Spirit Sleuths

How Magicians and Detectives Exposed the Ghost Hoaxes

Hardcover
$24.99 US
8.25"W x 10.31"H x 0.72"D  
On sale Sep 10, 2024 | 176 Pages | 9781662680236
| Grades 5-12
Reading Level: Lexile 1020L | Fountas & Pinnell Z
The latest from acclaimed author Gail Jarrow reveals how magicians—including Harry Houdini and his team of investigators—exposed fake mediums who exploited the vulnerable and gullible in the early twentieth century.

After millions of people died during World War I and from the 1918 influenza pandemic, the popularity of Spiritualism soared. Desperate to communicate with their dead loved ones, the bereaved fell prey to extortion by fraudulent mediums and fortune-tellers. 

But magician Harry Houdini wasn't fooled. He recognized the scammers' methods as no more than conjurer's tricks. Angered by the way people were exploited, Houdini set out to expose the ghost hoaxes. In his stage show, he revealed the fraudsters’ techniques, and he used a team of undercover investigators to collect proof of séance deceptions. His head secret agent was a young New York private detective and disguise expert, Rose Mackenberg—a woman who continued her ghost-busting career for decades, long after Houdini's death in 1926.

Ideal for young readers and adults who are drawn to the worlds of psychics and magicians, this riveting book uncovers a little-known chapter in American history and details the ways people were (and still are) deceived by mediums and fortune-tellers.
Gail Jarrow is the author of nonfiction books and novels for readers ages 8–18. Her nonfiction books have earned the Sibert Honor, the Orbis Pictus Honor, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, YALSA Finalist, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book, Outstanding Science Trade Book, a NSTA Best STEM book, the Jefferson Cup Award, the Eureka! Gold Award, as well as Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and School Library Journal Best Books and VOYA Honor Book distinctions. You can find her at gailjarrow.com. View titles by Gail Jarrow
CHAPTER ONE 
 
A VISIT WITH GHOSTS 
 
“I there witnessed physical manifestations which demonstrated to me beyond all doubt that they were not produced by mortal hands.”—Judge J. W. Edmonds, 1853
 
The room feels spooky as soon as you walk in.

Heavy maroon curtains cover the windows. The carpet muffles your footsteps. You catch a whiff of incense. 
 
Your host invites you to sit with her at a round mahogany table along with eight other visitors. She tells everyone in the circle to join hands. 
 
The lights are turned off. You can see nothing. A bell jingles, first on one side of the room, then the other, and finally near your head. 
 
You hear knocks on the wooden table. Your host announces that the spirits have arrived. “Does anyone have a question for them?” she says. 
 
The man to your left asks whether his friend is happy in the spirit world. 
 
Two knocks.

“The spirits reply ‘yes,’” the host explains.

Several people in the circle inquire about a dead relative, their money troubles, or their love life. Each time, the ghosts answer with knocks. 
 
Tiny lights flicker above the table and dart around the room. A tambourine rattles in the blackness. 
 
Suddenly, the table rises, tilts to the side, then thuds back to the floor. The next moment, you feel your chair rise, too. For a few seconds, you’re floating. 
 
A glistening white hand appears a few feet away. You feel your hair being pulled. Something clammy touches your cheek. A chill runs down your spine. 
 
Above the table, a shining horn appears in the darkness. It turns toward the woman across from you, and an eerie voice comes from the trumpet. “Your daughter is with you,” it murmurs. The woman sobs. 
 
Then you notice a shimmery white form in a corner of the room. It’s the size and shape of a man, and he has a face. When the woman next to you screams, the figure instantly vanishes. 
Have you just seen a ghost? Have you heard a spirit talk?
 
Nearly 175 years ago, scientists, magicians, journalists, and detectives began investigating whether ghosts existed. Many people condemned them for asking the question. Others tried to keep the truth hidden. That didn’t stop the spirit sleuths. 
 
Their search for answers required quick wits, ingenuity, and pluck. What they discovered was shocking and surprising. But was it supernatural? 
 
This is their story.

