While I was recently in LA, I was very excited to re-visit a paranormal/historical/Houdini location I’d only ever visited once before. This was back with GHOULA’s Richard Carradine and I teamed up to do a one-off Houdini tour (who am I kidding – I was just the van driver as Richard is the most gifted Los Angeles history researcher I’ve ever known… big props to him for putting together an exceptional event – I’m honored to have taken any part of it).
The first spiritualist temple of LA has been rumored to be a somewhat in-danger building as it’s over 110 years old and in a less-than-glamourous part of LA. So, I was excited to see that the building was in just about the exact shape it was in when I first saw it back in 2014.
The video & transcription (there are some additional notes in BOLD within the transcription for more clarity) below covers the story about Houdini’s unusual photo, but scroll below that for more info, a photo gallery and a bonus Houdini location.
I’m standing in front of a very unique building in the southern part of downtown LA. This was the first spiritualist temple. First built in 1911 and that in and of itself makes it a unique building and also this is where Harry Houdini had his only ever paranormal experience (I should’ve said, ‘unexplainable experience’ as he never went so far to say it was paranormal-more on that below). As we know, later in life he he really made… debunking psychics and mediums and all that kind of stuff part of his show. He would really expose frauds and was a big fan of doing that. At one point in time when Houdini was coming through Los Angeles there was a news story about this church where one of the members of the church foretold of her death, saying that she was going to die on a certain date, even though she was in good health time, and… to please take a photo during her funeral because if she could come back, she would make her presence known. And then, surprisingly, she actually did pass away as predicted. Her funeral was held, a photo was taken, and, sure enough, a face seemed to appear in some of the tapestry near the casket. Houdini came out, he wanted to debunk this. So he had a bunch of journalists with him, they went out and they bought all the the film together and he tried to replicate the photo… to have the light hitting everything at the same time of day to prove that this was just a trick of the eye that this was not a paranormal event… it just was the way that the fabric was reflecting light. However, in the process of taking photos (yes, he was successful in debunking the face image) something else came across on one of his photos. A streak of light appears to be shooting up from the ground. This wasn’t visible to the human eye but it did appear in the photo and negatives. Some people do wonder ‘this is a magician… was he pulling some sort of a trick?’ Well, for a guy that was really trying to maintain a lot of integrity and prove that this kind of stuff doesn’t exist (or, more accurately, to expose frauds) is enough to tell me that Houdini wouldn’t fake something himself. Again, this location on the south side of downtown Los Angeles, the First Spiritualist Temple of Los Angeles, the only place where Harry Houdini [may have] had a paranormal experience and actually captured some evidence of it… There’s only a tiny bit of evidence left behind that that is even what this building started out as. Now it’s a Christian church. There’s a panel over here that’s been painted over and over and over so you can barely see it anymore, but very faintly it still does read ‘first spiritualist temple of Los Angeles, 1911 and then added on in 1920-something as well. This is a very unique and largely forgotten about part of downtown Los Angeles history.
Some additional photos:
The text of the painted-over panel faintly reads: The first spiritualist temple. Erected by the Progressive Society of Spiritual Truthseekers 1911 | Addition 1922 | Mary C Vlaser, Pastor (it’s a confident, but not 100% certain, guess on Mary’s last name as that’s the most difficult to decipher word.
To be clear on Houdini’s feelings about the strange photo, he never considered it a ghost, spiritual or paranormal image, but simply one that cannot be explained. A glance at the photo, seen in the video, I would’ve guessed that the negative itself was scratched. However, that would be an obvious culprit and the negatives had been studied by several people at the time who found no obvious reason for that streak of light to appear.
The articles that appear in the video above are just a few of several articles that appeared in Los Angeles newspapers in late spring/early summer of 1923 (the year Houdini’s photo was taken). The most striking article artwork, I wanted to share below:
Finally, though it’s not the most obscure Houdini site in LA, it was also fun swinging by the Harold Examiner Building downtown where Houdini made his dangling-from-his-feet straight jacket escape while he was suspended over South Broadway.
I had no idea, but there’s actually footage of Houdini making this escape on April 4, 1923, just days before he would go on to take his famous photo. What a busy week it was for Harry! As is usually the case, I owe a big debt of gratitude to John Cox and his Wild About Harry website. Check out some links at the end & also subscribe to his YouTube channel after watching the escape footage below.
Wild About Harry Article about the photo: https://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2019/10/the-ghost-houdini-couldnt-explain.html
Wild About Harry Article about the Harold Examiner escape: https://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2013/11/unpublished-houdini-in-los-angeles_4.html
Wild About Harry article about the tour Richard Carradine lead: https://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2014/03/haunting-houdini-in-los-angeles.html