I just received my poster of this photo. It’s a pic of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and (look how short he is!) Harry Houdini. In the ’20s (and we only have eight more years before we have to start specifying which ’20s’ we mean) they were both involved in the burgeoning spiritualism movement. It’s a fascinating real-life story:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose fictional characters exemplified science, logic and reason lost his only son in the first World War. Devastated, he was taken in by a medium who professed to be able to contact his son. Harry Houdini, whose stage persona was one of magic and mysticism (he even starred in a film called “The Man from Beyond”) was not deceived by a medium pretending to contact his mother and he spent years publicly debunking and exposing spiritualists.
The two met in 1920 and spent years corresponding and discussing their various experiences and theories. Eventually, their private disagreements spilled onto the pages of the New York Times letter pages and the rift between the two never healed. I find their individual stories fascinating and their combined story even more so.
Here’s a link to a write-up about a documentary on their relationship.