LINK: The Forgotten Partnership of H. P. Lovecraft and Harry Houdini

The cover of the May-June-July 1924 issue of Weird Tales

From the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas:

Special thanks to my friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for alerting me to this post.


HH Fiction: Thoughts and Feelings of a Head Cut Off

Did Harry Houdini write a story titled, “Thoughts and Feelings of a Head Cut Off”?

According to Muriel Eddy:

I remember Mr. Eddy’s painstaking revision of Houdini’s: “Thoughts and Feelings of a Head Cut Off” ….. an experience which the master magician had undergone in his youth. Harry Houdini said in his story that somewhere in his travels he came across an ancient superstition that if a head was severed quickly and unexpectedly from a body, the brain in the head kept on thinking for several seconds!

According to Harry, the natives of Aden-Aden were anxious to test this theory, and when he visited that remote island they ganged up on him and ALMOST succeeded in amputating his head from his body….they must have been anxious to hear what the brain of a magician would think of, after it was separated from the body!

[BTW: Houdini owned a photograph (which can be seen on p. 107 of Meyer’s Houdini: A Mind in Chains) of decapitated sailors. A note on the verso in the hand of Bernard Ernst, Houdini’s attorney, states, “Picture taken on Houdini’s South Sea trip – sailors decapitated for mutiny on high seas.]

I am quite sure this story was never offered for sale by Harry Houdini, as it lacked the ring of veracity …  perhaps it WAS somewhat exaggerated! When we told H.P.L. about it he exclaimed:

“Oh, what I could have done with that story, but perhaps Houdini wouldn’t have liked it if I’d changed it TOO much. I took a lot of liberties with his “Pharaoh” story, but he seemed satisfied….but THIS one!” and a far-away look was in his eyes ……

Later on, we were discussing the possibility of the TRUTH of a brain functioning after death… and Lovecraft averred that perhaps the brain DID function.… for a few minutes after the death of one’s body.  It was a weird subject and there it ended! I sometimes wondered what Lovecraft’s true feelings regarding this matter really were!
[p. 18-19 The Gentleman From Angell Street, Muriel Eddy, 1961.]

According to Chris Perridas excellent HPL blog:

The sitz im leben [creation of alleged context] of the anecdote [short and amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person] has to be after the writing of “Under The Pyramids” (after February 1924) and prior to Houdini’s death (October 1926). Lovecraft was in New York nearly continuously from March 1924 to April 1926. Therefore one suspects that this would have been between April 1926 and October 1926.

There is no obvious reason to deny the veracity of Muriel Eddy’s report, thus it shores up the idea that Lovecraft, C M Eddy, and Houdini were in close communication.

Will this unpublished manuscript surface like the Cancer of Superstition manuscript or is it lost to history?


Unpublished, Nineteen-page, handwritten dissertation on “THE CANCER OF SUPERSTITION”.


While researching Houdini material at, I came across the following listing that you can own for $65,000 plus $4.00 shipping:

CANCER OF SUPERSTITION, THE.” Autograph Manuscript (AMs). 19 leaves. Not dated, but circa October 1926 Lovecraft, H[oward] P[hillips] and C[lifford] M. Eddy, Jr. 


