Bess Houdini: The Untold Truth Of Harry Houdini's Wife

True love, we're told, is forever. Few things can come between two people truly enamored with one another. Of course, death is one of those things. Their kid failing a history test in the second grade is another. Yes, you caused your parents' divorce. Grow up and accept responsibility.

In the strange case of Harry and Bess Houdini, there were no disappointing children in play, or any children at all, for that matter. There was death. There was plenty of death. But here, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

How Houdini met his wife

The woman known as Bess Houdini was born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner on January 23, 1876. A Brooklyn native, she spent her early days performing in a Coney Island musical act. That's where she met him, the man who would change her life. The pieces in place, magic in the air, she started going out with Theo, Harry Houdini's little brother.

Anyway, she decided that she liked Harry better and traded up. There seemed to be a lot of that going on in the family. A Skeptical Inquirer piece details the scandal that arose when Leopold, another of Harry's brothers, married the ex-wife of Nathan, another of Houdini's brothers. If this family had been alive today, they'd make up 40 percent of TLC's programming.

In any case, Bess and Harry wound up, by all accounts, entirely crazy about each other. Bess worked as Harry's assistant during shows, made his costumes, and took care of the household's pantheon of exotic pets: parrots, rabbits, and even an eagle.

Houdini's wife waited for him ... after death

Bess' best-known work came after Houdini passed away on Halloween, 1926. Harry had gotten into the habit of exposing psychics and mediums as frauds in his final years, and disproving the existence of an afterlife became, from what we can tell, an obsession. At the time of his death, Harry had set up a secret code with Bess that he would relay from the other side if there was any way of doing so, and Bess held up her end of the bargain, holding the first Houdini seance on October 1, 1927.

Bess kept performing seances every year for a decade, attempting to make contact with her beloved husband in what could be interpreted as the earliest, most devoted, and entirely literal version of someone trying to call their ex after getting ghosted.

After the tenth shot, Bess abandoned the project, famously remarking that "ten years is long enough to wait for any man." She handed off annual communing-with-the-other-side duties to a friend, Walter Gibson, who appropriately enough had worked as Houdini's ghostwriter. The tradition continues to this day, though Harry has thus far failed to RSVP.