Educator Guide for Spirit Sleuths

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

★ "A natural and riveting follow-up to Jarrow’s Spooked and The Amazing Harry Kellar, her previous books about debunking hoaxes and the supernatural. In concise, approachable chapters, the author details the origins of Spiritualism, its popularity and most well-known practitioners, and the sleuths who dedicated their lives to disproving the methods and beliefs that made it popular...The book’s emphasis on how these mediums and psychics used smoke and mirrors to swindle people serves as an excellent tool to teach young ­readers about the dangers of misinformation. The spacious white pages and photo-filled design add to the work’s readability...The 25 pages of back matter are a librarian’s dream and include an author’s note, timeline, glossary, index, source notes, further ­reading, and more. The indomitable Jarrow crafts another enthralling ­narrative of nonfiction that will mesmerize curious readers and serve as an exemplar for educators and ­researchers." —School Library Journal, starred review

"Jarrow's remarkable ability to transform meticulous research into a gripping narrative once again results in a nonfiction work that will transfix readers of all ages...Jarrow includes detailed insets throughout the book that explain how mediums performed their trickery and how the investigators uncovered the secrets. The book also includes reproductions of news headlines, photographs, and other ephemera from the corresponding time periods. For those craving more, extensive resources appear in the book's back matter. Jarrow continues to work magic in Spirit Sleuths, making certain that young readers can find history accessible, exciting, and surprising." —Shelf Awareness

"During the height of spiritualism from the 1840s to the 1920s, many so-called mediums fooled their audiences with illusions disproven by some of themost talented stage magicians, including Harry Houdini. But Jarrow’s exploration of what was proven to be fake is also conscious of the true hold spiritualism had on people who believed inthe great beyond, cementing the movement as a fascinating moment in cultural history, especially in the U.S. In this title, the wheels of Spiritualism are shown being sped by crowds and slowed by individuals, making for a page-turner of a spooky history book." —Booklist

"In this thoroughly researched study, [Jarrow] singles out two investigators in particular for their persistence: Harry Houdini, who made exposures of séance fakery a regular part of his stage act, and his protégé Rose Mackenberg, a tough-minded private detective and master of disguise who worked with victims and law enforcement to shut down spirit scams for decades after Houdini’s premature death...she [offers] insights into the clever techniques used by both hoaxers and hoax-busters, as well as a timely case study on the persistence of irrational belief in the face of logic and overwhelming negative evidence...Penetrating and provocative." —Kirkus Reviews

"A mesmerizing read that not only details the rise of spiritualism, and the role Houdini played in debunking it, but implores readers to rely on critical thinking skills to evade deception." —Publishers Weekly

About

The latest from acclaimed author Gail Jarrow reveals how magicians—including Harry Houdini and his team of investigators—exposed fake mediums who exploited the vulnerable and gullible in the early twentieth century.

After millions of people died during World War I and from the 1918 influenza pandemic, the popularity of Spiritualism soared. Desperate to communicate with their dead loved ones, the bereaved fell prey to extortion by fraudulent mediums and fortune-tellers. 

But magician Harry Houdini wasn't fooled. He recognized the scammers' methods as no more than conjurer's tricks. Angered by the way people were exploited, Houdini set out to expose the ghost hoaxes. In his stage show, he revealed the fraudsters’ techniques, and he used a team of undercover investigators to collect proof of séance deceptions. His head secret agent was a young New York private detective and disguise expert, Rose Mackenberg—a woman who continued her ghost-busting career for decades, long after Houdini's death in 1926.

Ideal for young readers and adults who are drawn to the worlds of psychics and magicians, this riveting book uncovers a little-known chapter in American history and details the ways people were (and still are) deceived by mediums and fortune-tellers.

Author

Gail Jarrow is the author of nonfiction books and novels for readers ages 8–18. Her nonfiction books have earned the Sibert Honor, the Orbis Pictus Honor, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, YALSA Finalist, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book, Outstanding Science Trade Book, a NSTA Best STEM book, the Jefferson Cup Award, the Eureka! Gold Award, as well as Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and School Library Journal Best Books and VOYA Honor Book distinctions. You can find her at gailjarrow.com. View titles by Gail Jarrow

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE 
 
A VISIT WITH GHOSTS 
 
“I there witnessed physical manifestations which demonstrated to me beyond all doubt that they were not produced by mortal hands.”—Judge J. W. Edmonds, 1853
 
The room feels spooky as soon as you walk in.

Heavy maroon curtains cover the windows. The carpet muffles your footsteps. You catch a whiff of incense. 
 
Your host invites you to sit with her at a round mahogany table along with eight other visitors. She tells everyone in the circle to join hands. 
 
