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The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism

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« on: September 15, 2018, 09:09:27 pm »

Archaeology U.S. History World History Video Newsletter
The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism
Their seances with the departed launched a mass religious movement—and then one of them confessed that “it was common delusion”
By Karen Abbott
October 30, 2012

Archaeology U.S. History World History Video Newsletter
The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism
Their seances with the departed launched a mass religious movement—and then one of them confessed that “it was common delusion”
By Karen Abbott
October 30, 2012

The Fox sisters, from left to right: Leah, Kate and Maggie.
From “Radical Spirits.”

One of the greatest religious movements of the 19th century began in the bedroom of two young girls living in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York. On a late March day in 1848, Margaretta “Maggie” Fox, 14, and Kate, her 11-year-old sister, waylaid a neighbor, eager to share an odd and frightening phenomenon. Every night around bedtime, they said, they heard a series of raps on the walls and furniture—raps that seemed to manifest with a peculiar, otherworldly intelligence. The neighbor, skeptical, came to see for herself, joining the girls in the small chamber they shared with their parents. While Maggie and Kate huddled together on their bed, their mother, Margaret, began the demonstration.

“Now count five,” she ordered, and the room shook with the sound of five heavy thuds.

“Count fifteen,” she commanded, and the mysterious presence obeyed. Next, she asked it to tell the neighbor’s age; thirty-three distinct raps followed.
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« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2018, 09:11:10 pm »

“If you are an injured spirit,” she continued, “manifest it by three raps.”

And it did.

Margaret Fox did not seem to consider the date, March 31—April Fool’s Eve—and the possibility that her daughters were frightened not by an unseen presence but by the expected success of their prank.

The Fox family deserted the house and sent Maggie and Kate to live with their older sister, Leah Fox Fish, in Rochester. The story might have died there were it not for the fact that Rochester was a hotbed for reform and religious activity; the same vicinity, the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gave birth to both Mormonism and Millerism, the precursor to Seventh Day Adventism. Community leaders Isaac and Amy Post were intrigued by the Fox sisters’ story, and by the subsequent rumor that the spirit likely belonged to a peddler who had been murdered in the farmhouse five years beforehand. A group of Rochester residents examined the cellar of the Fox’s home, uncovering strands of hair and what appeared to be bone fragments.

The Posts invited the girls to a gathering at their home, anxious to see if they could communicate with spirits in another locale. “I suppose I went with as much unbelief as Thomas felt when he was introduced to Jesus after he had ascended,” Isaac Post wrote, but he was swayed by “very distinct thumps under the floor… and several apparent answers.” He was further convinced when Leah Fox also proved to be a medium, communicating with the Posts’ recently deceased daughter. The Posts rented the largest hall in Rochester, and four hundred people came to hear the mysterious noises. Afterward Amy Post accompanied the sisters to a private chamber, where they disrobed and were examined by a committee of skeptics, who found no evidence of a hoax.
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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2018, 09:12:37 pm »

Archaeology U.S. History World History Video Newsletter
The Fox Sisters and the Rap on Spiritualism
Their seances with the departed launched a mass religious movement—and then one of them confessed that “it was common delusion”
By Karen Abbott
October 30, 2012

The Fox sisters, from left to right: Leah, Kate and Maggie.
From “Radical Spirits.”

One of the greatest religious movements of the 19th century began in the bedroom of two young girls living in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York. On a late March day in 1848, Margaretta “Maggie” Fox, 14, and Kate, her 11-year-old sister, waylaid a neighbor, eager to share an odd and frightening phenomenon. Every night around bedtime, they said, they heard a series of raps on the walls and furniture—raps that seemed to manifest with a peculiar, otherworldly intelligence. The neighbor, skeptical, came to see for herself, joining the girls in the small chamber they shared with their parents. While Maggie and Kate huddled together on their bed, their mother, Margaret, began the demonstration.

“Now count five,” she ordered, and the room shook with the sound of five heavy thuds.

“Count fifteen,” she commanded, and the mysterious presence obeyed. Next, she asked it to tell the neighbor’s age; thirty-three distinct raps followed.

“If you are an injured spirit,” she continued, “manifest it by three raps.”

And it did.

Margaret Fox did not seem to consider the date, March 31—April Fool’s Eve—and the possibility that her daughters were frightened not by an unseen presence but by the expected success of their prank.

The Fox family deserted the house and sent Maggie and Kate to live with their older sister, Leah Fox Fish, in Rochester. The story might have died there were it not for the fact that Rochester was a hotbed for reform and religious activity; the same vicinity, the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gave birth to both Mormonism and Millerism, the precursor to Seventh Day Adventism. Community leaders Isaac and Amy Post were intrigued by the Fox sisters’ story, and by the subsequent rumor that the spirit likely belonged to a peddler who had been murdered in the farmhouse five years beforehand. A group of Rochester residents examined the cellar of the Fox’s home, uncovering strands of hair and what appeared to be bone fragments.

The Posts invited the girls to a gathering at their home, anxious to see if they could communicate with spirits in another locale. “I suppose I went with as much unbelief as Thomas felt when he was introduced to Jesus after he had ascended,” Isaac Post wrote, but he was swayed by “very distinct thumps under the floor… and several apparent answers.” He was further convinced when Leah Fox also proved to be a medium, communicating with the Posts’ recently deceased daughter. The Posts rented the largest hall in Rochester, and four hundred people came to hear the mysterious noises. Afterward Amy Post accompanied the sisters to a private chamber, where they disrobed and were examined by a committee of skeptics, who found no evidence of a hoax.

The Fox sisters’ home, Hydesville, New York. From “Hudson Valley Halloween Magazine.”

The idea that one could communicate with spirits was hardly new—the Bible contains hundreds of references to angels administering to man—but the movement known as Modern Spiritualism sprang from several distinct revolutionary philosophies and characters. The ideas and practices of Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th-century Australian healer, had spread to the United States and by the 1840s held the country in thrall. Mesmer proposed that everything in the universe, including the human body, was governed by a “magnetic fluid” that could become imbalanced, causing illness. By waving his hands over a patient’s body, he induced a “mesmerized” hypnotic state that allowed him to manipulate the magnetic force and restore health. Amateur mesmerists became a popular attraction at parties and in parlors, a few proving skillful enough to attract paying customers. Some who awakened from a mesmeric trance claimed to have experienced visions of spirits from another dimension.

At the same time the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th-century Swedish philosopher and mystic, also surged in popularity. Swedenborg described an afterlife consisting of three heavens, three hells and an interim destination—the world of the spirits—where everyone went immediately upon dying, and which was more or less similar to what they were accustomed to on earth. Self love drove one toward the varying degrees of hell; love for others elevated one to the heavens. “The Lord casts no one into hell,” he wrote, “but those who are there have deliberately cast themselves into it, and keep themselves there.” He claimed to have seen and talked with spirits on all of the planes.

