Thursday, May 5, 2016

Meet Rose Mackenberg, Harry Houdini's personal ghost buster

I'm a big fan of Harry Houdini, and his exploits to root out fraud in paranormal scenes. His work as a debunker has gained some mainstream attention via movies, but did you know that ol' Harry had his own secret service with some spirited squad goals?
Yup, Houdini had a group of 20 salaried undercover investigators who traveled the country in the early 1900s with the mission of uncovering "ghost racketeers" engaged in "spirit fraud."

Perhaps the most famous was Rose Mackenberg, the "Spook Spy." A New York City resident, Rose was a believer in Spiritualism early on, before she teamed up with the illusionist. Once she did, Houdini was especially impressed by Rose's skills and knowledge of fakery involved in seances and mediumship.

The Spook Spy earned her name by slipping into the confidences of local spiritualist groups. And when she arrived in town, she'd go shopping for new disguises that would allow her to blend into a local area. Disguises included "Credulous Servant Girl," "Believing Semi-Invalid," "Smartly Garbed Widow," "Rustic School Teacher," and "Small Town Matron," among others.

Although Houdini died in 1926, Rose continued with her and her boss' mission through 1951. She also gave lectures, wrote for multiple publications such as Popular Science, assisted insurance companies in sussing out fraudulent claims, and worked with the Chicago Tribune as a guide to the Spiritualist world.

-Aaron Sagers