Saturday, April 06, 2019

Shadow of a Doubt - April 2019

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics

NCAS Public Lecture Series

Houdini and the Spiritualists
Presented by Ken Trombly

Saturday, April 6, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Connie Morella Library
7400 Arlington Road
Bethesda, MD [map] [directions]
(Bethesda Metro station)
FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members

Much of the life of Harry Houdini was intertwined with episodes and personalities involving spiritualism and its practitioners. In his early days, he sometimes blurred the line between conjuring and the spirit world.  During his meteoric career, many of his conjuring feats were ascribed by some to be aided by unseen forces.  But he was very much the face of skepticism in the USA regarding the spiritualism movement.  His friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle came to an end over the latter's belief in spiritualism.  He testified before a congressional committee in support of a bill to prohibit fortune telling in Washington, DC.  His work against fake mediums continued up until his death.

In this talk, Ken Trombly will share his thoughts concerning Houdini's relationship with spiritualism and its adherents, and will illustrate this fascinating story with original items from his collection of Houdini ephemera.

Ken Trombly, a lifelong magic enthusiast, has given presentations about the life of Houdini for a variety of groups. In the 1980's Ken began collecting original letters, photos and other ephemera dealing with Houdini's amazing career.  Pieces from Ken's collection have been displayed at the Jewish Museum in New York City, the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, and, most recently, as part of an exhibit on the life of Houdini at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, in Baltimore. Recently Ken was interviewed on a mini-series aired on the Science Channel entitled "Houdini’s Last Secrets."

A Boston native, Ken is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Magic Circle of London and the Magic Collectors Association. When he is not hunting down original Houdini artifacts and magic posters, he is a full time trial lawyer - another role that requires a heightened sense of skepticism.

NCAS SkepTour: Saturday, May 18
NCAS has arranged for a group tour of the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) in Silver Spring, Maryland on Saturday morning, May 18.

NMHM promotes the science and history of medicine, with an emphasis on tri-service American military medicine. The Museum offers visitors a unique perspective on health and medicine because it is one of the few places where the public can actually see the effects of disease on the human body. Additionally, it is one of the few places that disease can be seen with the instruments and equipment used to diagnose and/or treat the disease, with case histories of patients afflicted with the disease.

We will meet at the museum entrance at 10:00 am. A museum docent will take us on a 90 minute in-depth overview of the museum's permanent exhibits, including "Military Medicine: Challenges and Innovations," "Civil War Collections," "The Human Body: Anatomy and Pathology," and others.

Following the anatomy lessons, those wishing to feed a healthy stomach will meet for lunch at nearby Pacci's Trattoria (

Admission to the museum is free. You may be asked to show a government-issued photo ID at the front desk.

Location: 2500 Linden Lane, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Free parking is available.
The museum is about 1 mile from the Forest Glen Metro Station on the Red line.

RSVP: If planning to attend, please send a message to with your name and how many are attending with you.  Also include whether you need a lift from and to Forest Glen Metro – we'll arrange a free ride for you.

NCAS Board Elections: Electronic Voting
The upcoming 2019 NCAS election will use electronic voting.  When voting begins, each member will receive an email from NCAS (via containing a unique web address usable as a single-cast secret ballot.  (NCAS will receive information indicating who voted, but nothing to indicate who cast each ballot.)

Note that voters will not be at risk for spamming as a result of participating...SurveyMonkey has a zero-tolerance spam policy:

Donate Skeptical Books/DVDs to a Prison Library
A Wyoming prison inmate recently wrote to NCAS (and presumably other skeptics groups) to request               science/skeptics books/DVDs for donation to his prison's library.  A librarian confirmed the details: the books must be softcover only, and can only be donated by an organization, not by an individual.  If you'd like to participate, bring a new or used DVD or softcover book to an NCAS event, or mail NCAS a check to cover the cost of a new book or DVD.  We'll collect donations at the April 6 lecture and ship the items to the prison library.  Some of the prisoners have low reading levels, so having some science/skeptics books aimed at younger readers could be appropriate.

Science Talks at Balticon 53
Balticon 53, the Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (May 24-27, 2019 at The Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel) will include talks on various science topics.  Speakers will include past NCAS lecturers Eric Cline and Thomas Holtz.  Registration details are at

AmazonSmile: Thanks to our members who are supporting NCAS!
When shopping at, you'll find the same low prices, vast selection, and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that a portion of the purchase price (0.5%) goes to NCAS! It's simple and automatic, and it doesn't cost you anything!

AmazonSmile's disbursements to NCAS came to $53.11 during the fourth quarter of 2018, including the October 29th through November 2nd interval when AmazonSmile increased its donation rate to 5%.  (As an example of how NCAS can put that money to good use, it's more than enough to cover two hours of a Montgomery County lecture room rental.)

Thanks again to our members who have chosen to support NCAS!

For more information:

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