Seventy-five years later, the 19th-century American seer Andrew Jackson Davis, who would become known as the “John the Baptist of Modern Spiritualism,” combined these two ideologies, claiming that Swedenborg’s spirit spoke to him during a series of mesmeric trances. Davis recorded the content of these messages and in 1847 published them in a voluminous tome titled The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind. “It is a truth,” he asserted, predicting the rise of Spiritualism, “that spirits commune with one another while one is in the body and the other in the higher spheres…all the world will hail with delight the ushering in of that era when the interiors of men will be opened, and the spiritual communication will be established.” Davis believed his prediction materialized a year later, on the very day the Fox sisters first channeled spirits in their bedroom. “About daylight this morning,” he confided to his diary, “a warm breathing passed over my face and I heard a voice, tender and strong, saying ‘Brother, the good work has begun—behold, a living demonstration is born.’”
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« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2018, 09:13:43 pm »

Upon hearing of the Rochester incident, Davis invited the Fox sisters to his home in New York City to witness their medium capabilities for himself. Joining his cause with the sisters’ ghostly manifestations elevated his stature from obscure prophet to recognized leader of a mass movement, one that appealed to increasing numbers of Americans inclined to reject the gloomy Calvinistic doctrine of predestination and embrace the reform-minded optimism of the mid-19th century. Unlike their Christian contemporaries, Americans who adopted Spiritualism believed they had a hand in their own salvation, and direct communication with those who had passed offered insight into the ultimate fate of their own souls.

Maggie, Kate, and Leah Fox embarked on a professional tour to spread word of the spirits, booking a suite, fittingly, at Barnum’s Hotel on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane, an establishment owned by a cousin of the famed showman. An editorial in the Scientific American scoffed at their arrival, calling the girls the “Spiritual Knockers from Rochester.” They conducted their sessions in the hotel’s parlor, inviting as many as thirty attendees to gather around a large table at the hours of 10 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., taking an occasional private meeting in between. Admission was one dollar, and visitors included preeminent members of New York Society: Horace Greeley, the iconoclastic and influential editor of the New York Tribune; James Fenimore Cooper; editor and poet William Cullen Bryant, and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who witnessed a session in which the spirits rapped in time to a popular song and spelled out a message: “Spiritualism will work miracles in the cause of reform.”

Leah stayed in New York, entertaining callers in a séance room, while Kate and Maggie took the show to other cities, among them Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, where one visitor, explorer Elisha Kent Kane, succumbed to Maggie’s charms even as he deemed her a fraud—although he couldn’t prove how the sounds were made. “After a whole month’s trial I could make nothing of them,” he confessed. “Therefore they are a great mystery.” He courted Maggie, thirteen years his junior, and encouraged her to give up her “life of dreary sameness and suspected deceit.” She acquiesced, retiring to attend school at Kane’s behest and expense, and married him shortly before his untimely death in 1857. To honor his memory she converted to Catholicism, as Kane—a Presbyterian—had always encouraged. (He seemed to think the faith’s ornate iconography and sense of mystery would appeal to her.) In mourning, she began drinking heavily and vowed to keep her promise to Kane to “wholly and forever abandon Spiritualism.”

Kate, meanwhile, married a devout Spiritualist and continued to develop her medium powers, translating spirit messages in astonishing and unprecedented ways: communicating two messages simultaneously, writing one while speaking the other; transcribing messages in reverse script; utilizing blank cards upon which words seemed to spontaneously appear. During sessions with a wealthy banker, Charles Livermore, she summoned both the man’s deceased wife and the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, who announced his identity by writing his name on a card. Her business boomed during and after the Civil War, as increasing numbers of the bereaved found solace in Spiritualism. Prominent Spiritualist Emma Hardinge wrote that the war added two million new believers to the movement, and by the 1880s there were an estimated eight million Spiritualists in the United States and Europe. These new practitioners, seduced by the flamboyance of the Gilded Age, expected miracles—like Kate’s summoning of full-fledged apparitions—at every séance. It was wearying, both to the movement and to Kate herself, and she, too, began to drink.

On October 21, 1888, the New York World published an interview with Maggie Fox in anticipation of her appearance that evening at the New York Academy of Music, where she would publicly denounce Spiritualism. She was paid $1,500 for the exclusive. Her main motivation, however, was rage at her sister Leah and other leading Spiritualists, who had publicly chastised Kate for her drinking and accused her of being unable to care for her two young children. Kate planned to be in the audience when Maggie gave her speech, lending her tacit support.

“My sister Katie and myself were very young children when this horrible deception began,” Maggie said. “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, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound.” The sisters graduated from apple dropping to manipulating their knuckles, joints and toes to make rapping sounds. “A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them,” she explained. “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.”

She offered a demonstration, removing her shoe and placing her right foot upon a wooden stool. The room fell silent and still, and was rewarded with a number of short little raps. “There stood a black-robed, sharp-faced widow,” the New York Herald reported, “working her big toe and solemnly declaring that it was in this way she created the excitement that has driven so many persons to suicide or insanity. One moment it was ludicrous, the next it was weird.” Maggie insisted that her sister Leah knew that the rappings were fake all along and greedily exploited her younger sisters. Before exiting the stage she thanked God that she was able to expose Spiritualism.

The mainstream press called the incident “a death blow” to the movement, and Spiritualists quickly took sides. Shortly after Maggie’s confession the spirit of Samuel B. Brittan, former publisher of the Spiritual Telegraph, appeared during a séance to offer a sympathetic opinion. Although Maggie was an authentic medium, he acknowledged, “the band of spirits attending during the early part of her career” had been usurped by “other unseen intelligences, who are not scrupulous in their dealings with humanity.” Other (living) Spiritualists charged that Maggie’s change of heart was wholly mercenary; since she had failed to make a living as a medium, she sought to profit by becoming one of Spiritualism’s fiercest critics.

Whatever her motive, Maggie recanted her confession one year later, insisting that her spirit guides had beseeched her to do so. Her reversal prompted more disgust from devoted Spiritualists, many of whom failed to recognize her at a subsequent debate at the Manhattan Liberal Club. There, under the pseudonym Mrs. Spencer, Maggie revealed several tricks of the profession, including the way mediums wrote messages on blank slates by using their teeth or feet. She never reconciled with sister Leah, who died in 1890. Kate died two years later while on a drinking spree. Maggie passed away eight months later, in March 1893. That year Spiritualists formed the National Spiritualist Association, which today is known as the National Spiritualist Association of Churches.

The séance table. From “Radical Spirits.”

In 1904, schoolchildren playing in the sisters’ childhood home in Hydesville—known locally as “the spook house”—discovered the majority of a skeleton between the earth and crumbling cedar walls. A doctor was consulted, who estimated that the bones were about fifty years old, giving credence to the sisters’ tale of spiritual messages from a murdered peddler. But not everyone was convinced. The New York Times reported that the bones had created “a stir amusingly disproportioned to any necessary significance of the discovery,” and suggested that the sisters had merely been clever enough to exploit a local mystery. Even if the bones were that of the murdered peddler, the Times concluded, “there will still remain that dreadful confession about the clicking joints, which reduces the whole case to a farce.”

