Magical Cocktails and Houdini’s Duel

While reading David Jaher’s fantastic new book about spiritualism and Houdini, I thought it’d be an easy task to find cocktails named after the master illusionist.  To my surprise, Houdini drinks are far and few between, but I did come upon a recipe discussed in the the Cocktail Virgin blog. This yellow-hued mix uses three ingredients I wasn’t familiar with, so it took a bit of sleuthing at liquor and wine stores to get it all together.

And the final result?  Awwwful 🙂  Yes, this was really bad — just straight undrinkable.  But then, through the magic of Instagram (blatant plug), a sharp-eyed friend noticed that I was using Benedictine mixed with bourbon instead of the straight stuff.  Chastened, I adjusted my recipe; this version was definitely better, distinct, and drinkable, but I still didn’t really like it.  The front was just too strong and overwhelming, particularly that sort of odd pungency of the Cocchi, which I found difficult to stomach.  The ending was a bit botanical and, as pointed out by the Cocktail Virgin blog, almost chocolate in its flavor.  The Virgin review is more positive than mine so definitely give it a whirl!  And it looks so, so pretty.

Houdini Cocktail

  • 2 oz Bols Genever
  • 1 oz Cocchi Americano
  • 1 oz Benedictine



The opposite of disappointing was David Jaher’s electrifying “The Witch of Lime Street,” a history of Western spiritualism and its showdown with arch-skeptic, Harry Houdini.  Here, Jaher achieves a rare feat, weaving extensive historical research into a novel-like narrative that is hard to put down. Jaher sets the scene by providing a fascinating overview of the spiritualist wave that overtook much of Europe and the US following WWI and the Influenza epidemic.  Perfectly positioned to take advantage of the tragic residue, spiritualist practitioners and their often  well-educated supporters–who offered a scientific gloss to the claims of mystics–forged a powerful and profitable new religion that promised to bring the living into contact with the dead.  Given the other revolutionary scientific developments of the era, such a claim wasn’t so far-fetched.

The spiritualists met their match in Harry Houdini, whose biography Jaher recounts in fascinating detail – I came away from this book convinced the master magician was one of themost interesting persons of the 20th century.  Houdini and other doubters soon established a testing group under the auspices of Scientific American magazine that went to work debunking various seers and mystics.  Then, they came upon Mina Crandon, the wife of an upper-crust Boston physician.  Crandon was an impressive medium and soon became the champion of the spiritualist movement.  Her showdowns with Houdini are spell-binding in Jaher’s telling, as is the wild cast of character including Arthur Conan Doyle who get involved in the otherworldly contest.  The intensity and scope of this showdown is wild, and Jaher does such a masterful job weaving in all the hard-to-believe side stories.  A must read!

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