Special to The New York Times.
WASHINGTON. May 18.Harry Houdini was the central figure at a hearing today before the House District of Columbia Committee, at which statements were made that spiritualistic séances were held at the White House for the benefit of the President and his family, and testimony was given that four prominent members of the SenateSenators Watson of Indiana, Capper of Kansas, Dill of Washington and Fletcher of Floridafrequently consulted mediums for counsel and advice.
Later in the day it was officially denied that any séances had been held in the White House since Mr. Coolidge became President.
Scores of mediums and clairvoyants were in attendance to combat Houdinis contention that all such persons were fakes, that there was no sound basis for spiritualism, and that the so-called messages from the dead were spurious and designed as a money-making scheme to defraud the credulous.
Todays session was unusually disorderly and came near winding up in a free-for-all fist fight. Cries of liar! Fake! and Traducer! were exchanged by Houdini and his assailants, and the din reached such a point that members of the committee demanded that the police be called.
After Houdini had denounced the cairvoyants [sic], mediums and fortune tellers operating in this city, and had urged favorable action on the bill sponsored by Representative Bloom of New York prohibiting such practices, the magician asked his assistant, Miss Rose Mackenberg, to take the stand. She testified that Mrs. Jane Coates, a spiritualist, had said yesterday:
I know for a fact that table tipping séances are held at the White House with President Coolidge and his family.
The witness added: Then she said that Senators Capper, Watson, Dill and Fletcher had come to her for readings.
Mrs. Coates Shouts Denial.
Mrs. Coates, who was present as a witness, interrupted the testimony with shrill cries of denial, while Mme. Marcia, an astrologist, challenged the story told by Miss Mackenberg of the latters visit to the Marcia Studio yesterday morning. Houdini joined in the chorus, characterizing the mediums and clairvoyants before the committee as crooks and criminals.
The committee tried to restore order, but failed, and an adjournment was taken. The shouting continued as the witnesses and audience filed into the corridors of the House office building.
After the session Mrs. Coates denied heatedly that she had said séances were held at the White House, declaring she had told Miss Mackenberg that they were held under the shadow of the White House. Both she and Mme. Marcia said they had not been visited by any members of the Cabinet, but that Senators consulted them.
Mrs. Coates was disturbed by the testimony regarding White House séances, remarking that she was interested in a claim bill that has passed Congress and was before President Coolidge for signature, from which she was to receive $25,000 for eighty-five cows killed by the Government on her familys farm in Maryland several years ago. She said she was going to use this money to clean up spiritualism and put it on a high plane.
Mme. Marcia and Mrs. Coates sat on the front row and asked permission to stand close to Miss Mackenberg as the latter took the stand. Mme. Marcia told the committee some time ago she had predicted the death of President Harding and long before the election of 1920 had told Mrs. Harding her husband would be President.
The two women took issue with Miss Mackenberg at every point as the young woman told of her consultations with them. Both insisted that they knew Miss Mackenberg was an investigator, and Mrs. Coates said she had told the young woman she should get a job as a policewoman.
Houdini Brings Spirit Messages.
Houdini, who had referred to receiving messages form spirits through a long trumpet, was asked by Representative Hammer of North Carolina to give him a demonstration. Houdini placed the trumpet to Mr. Hammers ear and asked him to be polite to the spirits, at the same time telling the audience this is the fake they work. After a moments silence, Mr. Hammer said he heard a sentence.
Mrs. Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts, a spectator at the committee table, then asked to hear a message, and she heard the sentence, Hello, Edith Rogers. Mr. Hammer said he had heard Your plans are arranged for. How are you?
Mr. Houdini did not utter a sound audible to the spectators, who closely crowded about.
Houdini had as his first witness Remigius Weiss of Philadelphia, who said he had experimented with spiritualism for fifty years. He described it as a psychical pestilence which should be cut out and wiped out.
In the fifty years of my investigation I have not found one honest clairvoyant or spiritualist except those who believe in it. Most of them do not believe in it, and they also believe the others dont, said Mr. Weiss.
This is the only place in the United States of America where a crook or clairvoyant is licensed for $25 and under that can blackmail or commit any crime under the calendar and get away with it, Mr. Houdini declared in his direct testimony. There are millions of dollars stolen by clairvoyants and mediums every year, and I can prove it. Conan Doyle is the biggest dupe outside of Sir Oliver Lodge.
Declares Palmistry a Fraud.
Is palmistry a science? asked Chairman McLeod.
No; it is a fraud, Houdini replied. I can look at a hand and tell whether the owner of it is a bricklayer or a banker.
How about astrology?
I dont believe that chunks of mud a million miles away can tell me what will happen to me or mine.
Sometimes they make good guesses, the witness added. If you guess often enough you are bound to hit it. If they knew what was going to happen ahead of time they could make millions in Wall Street every week.
Mr. Hammer thought Christian Science would come under the ban of the bill, but Mr. Houdini disagreed, adding: They do not charge you $5 to tell you that you will marry a fat woman with $10,000.
The witness said his performances in the theatre were given to the public as trickery, and that he did not claim to have any supernatural powers. He added that in England it was held that he was quite superhuman in every way, although he did not accept it.
We are all born equal; we are all alike. Any engineer can expose my tricks if he wants to, said the magician.