“[Testifying in a 1926 Congressional hearing on a bill to outlaw fortune tellers in the District of Columbia, Harry] Houdini continues to present his evidence against fortune tellers and con artists. Eventually, the spotlight is directed on Houdini’s own spiritual background. The dialogue that follows gives us a window into Houdini the man, as opposed to the mythical ‘Houdini the Great!’ ”
Rep. William C. Hammer (North Carolina): You don’t claim to do anything by divine power?
Houdini: No sir, I am human. But, mediums are trying to say I am psychic. This is not true.
Hammer: Have you any religious views?
Houdini: Yes sir. I am the son of a rabbi. For hundreds of years my forbears were rabbi….
Hammer: These people claim they have divine power. Don’t you think it is very difficult to do anything along the line of stopping them? … You have a religion, and I ask you under our form of government, if we ought not to go very slowly before we enact legislation along this line?… I want some sort of a bill…although you are rather severe in your strictures of those who disagree with you.
— From “Mr. Houdini Goes to Washington: Part I” by Neil McNally at Wild About Harry (Feb. 8, 2015)
The sparring intensifies in Part II and Part III, in which Rep. Hammer seems curiously fixated on whether Houdini is in fact Hindu. Spoiler alert: For reasons still unclear, the ban on fortune telling in D.C. never became law.
Two years earlier Houdini performed tricks and debunked spiritualism at UNC’s Memorial Hall. He found his audience considerably more receptive than the one he would encounter in Washington.