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the story behind the book

David Jaher on spiritualism, mediums in ‘Witch of Lime Street’

david wilson for the boston globe

“Margery makes at least a cameo appearance in most Houdini biographies,” said David Jaher of the woman whose life is at the center of his book, “The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World,” which tells the true story of Mina Crandon, a Beacon Hill doctor’s wife who was one of the most famous people in Boston in the 1920s.

“When I looked into old newspapers of the day I was just stunned at how popular she was,” Jaher said. “In the summer of 1924, Margery is on the front page of newspapers like The New York Times, The Boston Herald, The Boston Globe. It’s really incredible what a following she had and how popular she was.’’

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Crandon, who went by Margery as a stage name, was a physical medium; she not only claimed a connection with the spirit world, she demonstrated it with physical phenomena, Jaher explained. Margery “raised tables; she made objects fly around the room; she manifested these cold breezes which seemed to come from nowhere, these spirit lights; she would manifest apparitions and voices that seemed to come from all points of the room,” he said.

At the book’s center is the showdown between Margery and a panel of judges, including Houdini, who sought to scientifically affirm or debunk her phenomena; within just a few years, the Jazz Age gave way to the Great Depression, and spiritualism was on the wane.

“I definitely believe in psychic phenomena,” said Jaher, who has also worked as a professional astrologer. Spiritualism may no longer command public acclaim, he added, but “it’s as old as mankind, this urge to commune with something greater or higher.”

Jaher will read at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Harvard Coop, 1400 Mass. Ave., Cambridge; 2 p.m. Thursday at the Tufts Library, 46 Broad St., Weymouth; and 6 p.m. Thursday at the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston.

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Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.