Five years later, another doctor examined the skeleton and determined that it was made up of “only a few ribs with odds and ends of bones and among them a superabundance of some and a deficiency of others. Among them also were some chicken bones.” He also reported a rumor that a man living near the spook house had planted the bones as a practical joke, but was much too ashamed to come clean.


Books: Barbara Weisberg, Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rose of Spiritualism. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004; Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America. Boston: Beacon University Press, 1989; Nancy Rubin Stuart, The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox. Orlando, Fl: Harcourt, 2005; Reuben Briggs Davenport, The Death-Blow to Spiritualism. New York: G.W. Dillingham, 1888; Andrew Jackson Davis, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind. New York: S.S. Lyon and William Fishbough, 1847.

Articles: “The Origin of Spiritualism.” Springfield Republican, June 20, 1899; “Gotham Gossip. Margaretta Fox Kane’s Threatened Exposure of Spiritualism.” New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 7, 1888; “Fox Sisters to Expose Spiritualism.” New York Herald Tribune, October 17, 1888; “The Rochester Rappings.” Macon Telegraph, May 22, 1886; “Spiritualism Exposed.” Wheeling (WVa) Register, October 22, 1888; “Spiritualism in America.” New Orleans Times- Picayune, April 21, 1892; “Spiritualism’s Downfall.” New York Herald, October 22, 1888; “Find Skeleton in Home of the Fox Sisters.” Salt Lake Telegram, November 28, 1904; Joe Nickell, “A Skeleton’s Tale: The Origins of Modern Spiritualism”:
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« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2018, 09:16:32 pm »

The Career of the Fox Sisters
"The History of Spiritualism"
Volume I, Chapter 5
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


For the sake of continuity the subsequent history of the Fox sisters will now be given after the events at Hydesville. It is a remarkable, and to Spiritualists a painful, story, but it bears its own lesson and should be faithfully recorded. When men have an honest and whole-hearted aspiration for truth there is no development which can ever leave them abashed or find no place in their scheme.

For some years the two younger sisters, Kate and Margaret, gave seances at New York and other places, successfully meeting every test which was applied to them. Horace Greeley, afterwards a candidate for the United States presidency, was, as already shown, deeply interested in them and convinced of their entire honesty. He is said to have furnished the funds by which the younger girl completed her very imperfect education.

During these years of public mediumship, when the girls were all the rage among those who had no conception of the religious significance of this new revelation, and who concerned themselves with it purely in the hope of worldly advantage, the sisters exposed themselves to the enervating influences of promiscuous seances in a way which no earnest Spiritualist could justify. The dangers of such practices were not then so clearly realized as now, nor had it occurred to people that it is unlikely that high spirits would descend to earth in order to advise as to the state of railway stocks or the issue of love affairs. The ignorance was universal, and there was no wise mentor at the elbow of these poor pioneers to point the higher and the safer path. Worst of all, their jaded energies were renewed by the offer of wine at a time when one at least of them was hardly more than a child. It is said that there was some family predisposition towards alcoholism, but even without such a taint their whole procedure and mode of life were rash to the last degree. Against their moral character there has never been a breath of suspicion, but they had taken a road which leads to degeneration of mind and character, though it was many years before the more serious effects were manifest.

Some idea of the pressure upon the Fox girls at this time may be gathered from Mrs. Hardinge Britten's description from her own observation. She talks of "pausing on the first floor to hear poor patient Kate Fox, in the midst of a captious, grumbling crowd of investigators, repeating hour after hour the letters of the alphabet, while the no less poor, patient spirits rapped out names, ages and dates to suit all comers." Can one wonder that the girls, with vitality sapped, the beautiful, watchful influence of the mother removed, and harassed by enemies, succumbed to a gradually increasing temptation in the direction of stimulants?

A remarkably clear light is thrown upon Margaret at this period in that curious booklet, "The Love Letters of Dr. Elisha Kane." It was in 1852 that Dr. Kane, afterwards the famous Arctic explorer, met Margaret Fox, who was a beautiful and attractive girl. To her Kane wrote those love letters which record one of the most curious courtships in literature. Elisha Kane, as his first name might imply, was a man of Puritan extraction, and Puritans, with their belief that the Bible represents the absolutely final word in spiritual inspiration and that they understand what that last word means, are instinctively antagonistic to a new cult which professes to show that new sources and new interpretations are still available.

He was also a doctor of medicine, and the medical profession is at the same time the most noble and the most cynically incredulous in the world. From the first Kane made up his mind that the young girl was involved in fraud, and formed the theory that her elder sister Leah was, for purposes of gain, exploiting the fraud. The fact that Leah shortly afterwards married a wealthy man named Underhill, a Wall Street insurance magnate, does not appear to have modified Kane's views as to her greed for illicit earnings. The doctor formed a close friendship with Margaret, put her under his own aunt for purposes of education whilst he was away in the Arctic, and finally married her under the curious Gretna Green kind of marriage law which seems to have prevailed at the time. Shortly afterwards he died (in 1857), and the widow, now calling herself Mrs. Fox-Kane, forswore all phenomena for a time, and was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

In these letters Kane continually reproaches Margaret with living in deceit and hypocrisy. We have very few of her letters, so that we do not know how far she defended herself. The compiler of the book, though a non-Spiritualist, says: "Poor girl, with her simplicity, ingenuousness and timidity, she could not, had she been so inclined, have practised the slightest deception with any chance of success." This testimony is valuable, as the writer was clearly intimately acquainted with everyone concerned. Kane himself, writing to the younger sister Kate, says: "Take my advice and never talk of the spirits either to friends or strangers. You know that with all my intimacy with Maggie after a whole month's trial I could make nothing of them. Therefore they are a great mystery."

Considering their close relations, and that Margaret clearly gave Kane every demonstration of her powers, it is inconceivable that a trained medical man would have to admit after a month that he could make nothing of it, if it were indeed a mere cracking of a joint. One can find no evidence for fraud in these letters, but one does find ample proof that these two young girls, Margaret and Kate, had not the least idea of the religious implications involved in these powers, or of the grave responsibilities of mediumship, and that they misused their gift in the direction of giving worldly advice, receiving promiscuous sitters, and answering comic or frivolous questions. If in such circumstances both their powers and their character were to deteriorate, it would not surprise any experienced Spiritualist. They deserved no better, though their age and ignorance furnished an excuse.

To realize their position one has to remember that they were little more than children, poorly educated, and quite ignorant of the philosophy of the subject. When a man like Dr. Kane assured Margaret that it was very wrong, he was only saying what was dinned into her ears from every quarter, including half the pulpits of New York. Probably she had an uneasy feeling that it was wrong, without in the least knowing why, and this may account for the fact that she does not seem to remonstrate with him for his suspicions. Indeed, we may admit that AU FOND Kane was right, and that the proceedings were in some ways unjustifiable. At that time they were very unvenal themselves, and had they used their gift, as D. D. Home used his, with no relation to worldly things, and for the purpose only of proving immortality and consoling the afflicted, then, indeed, they would have been above criticism. He was wrong in doubting their gift, but right in looking askance at some examples of their use of it.