Lovecraft’s handwritten outline (published in THE DARK BROTHERHOOD) and Eddy’s handwritten and typewritten drafts of the first three chapters are extant. This 19-page handwritten manuscript, edited, revised and copiously annotated by Lovecraft, is Eddy’s draft expanded from Lovecraft’s handwritten 4 1/2 page 12-part outline (held by Brown University). It is the version from which the typescript sent to Houdini was made (that typescript, missing three leaves of text, was sold at auction by Potter & Potter 9 April 2016 for $33,600).Eddy’s manuscript is divided into three chapters. Chapter I, “The Genesis of Superstition” (leaves 1-8 of this handwritten draft), published in a slightly altered version in THE DARK BROTHERHOOD (1966), pp. 250-61. Chapter II, “The Expansion of Superstition” (leaves 9-14) and Chapter III, “The Fallacy of Superstition” (leaves 15-19), currently unpublished, comprise the remainder of the manuscript. Part of the manuscript is written on the versos of various discarded drafts, several of which are of considerable interest: (1) verso of leaf 2 is a draft of a letter from Eddy to Houdini, 15 October 1926, asking if he had received “the synopsis of the proposed article on the origin and fallacy of superstition” and if “the requested advance check for $15.00 is on the way together with whatever you wish to offer in the way of annotations & suggestions” (2) verso of leaves 3 and 4 have an earlier draft of “The Cancer of Superstition” (3) versos of leaves 5-8 have discarded pages of a crime story by Eddy (4) verso of leaf 9 is a draft “Questionnaire — Oct. 19, 1926” directed to Houdini about the scope and direction of the “proposed article which you assigned me, while in Providence, on the origin and fallacy of superstition,” and requesting his input (5) verso of leaf 10 is an expanded draft of the “Questionnaire” (6) verso of leaf 14 has a long continuation of the text from leaf 14 in Lovecraft’s hand on a discarded earlier draft of leaf 13. The verso of leaf 1 has the beginning of a letter dated 12 October 1926 to the Boston Sunday Post; the versos of leaves 11-13 and 15-19 are blank.H. P. Lovecraft met Clifford M. Eddy, Jr., a native of Providence, Rhode Island, a published writer of popular fiction and student of mythology and the occult, in 1923 (their first face-to-face meeting, after an exchange of letters, was in Providence at Eddy’s home on 9 September 1923). Lovecraft, who met Houdini in New York City in 1924, ghostwrote Houdini’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” (aka “Under the Pyramids”), published WEIRD TALES in 1924. In 1926 Houdini hired Lovecraft to write an article attacking astrology, for which he paid $75 (the manuscript of the article, which does not appear to have been published, was sold on eBay in April 2009 ). Then he commissioned Lovecraft and Eddy (who may have done work for him at an earlier date) to jointly ghostwrite a full-length book on superstitions. According to Eddy (handwritten statement dated 9 June 1962): “Back in the middle twenties both H. P. L. and I were doing ghostwriting for the late Harry Houdini. Shortly before Houdini’s death, he gave me an assignment to do a complete book for him on the subject of the origin, growth and fallacy of superstition. He furnished me with voluminous notes and ideas that he wanted incorporated in the book and suggested that perhaps H. P. L. whip them into some shape that I could use as a guide. I wrote the first three chapters of the proposed book. The first two were read and approved by Houdini, and the third was in the mail, addressed to him in Detroit, when he was stricken with the appendicitis attack which resulted in his death. About a month after her husband’s funeral, Mrs. Houdini advised me that she would prefer to have the work on the proposed book abandoned. Whatever became of the the three chapters that had already been completed, I never learned. Sometime later, at one of our get-togethers, Lovecraft and I were discussing the subject… Bookseller Inventory # 155672


Was “A Magician Among the Spirits”, co-authored with C. M. Eddy, Jr.?

A Magician Among The Sprits CoverCM EDDY JR

According to the various websites, Houdini’s classic book “A Magician Among the Spirits”, was allegedly co-authored with C.M. Eddy Jr. but he is not credited in the book.  This was news to me, so I decided to see what (if any) involvement Eddy had with “A Magician Among the Spirits”.

The first question that came to mind was when did Houdini and Eddy first know each other?

In Joshi, p. 108-111, Letters From New York, Night Shade Books 2005, we learn from a letter by HP Lovecraft to his aunt (on 10 February) that CM Eddy has come to New York unexpectedly. The date is Sunday, 1 February 1925. He states, “unexpected guest … CM Eddy … on literary business, interviewing magazine editors & stopping with Houdini up in west 113th Street …” Lovecraft continues, “Eddy had an engagement at Houdini’s house at midnight, so we had to hustle … I piloted Eddy to Houdini’s home via the Bronx subway, I then returned …”. [chrisperridas.blogspot]

I could not find any earlier sources, so based on Joshi, Houdini and Eddy first met each other no later than 2 February 1925. But, “A Magician Among the Spirits” was published in May 1924 well before this face to face meeting.