The lights are turned off. You can see nothing. A bell jingles, first on one side of the room, then the other, and finally near your head. 
 
You hear knocks on the wooden table. Your host announces that the spirits have arrived. “Does anyone have a question for them?” she says. 
 
The man to your left asks whether his friend is happy in the spirit world. 
 
Two knocks.

“The spirits reply ‘yes,’” the host explains.

Several people in the circle inquire about a dead relative, their money troubles, or their love life. Each time, the ghosts answer with knocks. 
 
Tiny lights flicker above the table and dart around the room. A tambourine rattles in the blackness. 
 
Suddenly, the table rises, tilts to the side, then thuds back to the floor. The next moment, you feel your chair rise, too. For a few seconds, you’re floating. 
 
A glistening white hand appears a few feet away. You feel your hair being pulled. Something clammy touches your cheek. A chill runs down your spine. 
 
Above the table, a shining horn appears in the darkness. It turns toward the woman across from you, and an eerie voice comes from the trumpet. “Your daughter is with you,” it murmurs. The woman sobs. 
 
Then you notice a shimmery white form in a corner of the room. It’s the size and shape of a man, and he has a face. When the woman next to you screams, the figure instantly vanishes. 
Have you just seen a ghost? Have you heard a spirit talk?
 
Nearly 175 years ago, scientists, magicians, journalists, and detectives began investigating whether ghosts existed. Many people condemned them for asking the question. Others tried to keep the truth hidden. That didn’t stop the spirit sleuths. 
 
Their search for answers required quick wits, ingenuity, and pluck. What they discovered was shocking and surprising. But was it supernatural? 
 
This is their story.

Guides

Educator Guide for Spirit Sleuths

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Praise

★ "A natural and riveting follow-up to Jarrow’s Spooked and The Amazing Harry Kellar, her previous books about debunking hoaxes and the supernatural. In concise, approachable chapters, the author details the origins of Spiritualism, its popularity and most well-known practitioners, and the sleuths who dedicated their lives to disproving the methods and beliefs that made it popular...The book’s emphasis on how these mediums and psychics used smoke and mirrors to swindle people serves as an excellent tool to teach young ­readers about the dangers of misinformation. The spacious white pages and photo-filled design add to the work’s readability...The 25 pages of back matter are a librarian’s dream and include an author’s note, timeline, glossary, index, source notes, further ­reading, and more. The indomitable Jarrow crafts another enthralling ­narrative of nonfiction that will mesmerize curious readers and serve as an exemplar for educators and ­researchers." —School Library Journal, starred review

"Jarrow's remarkable ability to transform meticulous research into a gripping narrative once again results in a nonfiction work that will transfix readers of all ages...Jarrow includes detailed insets throughout the book that explain how mediums performed their trickery and how the investigators uncovered the secrets. The book also includes reproductions of news headlines, photographs, and other ephemera from the corresponding time periods. For those craving more, extensive resources appear in the book's back matter. Jarrow continues to work magic in Spirit Sleuths, making certain that young readers can find history accessible, exciting, and surprising." —Shelf Awareness

"During the height of spiritualism from the 1840s to the 1920s, many so-called mediums fooled their audiences with illusions disproven by some of themost talented stage magicians, including Harry Houdini. But Jarrow’s exploration of what was proven to be fake is also conscious of the true hold spiritualism had on people who believed inthe great beyond, cementing the movement as a fascinating moment in cultural history, especially in the U.S. In this title, the wheels of Spiritualism are shown being sped by crowds and slowed by individuals, making for a page-turner of a spooky history book." —Booklist

"In this thoroughly researched study, [Jarrow] singles out two investigators in particular for their persistence: Harry Houdini, who made exposures of séance fakery a regular part of his stage act, and his protégé Rose Mackenberg, a tough-minded private detective and master of disguise who worked with victims and law enforcement to shut down spirit scams for decades after Houdini’s premature death...she [offers] insights into the clever techniques used by both hoaxers and hoax-busters, as well as a timely case study on the persistence of irrational belief in the face of logic and overwhelming negative evidence...Penetrating and provocative." —Kirkus Reviews

"A mesmerizing read that not only details the rise of spiritualism, and the role Houdini played in debunking it, but implores readers to rely on critical thinking skills to evade deception." —Publishers Weekly

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