In some ways Kane's position is hopelessly illogical. He was on most intimate and affectionate terms with the mother and the two girls, although if words have any meaning he thought them to be swindlers living on the credulity of the public. "Kiss Katie for me," he says, and he continually sends love to the mother. Already, young as they were, he had a glimpse of the alcoholic danger to which they were exposed by late hours and promiscuous company. "Tell Katie to drink no champagne, and do you follow the same advice," said he. It was sound counsel, and it would have been well for themselves and for the movement if they had both followed it; but again we must remember their inexperienced youth and the constant temptations.

Kane was a curious blend of the hero and the prig. Spirit-rapping, unfortified by any of the religious or scientific sanctions which came later, was a low-down thing, a superstition of the illiterate, and was he, a man of repute, to marry a spirit-rapper? He vacillated over it in an extraordinary way, beginning a letter with claims to be her brother, and ending by reminding her of the warmth of his kisses. "Now that you have given me your heart, I will be a brother to you," he says. He had a vein of real superstition running through him which was far below the credulity which he ascribed to others. He frequently alludes to the fact that by raising his right hand he had powers of divination and that he had learned it "from a conjurer in the Indies." Occasionally he is a snob as well as a prig. "At the very dinner-table of the President I thought of you"; and again: "You could never lift yourself up to my thoughts and my objects. I could never bring myself down to yours." As a matter of fact, the few extracts given from her letters show an intelligent and sympathetic mind. On at least one occasion we find Kane suggesting deceit to her, and she combating the idea.

There are four fixed points which can be established by the letters:

1. That Kane thought in a vague way that there was trickery; 2. That in the years of their close intimacy she never admitted it; 3. That he could not even suggest in what the trickery lay; 4. That she did use her powers in a way which serious Spiritualists would deplore.

She really knew no more of the nature of these forces than those around her did. The editor says: "She had always averred that she never fully believed the rappings to be the work of spirits, but imagined some occult laws of nature were concerned." This was her attitude later in life, for on her professional card she printed that people must judge the nature of the powers for themselves.

It is natural that those who speak of the danger of mediumship, and especially of physical mediumship, should point to the Fox sisters as an example. But their case must not be exaggerated. In the year 1871, after more than twenty years of this exhausting work, we find them still receiving the enthusiastic support and admiration of many leading men and women of the day. It was only after forty years of public service that adverse conditions were manifested in their lives, and therefore, without in any way glossing over what is evil, we can fairly claim that their record hardly justifies those who allude to mediumship as a soul-destroying profession.

It was in this year 1871 that Kate Fox's visit to England was brought about through the generosity of Mr. Charles F. Livermore, a prominent banker of New York, in gratitude for the consolation he had received from her wonderful powers, and to advance the cause of Spiritualism. He provided for all her needs, and thus removed any necessity for her to give professional sittings. He also arranged for her to be accompanied by a congenial woman companion.

In a letter [The Spiritual Magazine, 1871, pp. 525-6.] to Mr. Benjamin Coleman, a well-known worker in the Spiritualist movement, Mr. Livermore says:

Miss Fox, taken all in all, is no doubt the most wonderful living medium. Her character is irreproachable and pure. I have received so much through her powers of mediumship during the past ten years which is solacing, instructive and astounding, that I feel greatly indebted to her, and desire to have her taken good care of while absent from her home and friends.

His further remarks have some bearing possibly on the later sad events of her life:

That you may the more thoroughly understand her idiosyncrasies, permit me to explain that she is a sensitive of the highest order and of childlike simplicity; she feels keenly the atmospheres of everyone with whom she is brought in contact, and to that degree that at times she becomes exceedingly nervous and apparently capricious.

For this reason I have advised her not to sit in dark seances, that she may avoid the irritation arising from the suspicion of sceptics, mere curiosity-mongers, and lovers of the marvellous.

The perfection of the manifestations to be obtained through her depends upon her surroundings, and in proportion as she is in rapport or sympathy with you does she seem receptive of spiritual power. The communications through her are very remarkable, and have come to me frequently from my wife (Estelle), in perfect idiomatic French, and sometimes in Spanish and Italian, whilst she herself is not acquainted with any of these languages. You will understand all this, but these explanations may be necessary for others. As I have said, SHE WILL NOT GIVE SEANCES AS A PROFESSIONAL MEDIUM, but I hope she will do all the good she can in furtherance of the great truth, in a quiet way, while she remains in England.

Mr. Coleman, who had a sitting with her in New York, says that he received one of the most striking evidences of spirit identity that had ever occurred to him in his experience of seventeen years. Mr. Cromwell F. Varley, the electrician who laid the Atlantic cable, in his evidence before the London Dialectical Society in 1869, spoke of interesting electrical experiments he made with this medium.

The visit of Kate Fox to England was evidently regarded as a mission, for we find Mr. Coleman advising her to choose only those sitters who are not afraid to have their names published in confirmation of the facts they have witnessed. This course seems to have been adopted to some extent, for there is preserved a fair amount of testimony to her powers from, among others, Professor William Crookes, Mr. S. C. Hall, Mr. W. H. Harrison (editor of THE SPIRITUALIST), Miss Rosamund Dale Owen (who afterwards married Laurence Oliphant), and the Rev. John Page Hopps.

The new-comer began to hold sittings soon after her arrival. At one of the first of these, on November 24, 1871, a representative of THE TIMES was present, and he published a detailed account of the seance, which was held jointly with D. D. Home, a close friend of the medium. This appeared in an article entitled "Spiritualism and Science," occupying three and a half columns of leading type. THE TIMES Commissioner speaks of Miss Fox taking him to the door of the room and inviting him to stand by her and to hold her hands, which he did, "when loud thumps seemed to come from the panels, as if done with the fist. These were repeated at our request any number of times." He mentioned that he tried every test that he could think of, that Miss Fox and Mr. Home gave every opportunity for examination, and that their feet and hands were held.

In the course of a leading article on the above report and the correspondence that came from it, THE TIMES (January 6, 1873) declared that there was no case for scientific inquiry:

Many sensible readers, we fear, will think we owe them an apology for opening our columns to a controversy on such a subject as Spiritualism and thus treating as an open or debatable question what should rather be dismissed at once as either an imposture or a delusion. But even an imposture may call for unmasking, and popular delusions however-absurd, are often too important to be neglected by the wiser portion of mankind. Is there, in reality, anything, as lawyers would say, to go to a jury with? Well, on the one hand, we have abundance of alleged experience which can hardly be called evidence, and a few depositions of a more notable and impressive character. On the other hand, we have many accounts of convicted impostors, and many authentic reports of precisely such disappointments or discoveries as we should be led to expect.