In case you are wondering, Eddy and Lovecraft most likely first met around August 1923. [chrisperridas.blogspot]

BTW: Houdini gave Lovecraft an autographed copy of “A Magician Among the Spirits“:

  • “To my friend, Howard Lovecraft/Best Wishes,/Houdini/ “My brain is the key that sets me free.”

In 1924, Houdini, Lovecraft and Eddy had peripheral connections to “Weird Tales” magazine:

C. Henneberger, the publisher of “Weird Tales”, tried to increase readership of the magazine by bringing Harry Houdini on board. This resulted in three issues featuring Houdini:

Weird Tales Hermannstadt coverWeird Tales spirit lover coverWeird Tales Pharaohs cover

The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt” (March to April 1924), “The Hoax of the Spirit Lover” (April 1924) and “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” (May/July 1924).  The last was by Lovecraft where he rewrote a strange narrative which Houdini related orally to Henneberger.

Lovecraft wrote the story for Houdini in February 1924, and met Houdini in person by October 1924 [Date is from “An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia” by Joshi].

The author or authors of the others have not been identified.  Mike Ashley’s The Houdini Chain found in Postscripts says Walter B. Gibson denies being the author and Mike Ashley speculates that they may have been the work of Clifford Eddy who worked as Houdini’s booking agent [?] at that time [?].  He had sold several stories to “Weird Tales”, some revised by Lovecraft.

Ironically, Mike Ashley also mentions that virtually everything attributed to Houdini was ghost written; He says, that even “A Magician Among the Spirits” was written primarily by Oscar Teale and based upon Houdini’s notebooks, though Houdini cast and editorial eye over it.

We know that Eddy had involvement with “The Cancer of Superstition“.

But so far, I haven’t found any concrete evidence that shows Eddy had any involvement with “A Magician Among the Spirits”.

However, there is evidence that Teale may have played a role.

  • In a letter dated August 10, 1931, Teale writes to Julian Proskauer: “Having originally written Houdini’s ‘A Magician Among The Spirits’ feel that I am fairly conversant with all phrases of the damnable work”.
  • See Potter & Potter August 2014 Auction Descriptions below for Lots 68 and 20.

Lot 68:


Description: Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits original manuscript. Likely a second or third draft of Houdini’s last book exposing and explaining the history of modern spiritualism and the methods used to defraud the public by an array of underhanded individuals who claimed an ability to communicate with the dead. Included here are original typescripts and carbons of over half of the book, including the following chapters: “Introduction” and a synopsis, “The Fox Sisters,” “The Davenport Brothers,” “Odelia Diss Debarr,” “Palladino,” “Slate Writing,” “Spirit Photography,” “Ectoplasm,” “Investigations – Wise & Otherwise,” and “Exposé of Methods.” Many chapters include a one- or two-page summary. Hundreds of handmade corrections in pencil and ink are scattered throughout, and include considerable underlining, strike-throughs of entire paragraphs, and corrections. Dozens of pasted-in additions, mostly in the form of footnotes, have been added to the original 4to pages. Some corrections likely in the hand of Houdini himself, though the bulk of the holographic notes are most likely in the hand of Oscar Teale, a well-known magician and author in his own right, and Houdini’s secretary and aide in investigating the spiritualists and their methods. A Magician Among the Spirits was published in 1924. However, based on a comparison of the text in these pages, the manuscript more closely reflects a revised edition Houdini was preparing at the time of his death, as the prose more closely matches a working manuscript of that edition published posthumously, in 1996 (see lot 20). The text here is strikingly similar, but not identical to that manuscript. Hundreds of pages in all, typed on rectos only, some with plain manuscript wrappers and bound at tops of sheets, wrappers hand lettered with title names, other chapters loose.

Lot 20:


Description: Houdini, Harry. A Magician Among the Spirits. The Original Manuscript. [Washington, D.C.]: Kaufman and Greenberg, 1996. Black cloth with photograph of Houdini and matching slipcase. From an edition of 1000 copies. 4to. Very good. A facsimile of the manuscript for a revised edition of Houdini’s book exposing fraudulent mediums.


