Halloween is the day when the magical world collides with the mundane, where muggles and wizards intermingle as easily as breathing. But away from all the ghosts, witches, spooks and other creatures, magicians often use their skills for not-so-magical means. From investigating the paranormal to helping design special effects, magicians find ways to bring their power into the world every day of the year.
And some of those instances are just downright strange. Here’s some of our favorite ways that magic has had a profound effect on real life:
Houdini fights with spiritualists
Houdini’s connection with Halloween is terminal: He died in 1926 after sustaining an injury from a surprise punch to the stomach. But some have theorized that his death was more than an accident — it was murder.
The people who wanted to kill him were spiritualists — members of a movement that believed in helping the living speak with the dead. Houdini exposed the movement’s use of sleight of hand, special effects and trickery. His battle with the spiritualists, brilliantly detailed in “The Secret Life of Houdini” by Kalush and Sloman, was intense and even involved a feud with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — the creator of Sherlock Holmes and thus the most unlikely proponent of magical communication with spirits.
Magicians debunk con artists
Houdini isn’t the only magician who has called out con artists: When someone has used sleight of hand to claim actual magic powers, magicians such as Derren Brown, Penn & Teller and others have stepped in to set things straight.
None is more famous for this than James Randi, the magician who, after retiring at 60 as the Amazing Randi, started a new venture of investigating paranormal claims. He is most famous for a fight with mentalist Uri Geller, where Randi challenged his spoon-bending claims. The founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation has a standing $1 million challenge to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of paranormal, supernatural or occult powers.
Pepper’s Ghost adds spiritual spice
One of the most used special effects by theater, amusement and other performance professionals, Pepper’s Ghost has brought rappers back to life and allowed ghosts to haunt Disneyland. Basically, the apparatus allows objects to morph and disappear as if made from thin air.
Originally created by Henry Dircks in 1862, John Pepper improved the design remarkably in such a way where it could be used in theaters. Pepper’s first version was used to great effect in Dickens’ “The Haunted Man.”
Magic used to fight a war
There’s still much disagreement about how much Jasper Maskelyne was used by Allied forces fighting against Nazis in World War II — a story on Cracked.com starts out with the disclaimer, “Much of what follows might be complete b***s***.”
But there was definitely a fake army built to misdirect Axis forces to the Allies’ actual invasion of Egypt. The effort involved disguising tanks to look like trucks, making inflatable dummy tanks, manufacturing ammo dumps, construction sounds and dummy guns. Cracked wrote that the piece de resistance was a dummy water pipeline, which led to a successful Allies invasion on Oct. 23.