On December 14, 1872, Miss Fox married Mr. H. D. Jencken, a London barrister-at-law, author of "A Compendium of Modern Roman Law," etc., and honorary general secretary of the Association for the Reform and Codification of the Law of Nations. He was one of the earliest Spiritualists in England.

The Spiritualist, in its account of the ceremony, says that the spirit people took part in the proceedings, for at the wedding breakfast loud raps were heard coming from various parts of the room, and the large table on which stood the wedding-cake was repeatedly raised from the floor.

A contemporary witness states that Mrs. Kate Fox-Jencken (as she came to be known) and her husband were to be met in the early 'seventies in good social circles in London. Her services were eagerly sought after by investigators.

John Page Hopps describes her at this time as "a small, thin, very intelligent, but rather simpering little woman, with nice, gentle manners and a quiet enjoyment of her experiments which entirely saved her from the slightest touch of self-importance or affectation of mystery."

Her mediumship consisted chiefly of raps (often of great power), spirit lights, direct writing, and the appearance of materialized hands. Full form materializations, which had been an occasional feature of her sittings in America, were rare with her in England. On a number of occasions objects in the seance-room were moved by spirit agency, and in some cases brought from another room.

It was about this time that Professor William Crookes conducted his inquiries into the medium's powers, and issued that whole-hearted report which is dealt with later when Crookes's early connexion with Spiritualism comes to be discussed. These careful observations show that the rappings constituted only a small part of Kate Fox's psychic powers, and that if they could be adequately explained by normal means they would still leave us amid mysteries. Thus Crookes recounts how, when the only people present besides himself and Miss Fox were his wife and a lady relative "I was holding the medium's two hands in one of mine, while her feet were resting on my feet. Paper was on the table before us, and my disengaged hand was holding a pencil.

"A luminous hand came down from the upper part of the room, and after hovering near me for a few seconds, took the pencil from my hand, rapidly wrote on a sheet of paper, threw the pencil down, and then rose over our heads, gradually fading into darkness.

Many other observers describe similar phenomena with this medium on various occasions.

A very extraordinary phase of Mrs. Fox-Jensen's mediumship was the production of luminous substances. In the presence of Mrs. Makdougall Gregory, Mr. W. H. Harrison, the editor of a London newspaper, and others, a hand appeared carrying some phosphorescent material, about four inches square, with which the floor was struck and a sitter's face touched. The light proved to be cold. Miss Rosamund Dale Owen, in her account of this phenomenon, describes the objects as "illumined crystals," and says that she has seen no materialization which gave so realistic a feeling of spirit nearness as did these graceful lights. The author can also corroborate the fact that these lights are usually cold, as on one occasion, with another medium, such a light settled for some seconds upon his face. Miss Owen also speaks of books and small ornaments being carried about, and a heavy musical box, weighing about twenty-five pounds, being brought from a side-table. A peculiarity of this instrument was that it had been out of order for months and could not be used until the unseen forces repaired it and wound it themselves.

Mrs. Jencken's mediumship was interwoven in the texture of her daily life. Professor Butlerof says that when he paid a morning social call on her and her husband in company with M. Aksakof he heard raps upon the floor. Spending an evening at the Jenckens' house, he reports that raps were numerous during tea. Miss Rosamund Dale Owen also refers to the incident of the medium standing in the street at a shop window with two ladies, when raps joined in the conversation, the pavement vibrating under their feet. The raps are described as having been loud enough to attract the attention of passers by. Mr. Jencken relates many cases of spontaneous phenomena in their home life.

A volume could be filled with details of the seances of this medium, but with the exception of one further record we must be content with agreeing with the dictum of Professor Butlerof, of the University of St. Petersburg, who, after investigating her powers in London, wrote in THE SPIRITUALIST (February 4, 1876):

From all that I was able to observe in the presence of Mrs. Jencken, I am forced to come to the conclusion that the phenomena peculiar to that medium are of a strongly objective and convincing nature, and they would, I think, be sufficient for the most pronounced but HONEST sceptic to cause him to reject ventriloquism, muscular action, and every such artificial explanation of the phenomena.

Mr. H. D. Jencken died in 1881, and his widow was left with two sons. These children showed wonderful mediumship at a very early age, particulars of which will be found in contemporary records.

Mr. S. C. Hall, a well-known literary man and a.prominent Spiritualist, describes a sitting at his house in Kensington on his birthday, May 9, 1882, at which his deceased wife manifested her presence:

Many interesting and touching messages were conveyed to me by the usual writing of Mrs. Jencken. We were directed to put out the light. Then commenced a series of manifestations such as I have not often seen equalled, and very seldom surpassed. I removed a small handbell from the table and held it in my own hand. I felt a hand take it from me, when it was rung in all parts of the room during at least five minutes. I then placed an accordion under the table, whence it was removed, and at a distance of three or four feet from the table round which we were seated, tunes were played. The accordion was played and the bell was rung in several parts of the room, while two candles were lit on the table. It was not, therefore, what is termed a dark sitting, although occasionally the lights were put out. During all the time Mr. Stack held one of the hands of Mrs. Jencken and I held the other-each frequently saying, "I have Mrs. Jencken's hand in mine."

About fifty flowers of heartsease were placed on a sheet of paper before me. I had received some heartsease flowers from a friend in the morning, but the vase that contained them was not in the sitting-room. I sent for it and found it intact. The bouquet had not been in the least disturbed. In what is called "Direct Writing" I found these words written in pencil in a very small hand, on a sheet of paper that lay before me, "I have brought you my token of love." At a sitting some days previously (when alone with Mrs. Jencken) I had received this message, "On your birthday I will bring you a token of love."

Mr. Hall adds that he had marked the sheet of paper with his initials, and, as an extra precaution, had torn off one of the corners in such a manner as to ensure recognition.

It is evident that Mr. Hall was greatly impressed by what he had seen. He writes: "I have witnessed and recorded many wonderful manifestations; I doubt if I have seen any more convincing than this; certainly none more refined; none that gave more conclusive evidence that pure and good and holy spirits alone were communicating." He states that he has consented to become Mrs. Jencken's "banker," presumably for funds for the education of her two boys. In view of what afterwards happened to this gifted medium, there is a sad interest in his concluding words:

I feel confidence approaching certainty that, in all respects, she will so act as to increase and not lessen her power as a medium while retaining the friendship and trust of the many who cannot but feel for her a regard in some degree resembling (as arising from the same source) that which the New Church accords to Emanuel Swedenborg, and the Methodists render to John Wesley. Assuredly Spiritualists owe to this lady a huge debt for the glad tidings she was largely the instrument, selected by Providence, to convey to them.

We have given this account in some detail because it shows that the gifts of the medium were at this time of a high and powerful order. A few years earlier, at a seance at her house on December 14, 1873, on the occasion of the first anniversary of her wedding, a spirit message was rapped out: "When shadows fall upon you, think of the brighter side." It was a prophetic message, for the end of her life was all shadows.