When first published in 1924, Houdini’s manuscript was dramatically cut from 175,000 words down to 75,000 words. That is, the editors at Harper & Brothers rearranged, rewrote and above all cut out huge portions of the text. Displeased with the published work, Houdini was preparing this typescript for a second edition at the time of his unfortunate, and untimely, death. The typescript contains several holographic notations in Houdini’s hand as well as other revisions in the hand of his assistant Oscar Teale [or is it in the hand of C.M. Eddy?].

Lovecraft Letter – Witchcraft Article

Witchcraft Manuscript Lot 67 Potter and Potter Aug 23 2014

After writing the Astrology Article, Lovecraft’s next job for Houdini was to write an article on witchcraft as evidenced by an October 11, 1926 letter to Wilfred Blanch Talman:

“This present season I’m as busy as hell with some special revisory work which I’ve been doing for the well-known conjuror Houdini. I’ve done stuff for him before; but last week he performed in Providence, and took the opportunity to have me go over a lot of stuff which required constant consultation. It was the raw material for a campaign against astrology; and being somewhat in my line, (I had a campaign of my own on this subject in 1914) I rather enjoyed the digging up of data—though it was beastly laborious, and forced me to work continuously till night before last with very little sleep. If it doesn’t knock out all the star-gazing charlatans in the country, I shall feel deeply disappointed!  My next job for the sprightly wizard is an article on witchcraft which makes me lament with redoubled intensity the lack of a peek at the Waite book.”

Just like the Astrology manuscript, the Witchcraft manuscript also exists and has been seen at auction a couple times:

Lot 179 of the October 31st 2002 Swann Auction – Magic: Featuring the Manny Weltman Houdini Collection

Lot 179 Witchcraft Manuscript Swann 2002 Auction

Lot 67 of August 23rd 2014 Potter & Potter Auction – Houdiniana:

Houdini, Harry. Witchcraft. An unpublished manuscript by Houdini. [New York?], 1926.

Detailed and important typescript with a profusion of holographic corrections and additions in Houdini’s hand throughout. The subject covered is, broadly stated, witchcraft. Houdini examines the entire subject, and gives a thumbnail sketch of its history, drawing and quoting heavily from published sources. More specifically, near the end of the manuscript Houdini writes in detail about the Witch of Endor, a medium in ancient times who wasreportedly able to summon the spirit of Samuel at the command of King Saul of the Kingdom of Israel. In much the same way Houdini crusaded against spiritualists in his 1924 book A Magician Among the Spirits (several subjects from which appear in passing in these pages), so does this manuscript demonstrate his unwavering crusade against pillars of the spiritualist faith, which so often used Bible stories as support for its cause. A total of 62 numbered pages on 4to sheets, typed on rectos only, some significantly larger after cutting-and-pasting. The professional tone suggests a guiding editorial hand, while the hundreds of corrections in Houdini’s hand show his tendency toward misspellings and awkward phrases. Some corrections are in pencil or red pencil. A copy of an unsigned letter regarding Houdini’s work on the manuscript, dated July 16, 1926, is included, and shows that this was one of the last publishing projects he was working on before his death. Accompanied by a letter of provenance tracing the ownership of the manuscript.

[Sold for $15,000]


Is it possible that the Astrology manuscript and Witchcraft manuscript were to be part (chapters) of the “The Cancer of Superstition” book that Harry Houdini hired Lovecraft and his friend C.M. Eddy, Jr. to write?

It would be nice to see all of the pieces (outline and chapters) put together and published in some form:

  • handwritten outline, by H.P. Lovecraft, published in The Dark Brotherhood
  • handwritten manuscript by Eddy that included revisions with Lovecraft’s penmanship, the first chapter (‘The Genesis of Superstition’) of three is published in The Dark Brotherhood.  According to Eddy family members, the first two chapters were approved by Houdini and the third sent to him while Houdini was on tour.
  • typescript manuscript (article) , as offered for sale by Potter & Potter, which includes three parts (‘The Genesis of Superstition’, ‘The Expansion of Superstition’ and ‘The Fallacy of Superstition’) not published.
  • Astrology handwritten manuscript (article) by H.P. Lovecraft not published.
  • Witchcraft typescript manuscript (article), by H.P. Lovecraft (?) that included revisions with Houdini’s penmanship, not published.


