain personality should be able to clearly hear that mea culpa in his hometown come Wednesday night.