Margaret (Mrs. Fox-Kane) had joined her sister Kate in England in 1876, and they remained together for some years until the very painful incident occurred which has now to be discussed. It would appear that a very bitter quarrel broke out between the elder sister Leah (now Mrs. Underhill) and the two younger ones. It is probable that Leah may have heard that there was now a tendency to alcoholism, and may have interfered with more energy than tact. Some Spiritualists interfered also, and incurred the fury of the two sisters by some suggestion that Kate's children should be separated from her.

Looking round for some weapon-any weapon-with which they could injure those whom they so bitterly hated, it seems to have occurred to them-or, according to their subsequent statement, to have been suggested to them, with promises of pecuniary reward-that if they injured the whole cult by an admission of fraud they would wound Leah and her associates in their most sensitive part. On the top of alcoholic excitement and the frenzy of hatred there was added religious fanaticism, for Margaret had been lectured by some of the leading spirits of the Church of Rome and persuaded, as Home had been also for a short time, that her own powers were evil. She mentions Cardinal Manning as having influenced her mind in this way, but her statements are not to be taken too seriously. At any rate, all these causes combined and reduced her to a state which was perilously near madness. Before leaving London she had written to the NEW YORK HERALD denouncing the cult, but stating in one sentence that the rappings were "the only part of the phenomena that is worthy of notice." On reaching New York, where, according to her own subsequent statement, she was to receive a sum of money for the newspaper sensation which she promised to produce, she broke out into absolute raving against her elder sister.

It is a curious psychological study, and equally curious is the mental attitude of the people who could imagine that the assertions of an unbalanced woman, acting not only from motives of hatred but also from-as she herself stated-the hope of pecuniary reward, could upset the critical investigation of a generation of observers.

None the less, we have to face the fact that she did actually produce rappings, or enable raps to be produced, at a subsequent meeting in the New York Academy of Music. This might be discounted upon the grounds that in so large a hall any prearranged sound might be attributed to the medium. More important is the evidence of the reporter of the Herald, who had a previous private performance. He describes it thus:

I heard first a rapping under the floor near my feet, then under the chair in which I was seated, and again under a table on which I was leaning. She led me to the door and I heard the same sound on the other side of it. Then when she sat down on the piano stool the instrument reverberated more loudly and the tap-tap resounded throughout its hollow structure.

This account makes it clear that she had the noises under control, though the reporter must have been more unsophisticated than most pressmen of my acquaintance, if he could believe that sounds varying both in quality and in position all came from some click within the medium's foot. He clearly did not know how the sounds came, and it is the author's opinion that Margaret did not know either. That she really had something which she could exhibit is proved, not only by the experience of the reporter but by that of Mr. Wedgwood, a London Spiritualist, to whom she gave a demonstration before she started for America. It is vain, therefore, to contend that there was no basis at all in Margaret's exposure. What that basis was we must endeavour to define.

The Margaret Fox-Kane sensation was in August and September, 1888-a welcome boon for the enterprising paper which had exploited it. In October Kate came over to join forces with her sister. It should be explained that the real quarrel, so far as is known, was between Kate and Leah, for Leah had endeavoured to get Kate's children taken from her on the grounds that the mother's influence was not for good. Therefore, though Kate did not rave, and though she volunteered no exposures in public or private, she was quite at one with her sister in the general plot to "down" Leah at all costs.

She was the one who caused my arrest last spring (she said) and the bringing of the preposterous charge that I was cruel to my children. I don't know why it is she has always been jealous of Maggie and me; I suppose because we could do things in Spiritualism that she couldn't.

She was present at the Hall of Music meeting on October 21, when Margaret made her repudiation and produced the raps. She was silent on that occasion, but that silence may be taken as a support of the statements to which she listened.

If this were indeed so, and if she spoke as reported to the interviewer, her repentance must have come very rapidly. Upon November 17, less than a month after the famous meeting, she wrote to a lady in London, Mrs. Cottell, who was the tenant of Carlyle's old house, this remarkable letter from New York.

I would have written to you before this but my surprise was so great on my arrival to hear of Maggie's exposure of Spiritualism that I had no heart to write to anyone.

The manager of the affair engaged the Academy of Music, the very largest place of entertainment in New York City; it was filled to overflowing.

They made fifteen hundred dollars clear. I have often wished I had remained with you, and if I had the means I would now return to get out of all this.

I think now I could make money in proving that the knockings are not made with the toes. So many people come to me to ask me about this exposure of Maggie's that I have to deny myself to them.

They are hard at work to expose the whole thing if they can; but they certainly cannot.

Maggie is giving public exposures in all the large places in America, but I have only seen her once since I arrived.

This letter of Kate's points to pecuniary temptation as playing a large part in the transaction. Maggie, however, seems to have soon found that there was little money in it, and could see no profit in telling lies for which she was not paid, and which had only proved that the Spiritualistic movement was so firmly established that it was quite unruffled by her treachery. For this or other reasons-let us hope with some final twinges of conscience as to the part she had played-she now admitted that she had been telling falsehoods from the lowest motives. The interview was reported in the New York Press, November 20, 1889, about a year after the onslaught.

"Would to God," she said, in a voice that trembled with intense excitement, "that I could undo the injustice I did the cause of Spiritualism when, under the strong psychological influence of persons inimical to it, I gave expression to utterances that had no foundation in fact. This retraction and denial has not come about so much from my own sense of what is right as from the silent impulse of the spirits using my organism at the expense of the hostility of the treacherous horde who held out promises of wealth and happiness in return for an attack on Spiritualism, and whose hopeful assurances were so deceitful.

"Long before I spoke to any person on this matter, I was unceasingly reminded by my spirit control what I should do, and at last I have come to the conclusion that it would be useless for me further to thwart their promptings."

"Has there been no mention of a monetary consideration for this statement?"

"Not the smallest; none whatever."

"Then financial gain is not the end which you are looking to?"

"Indirectly, yes. You know that even a mortal instrument in the hands of the spirit must have the maintenance of life. This I propose to derive from my lectures. Not one cent has passed to me from any person because I adopted this course."

"What cause led up to your exposure of the spirit rappings?"

"At that time I was in great need of money, and persons-who for the present I prefer not to name-took advantage of the situation; hence the trouble. The excitement, too, helped to upset my mental equilibrium."

"What was the object of the persons who induced you to make the confession that you and all other mediums traded on the credulity of people?"

"They had several objects in view. Their first and paramount idea was to crush Spiritualism, to make money for themselves, and to get up a great excitement, as that was an element in which they flourish."

"Was there any truth in the charges you made against Spiritualism?"

"Those charges were false in every particular. I have no hesitation in saying that."

"No, my belief in Spiritualism has undergone no change. When I made those dreadful statements I was not responsible for my words. Its genuineness is an incontrovertible fact. Not all the Herrmans that ever breathed can duplicate the wonders that are produced through some mediums. By deftness of fingers and smartness of wits they may produce writing on papers and slates, but even this cannot bear close investigation. Materialization is beyond their mental calibre to reproduce, and I challenge anyone to make the 'rap' under the same conditions which I will. There is not a human being on earth can produce the 'raps' in the same way as they are through me."