  • Selected Letters II – H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft Letter – Astrology, Superstition and Intervention of the Gods

[The following is a post that I wrote in January 2016 to be published at a later date, but based on a post today by John Cox titled, The Cancer of Superstition is FOUND!, which announced that Potter & Potter Auctions will be auctioning off a 31 page unpublished work in progress for The Cancer of Superstition, I thought I would share it now:]

In 1926, the magician Harry Houdini hired Lovecraft and his friend C.M. Eddy, Jr. to write an entire book combating superstition.  This work – perhaps analogous to Houdini’s previous work, A Magician among the Spirits (1924), a debunking of spiritualism – was to be called The Cancer of Superstition.  Houdini had earlier asked Lovecraft to write a rush article on Astrology, for which he paid $75.


Houdini Astrology Article by Lovecraft

Below is the first part of a letter dated Oct 26, 1926 from Lovecraft to his rumored best friend Frank Belknap Long:

Young Man: –

These occasional outings are, I assure you, most amply earn’d; for I am just now coping with the most hectick reincarnation of David V. Bushism imaginable.  My neo-Bush is our slippery friend Houdini, who was here early in the month, and rushed me to hell preparing an anti-astrological article to be finished before his departure – a matter of five days; for which I received the not wholly despicable renumeration of seventy-five actual dollars.  He says he has a devilish lot more for me to do, and has been trying to get me to meet him in Detroit at his own expense to talk things over – but I have maintained that I can do business best within sight of my native town’s Georgian steeples.  Just now I note in the paper that Houdini has had a breakdown – which must have occurred just after the last letter he sent me – so I fancy there will be a lull in negotiations.  I’ll send him a line of sympathy to jolly him along.  Poor Eddy, who with my aid has been doing some revision for the nimble wizard, is quite worried about his unexpected intervention of the gods.

No historical record exists at this time to suggest that Lovecraft did indeed extend those best wishes to Houdini to “jolly him along”.  If he did send the line of sympathy, it didn’t work, for five days after the letter was written, Harry Houdini would pass away.

Houdini’s untimely death on October 31, 1926 derailed the plans for the Cancer of Superstition book, as his widow Bess did not wish to pursue the project.  That said, parts do survive.  In 1966, Lovecraft’s detailed synopsis for “The Cancer of Superstition” and “The Genesis of Superstition” part written by Eddy was first published.

It was originally thought that the astrology article did not survive, but in April 2009, HP Lovecraft’s unpublished astrology essay for Harry Houdini surfaced and sold on eBay [item 120404416969]  for more than a solid five grand.

The guy who won the item is a Lovecraft guru in Utah and is on every Lovecraft panel at various conventions.  He bought it because he recognized the historical significance. Interestingly, this article was unknown for so long because magic collectors were passing it around because it had Houdini’s signature on it. There was talk that the winner might sell it to Brown University Lovecraft collection.


However, on August 16th, 2013, the first of the astrology hand-written pages started to be sold on eBay [item 370716061710].  The listing implied that each page would be offered for sale except for the last page signed by Harry Houdini, which would be kept by the seller.

Does anyone have any updates on the whereabouts of these pages?

It would be nice if copies of these pages on Astrology were published.


  • Collected Essays Volume 3: Science – Edited by S.T. Joshi
  • Selected Letters II – H. P. Lovecraft
  • eBay

Lovecraft, Eddy and possibly Houdini’s Last Letter

Howard_Phillips_LovecraftCM EDDY JR

Lovecraft, Eddy and possibly Houdini’s Last Letter

According to Kalush:

In Providence, the next stop of the tour [Oct 4-9], Houdini and Bess went to dinner with H.P. Lovecraft and Clifford Eddy Jr.  Both men were working on a book for Houdini called “The Cancer of Superstition” but Eddy was also an undercover operative for Houdini, filing many field reports on his visits to fraudulent mediums.

