Posts Tagged ‘Harry Houdini’

The Church of Two Worlds

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the building that houses one of the more unusual churches in the city, The Church of Two Worlds.  The church was founded in 1936 by the Rev. H. Gordon Burroughs.  Initially the church met all over the city, holding services in hotel banquet rooms and, for a time, even at the French Embassy.  In 1960 it bought the building where it currently resides, which was built in 1906 as a Methodist church, and then was the home of the Bible Presbyterian Church of Washington.

But what makes the church different is not its building.  The building, located at 3038 Q Street (MAPin northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, has a tan brick exterior, stained glass windows, and large wooden doors that together give it the appearance of a typical local church.

What makes The Church of Two Worlds unusual is that it practices Spiritualism, whose philosophy holds to the doctrine that the spirit exists distinct from matter.  Now that may not be all that different from many other churches.  But where it begins to become unusual in comparison to most other churches is that one of Spiritualism’s goals is to prove the continuity of life by contacting the spirits of the dead, or “discarnate humans”, who they believe continue to maintain their individuality and personality after the change we know as death, and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living.

Further, adherents of Spiritualism, also known as Spiritists or adherents of Spiritism, believe the spirit world is not as a static place, but one in which spirits continue to evolve and advance beyond where they were in this world.  And because they believe that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans, they believe that spirits can provide followers with useful and practical knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as offer insights into the nature of God, whom they often refer to as Infinite Intelligence.

Other beliefs or practices of Spiritualism include belief in the power of their faith to cure diseases, healing with crystals or energy, and that healing can be helped by meditating on chakras.  They also believe in readings and past-life regressions, and that all reality is spiritual, not material.

On a lesser scale, The Church of Two Worlds is different from many other churches in that it’s members can sleep in on Sundays.  But they may have a scheduling conflict during football season.  They meet on Sundays, but not until 2:00pm , when activities begin with ministers conducting a healing service.  Then at 2:30 p.m. a teaching service begins, in which ministers provide information and topics such as communication with spirits, meditation, prayer, and mediumship.  A message service then begins, which includes the availability of mediums who give messages from spirits to anyone who wants one.  This is followed by food and fellowship in the church’s Fellowship Hall.

Some famous Spiritists include author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, magician Harry Houdini, and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.  So if for no other reason, it might be interesting to visit The Church of Two Worlds on a Sunday afternoon to get a glimpse inside the mind of Sherlock Holmes, learn some of Houdini’s tricks, or find out what Hippocrates thinks about modern medicine.

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The 10th Precinct Station House and Harry Houdini

From the outside, the 19th-century sandstone building at 750 Park Road (MAP), just off Georgia Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Park View neighborhood, appears to stand out for its architectural excellence and aesthetic beauty. Designed by the architectural firm of A.B. Mullett & Company and completed in 1905, there don’t appear to be any other buildings of similar style and quality in that area of the city.  But as interesting as I found the appearance of the building to be when I happened upon it on this lunchtime bike ride, it’s what happened in the building that gives it even more character.

The building was originally built as the 10th Precinct Station House for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).  And at the time touted by Police Chief Major Richard H. Sylvester as having some of the most modern and secure jail cells in the city.  In fact, Chief Sylvester had so much confidence in his newest jail cells that he invited escape artist Harry Houdini, who happened to be in town performing at Chase’s “Polite Vaudeville” theater for his first ever show in the nation’s capitol, and had been bragging about his escape skills, to come visit the 10th Precinct Station House and try one out.

With a reputation to uphold and welcoming the publicity, Houdini readily accepted the challenge.  And on New Year’s Day of 1906, he turned himself in to be incarcerated, albeit for an indeterminate amount of time, at the 10th Precinct.  Despite attempts to stymie his escape by changing the locks after Houdini had already examined the cell, locking him behind five separate locks, stripping him of his clothing and locking them up in an adjacent cell, and handcuffing him with handcuffs from the Secret Service rather than police handcuffs, Houdini walked out a free man less than twenty minutes later, fully clothed and smirking.

Although Chief Sylvester was surprised and disappointed to see Houdini escape, he could take some consolation in the fact that it was the 62nd jail cell from which Houdini had escaped.  But Chief Sylvester would become more concerned when Houdini went on later that same week to escape from an even-more secure cell in the Fifth Precinct jailhouse, as well as “the Guiteau cell” on Murderers’ Row at the United States Jail, which had formerly housed Charles J. Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James Garfield.  However, Chief Sylvester would learn from Houdini’s escapes, and make his jail cells even more secure in the future.  Houdini was not invited back to test the improved cells though.

Still standing today, the 10th Precinct Station House is listed on the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.  However, after a number of redistrictings and reorganizations over the years, it is now home to the MPD’s Fourth District Substation, serving the city’s Park View, Petworth, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.

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HoudiniJail01     Sylvester01     TenthPrecinctOfficers
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

Note:  After the three successful jail breaks in D.C.’s jails in January of 1906 helped solidify his reputation as the “Handcuff King and Prison Breaker”, Houdini frequently scheduled shows in D.C. during his tours.  Over time, and as his fame increased, he drew larger and larger crowds when he performed here.  Ten years after his escape from the cell in the 10th Precinct Station House, he performed an escape while hanging upside down in a straitjacket outside B.F. Keith’s Theater, which attracted a crowd of over 15,000 spectators.  At that time, it was the largest crowd in the national capitol city’s history aside from a Presidential inauguration.  And another ten years after that, Houdini came back again to testify before Congress on the subject of spiritualism and D.C.’s fortune-telling laws.