"Do you propose to hold seances?"

"No, I will devote myself entirely to platform work, as that will find me a better opportunity to refute the foul slanders uttered by me against Spiritualism."

"What does your sister Kate say of your present course?"

"She is in complete sympathy with me. She did not approve my course in the past."

"Will you have a manager for your lecture tour?" "No, sir. I have a horror of them. They, too, treated me most outrageously. Frank Stechen acted shamefully with me. He made considerable money through his management for me, and left me in Boston without a cent. All I got from him was five hundred and fifty dollars, which was given to me at the beginning of the contract."

To give greater authenticity to the interview, at her suggestion the following open letter was written to which she placed her signature:

128, West Forty-third Street,
New York City,
NOVEMBER 16, 1889.


The foregoing interview having been read over to me I find nothing contained therein that is not a correct record of my words and truthful expression of my sentiments.

I have not given a detailed account of the ways and means which were devised to bring me under subjection, and so extract from me a declaration that the spiritual phenomena as exemplified through my organism were a fraud. But I shall fully atone for this incompleteness when I get upon the platform.

The exactness of this interview was testified to by the names of a number of witnesses, including J. L. O'Sullivan, who was U.S. Minister to Portugal for twenty-five years. He said, "If ever I heard a woman speak truth, it was then."

So it may have been, but the failure of her lecture-agent to keep her in funds seems to have been the determining factor.

The statement would settle the question if we could take the speaker's words at face value, but unfortunately the author is compelled to agree with Mr. Isaac Funk, an indefatigable and impartial researcher, that Margaret at this period of her life could not be relied upon.

What is a good deal more to the purpose is that Mr. Funk sat with Margaret, that he heard the raps "all round the room" without detecting their origin, and that they spelt out to him a name and address which were correct and entirely beyond the knowledge of the medium. The information given was wrong, but, on the other hand, abnormal power was shown by reading the contents of a letter in Mr. Funk's pocket. Such mixed results are as puzzling as the other larger problem discussed in this chapter.

There is one factor which has been scarcely touched upon in this examination. It is the character and career of Mrs. Fish, afterwards Mrs. Underhill, who as Leah, the elder sister, plays so prominent a part in the matter. We know her chiefly by her book, " The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism" (Knox & Co., New York, 1885). This book was written by a friend, but the facts and documents were provided by Mrs. Underhill, who checked the whole narrative. It is simply and even crudely put together, and the Spiritualist is bound to conclude that the entities with whom the Fox circle were at first in contact were not always of the highest order. Perhaps on another plane, as on this, it is the plebeians and the lowly who carry out spiritual pioneer work in their own rough way and open the path for other and more refined agencies. With this sole criticism, one may say that the book gives a sure impression of candour and good sense, and as a personal narrative of one who was so nearly concerned in these momentous happenings, it is destined to outlive most of our current literature and to be read with close attention and even with reverence by generations unborn. Those humble folk who watched over the new birth-Capron, of Auburn, who first lectured upon it in public; Jervis, the gallant Methodist minister, who cried, "I know it is true, and I will face the frowning world!"; George Willetts, the Quaker; Isaac Post, who called the first spiritual meeting; the gallant band who testified upon the Rochester platform while the rowdies were heating the tar-all of them are destined to live in history. Of Leah it can truly be said that she recognized the religious meaning of the movement far more clearly than her sisters were able to do, and that she set her face against that use of it for purely worldly objects which is a degradation of the celestial. The following passage is of great interest as showing how the Fox family first regarded this visitation, and must impress the reader with the sincerity of the writer:

The general feeling of our family was strongly adverse to all this strange and uncanny thing. We regarded it as a great misfortune which had fallen upon us; how, whence or why we knew not. We resisted it, struggled against it, and constantly and earnestly prayed for deliverance from it, even while a strange fascination attached to these marvellous manifestations thus forced upon us, against our will, by invisible agencies and agents whom we could neither resist, control nor understand. If our will, earnest desires and prayers could have prevailed or availed, the whole thing would have ended then and there, and the world outside of our little neighbourhood would never have heard more of the Rochester Rappings, or of the unfortunate Fox family.

These words give the impression of sincerity, and altogether Leah stands forth in her book, and in the evidence of the many witnesses quoted, as one who was worthy to play a part in a great movement.

Both Kate Fox Jencken and Margaret Fox-Kane died in the early 'nineties, and their end was one of sadness and gloom. The problem which they present is put fairly before the reader, avoiding the extremes of the too sensitive Spiritualist who will not face the facts, and the special-pleading sceptics who lay stress upon those parts of the narrative which suit their purpose and omit or minimize everything else. Let us see, at the cost of a break in our narrative, if any sort of explanation can be found which covers the double fact that what these sisters could do was plainly abnormal, and yet that it was, to some extent at least, under their control. It is not a simple problem, but an exceedingly deep one which exhausts, and more than exhausts, the psychic knowledge which is at this date available, and was altogether beyond the reach of the generation in which the Fox sisters were alive.

The simple explanation which was given by the Spiritualists of the time is not to be set aside readily-and least readily by those who know most. It was that a medium who ill-uses her gifts and suffers debasement of moral character through bad habits, becomes accessible to evil influences which may use her for false information or for the defilement of a pure cause. That may be true enough as a CAUSA CAUSANS. But we must look closer to see the actual how and why.

The author is of opinion that the true explanation will be found by coupling all these happenings with the recent investigations of Dr. Crawford upon the means by which physical phenomena are produced. He showed very clearly, as is detailed in a subsequent chapter, that raps (we are dealing at present only with that phase) are caused by a protrusion from the medium's person of a long rod of a substance having certain properties which distinguish it from all other forms of matter. This substance has been closely examined by the great French physiologist, Dr. Charles Richet, who has named it "ectoplasm." These rods are invisible to the eye, partly visible to the sensitive plate, and yet conduct energy in such a fashion as to make sounds and strike blows at a distance.

Now, if Margaret produced the raps in the same fashion as Crawford's medium, we have only to make one or two assumptions which are probable in them selves, and which the science of the future may definitely prove in order to make the case quite clear. The one assumption is that a centre of psychic force is formed in some part of the body from which the ectoplasm rod is protruded. Supposing that centre to be in Margaret's foot, it would throw a very clear light upon the evidence collected in the Seybert inquiry. In examining Margaret and endeavouring to get raps from her, one of the committee, with the permission of the medium, placed his hand upon her foot. Raps at once followed. The investigator cried: "This is the most wonderful thing of all, Mrs. Kane. I distinctly feel them in your foot. There is not a particle of motion in your foot, but there is an unusual pulsation."