Shortly after meeting with Eddy and Lovecraft, Bess was stricken with a non-specific form of poisoning, probably from food.  Houdini immediately summoned Sophie Rosenblatt, a nurse who had worked for the family previously; but by Friday, October 8, Bess’s condition had deteriorated so badly that Houdini stayed up all night comforting her.  She improved a little the next day, which was the last day of the run, so Houdini arranged for her and Sophie to leave straight for Albany, the next tour stop, while he took a late train to New York, where he had meetings scheduled for Sunday [Oct 10].

When the meetings concluded, he checked in with Rosenblatt in Albany and decided to postpone his train back. At some point after midnight, Houdini called his friend Joe Dunninger, the mentalist [to pick him up in the car]

“I’ve seen my house for the last time, Joe. I’ll never see my house again.

According to Koval:

  • Oct 4-9: Providence Opera House, Providence, RI
  • Oct 11-13: Capital Theatre in Albany.  Houdini suffers a broken ankle [Oct 11 according to Wissner]
  • Oct 14-16: Van Curler Theatre Schenectady, NY
  • Oct 18-23: Princess Theatre, Montreal, Canada”
  • Oct 22: Houdini is struck in stomach [and sends a letter to Mr. Eddy]
  • Oct 24 (only): Garrick Theatre, Detroit, MI  Houdini collapses after his show.
  • Oct 31:  Houdini dies

According to a short letter in Fred Pittella’s collection, dated October 22 and sent from Shubert-Princess Theatre to Mr. Eddy in Providence R.I.:

My dear Eddy:

On account of accident which has laid me up, I cannot do much writing.

Will answer in detail from Detroit.

Best wishes.

Sincerely yours, Houdini.

I find it interesting he uses the word “accident” and that “on account of accident“, Houdini can’t do much writing [about the Cancer book], but feels he will be able to “answer in detail from Detroit” where he was scheduled to perform at the Shubert-Garrick Theatre the weeks of October 24 and November 2nd.

Is he talking about the accident in Albany or Montreal?

Note: Houdini’s untimely death on October 31, 1926 derailed the plans for the Cancer of Superstition book, as his widow Bess did not wish to pursue the project.  That said, parts do survive.  In 1966, Lovecraft’s detailed synopsis for “The Cancer of Superstition” and “The Genesis of Superstition” part written by Eddy was first published.  Future posts will describe these and evidence of additional parts that survive.

Special Thank You to Fred Pittella for allowing me to share the contents of a historic letter dated Oct 22, 1926 from his personal collection.


  • Kalush – The Secret Life of Houdini
  • Koval – The Illustrated Research Diary
  • Pittella Collection – Letter from Houdini to Eddy dated October 22, 1926
  • Wissner – The Houdini Correspondence File


Honey-Moon with Houdini

Honey-Moon with Houdini

Sonia Greene Photo

Sonia Greene had come into his life in the weeks after his mother passing.  Was she, therefore, no more than a replacement for his mother.  Nonetheless, they were married and life was hectic.  He was engaged on a strange ghostwriting job.  It was to write a story for the great escape artist, Harry Houdini to be published in Weird Tales.  When he discovered that there was not a shred of truth to the story, he asked the Weird Tales owner, J.C. Henneberger, to let him embellish it.  He finished it at the end of February 1924, but lost the manuscript on March 2, in Union Station in Providence when taking the train to New York the day before his wedding.  Fortunately, he had another copy and on the morning of his wedding, he was furiously re-typing it.  He had only typed half of it when it was time to head to the church.

HPLand Sonia Greene-Boston, 1921

The plan had been to go to Philadelphia after the wedding, but he and his wife were too tired and returned to her apartment.  Of course, there was still the manuscript to be finished.  On arriving in Philadelphia the following day, she read out from the copy while he banged away on a borrowed typewriter.  That was how they spent the first day and a half of their married life. ‘When that manuscript was finished, ‘she wrote, ‘we were too tired and exhausted for honey-mooning or anything else.’ The story was sent off and later that month he was paid $100 for it, the most money he had earned to-date for a story.

Of course we are talking about HP Lovecraft and “Imprisoned With The Pharaohs” which was first published in the May-June-July 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine, the story tells of Houdini’s adventures trapped in a Egyptian tomb.


Source: HP Lovecraft  The Mysterious Man Behind The Darkness