This week's episode highlights one of mankind's age-old battles: magicians vs. spiritualists. Spiritualists, fortune-tellers, tarot card readers, mind-readers claim to have super powers. Magicians, on the other hand, call bullsh*t, for they know how all the tricks work. 

The Fox Sisters: Leah, Kate and Maggie (left to right)

The Fox Sisters: Leah, Kate and Maggie (left to right)

The Spiritualist movement started in 1848 with the Fox sisters in Hydesville, New York. Little did the sisters know that they would be spawning an entire religious movement.

It began with the sisters inviting a neighbor over to witness a series of strange phenomena that they were hearing every evening. While the sisters sat on their bed, the mother of the girls, Margaret, commanded the room to answer with five signs ... and there were five distinct thuds. Then she asked for fifteen, and sure enough fifteen raps were heard. Last she posed, “If you are an injured spirit manifest it by three raps.” And lo and behold: rap, rap, rap. 

This set off an obsession with Medium-ism, mostly because Rochester, New York (my home town!) was an epicenter for new religions like Mormonism (founded in Wayne County). Kate and Maggie took their rapping acts on tour around the East Coast and Midwest, while Leah stayed in New York and conducted seances. 

Eventually, in 1888 Maggie Fox gave an interview in the New York World where she disclosed the tricks of the trade: “At night when we went to bed, we used to tie an apple on a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor." They also made use of their toes and knuckles to produce rapping sounds. But the most powerful tool was their audience's imaginations: “A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them. It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: ‘I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.’ Of course that was pure imagination.”

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And who knows these tricks better than magicians? Illusionists like John Nevil Maskelyne and Harry Houdini weren't having any of the spiritualist movement. They testified in court that spiritualists were frauds, preying on people's emotions. Here's a photo of Harry Houdini testifying before Congress in 1926 to have spiritualism banned from Washington D.C. And until recently, magician James Randi offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove existence of the supernatural.

In this week's episode the Deception group uses their skills of manipulation to convince a deadly arms dealer that there is order in the chaos, that there are auspicious signals in the noise. In addition to some fancy neural-linguistic programming, the team needs to pull off a switch of the villain's mahjong tiles bag. And for that, they make what we call a "hold out." A hold out is a gambling apparatus that can deliver cards into a player's hands. Here are a couple of photos. 


Our version required a pulley system that would lower one bag onto the table and pull up the other. To the left are some test videos that Francis and I put together. And to the right is a photo of me offering a little off-camera assistance.


Last, I leave you with a cool test video of Francis performing the "penny to clover to rabbit's foot" trick that Cameron performs in the archive. Jack Cutmore-Scott executed this brilliantly with no cheats!