This experiment by no means bears out the idea of joint dislocation or snapping toes. It is, however, exactly what one could imagine in the case of a centre from which psychic power was projected. This power is in material shape and is drawn from the body of the medium, so that there must be some nexus. This nexus may vary. In the case quoted it was in Margaret's foot. It was observed by the Buffalo doctors that there was a subtle movement of a medium at the moment of a rap. The observation was correct, though the inference was wrong. The author has himself distinctly seen in the case of an amateur medium a slight general pulsation when a rap was given-a recoil, as it were, after the discharge of force.

Granting that Margaret's power worked in this way, we have now only to discuss whether ectoplasmic rods can under any circumstances be protruded at will. So far as the author knows, there are no observations which bear directly upon the point. Crawford's medium seems always to have manifested when in trance, so that the question did not arise. In other physical phenomena there is some reason to think that in their simpler form they are closely connected with the medium, but that as they progress they pass out of her control and are swayed by forces outside herself. Thus the ectoplasm pictures photographed by Madame Bisson and Dr. Schrenck Notzing (as shown in his recent book) may in their first forms be ascribed to the medium's thoughts or memories taking visible shape in ectoplasm, but as she becomes lost in trance they take the form of figures which in extreme cases are endowed with independent life. If there be a general analogy between the two classes of phenomena, then it is entirely possible that Margaret had some control over the expulsion of ectoplasm which caused the sound, but that when the sound gave forth messages which were beyond her possible knowledge, as in the case instanced by Funk, the power was no longer used by her but by some independent intelligence.

It is to be remembered that no one is more ignorant of how effects are produced than the medium, who is the centre of them. One of the greatest physical mediums in the world told the author once that he had never witnessed a physical phenomenon, as he was himself always in trance when they occurred; the opinion of any one of the sitters would be more valuable than his own. Thus in the case of these Fox sisters, who were mere children when the phenomena began, they knew little of the philosophy of the subject, and Margaret frequently said that she did not understand her own results. If she found that she had herself some power of producing the raps, however obscure the way by which she did it, she would be in a frame of mind when she might well find it impossible to contradict Dr. Kane when he accused her of being concerned in it. Her confession, too, and that of her sister, would to that extent be true, but each would be aware, as they afterwards admitted, that there was a great deal more which could not be explained and which did not emanate from themselves.

There remains, however, one very important point to be discussed-the most important of all to those who accept the religious significance of this movement. It is a most natural argument for those who are unversed in the subject to say, "Are these your fruits? Can a philosophy or religion be good which has such an effect upon those who have had a prominent place in its establishment?" No one can cavil at such an objection, and it calls for a clear answer, which has often been made and yet is in need of repetition.

Let it then be clearly stated that there is no more connexion between physical mediumship and morality than there is between a refined ear for music and morality. Both are purely physical gifts. The musician might interpret the most lovely thoughts and excite the highest emotions in others, influencing their thoughts and raising their minds. Yet in himself he might be a drug-taker, a dipsomaniac, or a pervert. On the other hand, he might combine his musical powers with an angelic personal character. There is simply no connexion at all between the two things, save that they both have their centre in the same human body.

So it is in physical mediumship. We all, or nearly all, exude a certain substance from our bodies which has very peculiar properties. With most of us, as is shown by Crawford's weighing chairs, the amount is negligible. With one in 100,000 it is considerable. That person is a physical medium. He or she gives forth a raw material which can, we hold, be used by independent external forces. The individual's character has nothing to do with the matter. Such is the result of two generations of observation.

If it were exactly as stated, then, the physical medium's character would be in no way affected by his gift. Unfortunately, that is to understate the case. Under our present unintelligent conditions, the physical medium is subjected to certain moral risks which it takes a strong and well-guarded nature to withstand. The failures of these most useful and devoted people may be likened to those physical injuries, the loss of fingers and hands, incurred by those who have worked with the X-rays before their full properties were comprehended. Means have been taken to overcome these physical dangers after a certain number have become martyrs for science, and the moral dangers will also be met when a tardy reparation will be made to the pioneers who have injured themselves in forcing the gates of knowledge. These dangers lie in the weakening of the will, in the extreme debility after phenomenal sittings, and the temptation to gain temporary relief from alcohol, in the temptation to fraud when the power wanes, and in the mixed and possibly noxious spirit influences which surround a promiscuous circle, drawn together from motives of curiosity rather than of religion. The remedy is to segregate mediums, to give them salaries instead of paying them by results, to regulate the number of their sittings and the character of the sitters, and thus to remove them from influences which overwhelmed the Fox sisters as they have done other of the strongest mediums in the past. On the other hand, there are physical mediums who retain such high motives and work upon such religious lines that they are the salt of the earth. It is the same power which is used by the Buddha and by the Woman of Endor. The objects and methods of its use are what determine the character.

The author has said that there is little connexion between physical mediumship and morality. One could imagine the ectoplasmic flow being as brisk from a sinner as from a saint, impinging upon material objects in the same way and producing results which would equally have the good effect of convincing the materialist of forces outside his ken. This does not apply, however, to internal mediumship, taking the form not of phenomena but of teaching and messages, given either by spirit voice, human voice, automatic writing, or any other device. Here the vessel is chosen that it may match what it contains. One could not imagine a small nature giving temporary habitation to a great spirit. One must be a Vale Owen before one gets Vale Owen messages. If a high medium degenerated in character, I should expect to find the messages cease or else share in the degeneration. Hence, too, the messages of a divine spirit such as is periodically sent to cleanse the world, of a mediaeval saint, of Joan of Arc, of Swedenborg, of Andrew Jackson Davis, or of the humblest automatic writer in London, provided that the impulse is a true one, are really the same thing in various degrees. Each is a genuine breath from beyond, and yet each intermediary tinges with his or her personality the message which comes through. So, as in a glass darkly, we see this wondrous mystery, so vital and yet so undefined. It is its very greatness which prevents it from being defined. We have done a little, but we hand back many a problem to those who march behind us. They may look upon our own most advanced speculation as elementary, and yet may see vistas of thought before them which will stretch to the uttermost bounds of their mental vision.
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First Ladies & The Occult: Seances and Spiritualists, Part 1

by Carl Anthony on October 27, 2014

The White House. (

The White House. (

The White House telephone operators are legendary for their ability to reach anyone in the world, no matter how remotely out of touch they may be.

A number of First Ladies, however, have seemed to do even better with their ability to reach those out of this world and in that mystical realm which is so much a part of the ghoulish pranks and traditional celebration of Halloween.
Mamie Eisenhower had the State Dining Room decorated with paper Fifties Halloween decorations for a 1956 autumn luncheon. (Eisenhower Library)

Mamie Eisenhower had the State Dining Room decorated with paper Fifties Halloween decorations for a 1956 autumn luncheon. (Eisenhower Library)

Halloween was not celebrated as a fun holiday at the White House until First Lady Mamie Eisenhower hosted a 1950s luncheon and had the state floor reception rooms decorated with paper and cardboard  witches, black cats and skeletons, corn stalks and pumpkins.

An entire century before that, however, there were tales of ghosts rising in spirit form, beckoned by the bells, horns, rapping, letters, prayers, dreams and beseeching hysterics of several First Ladies.

It is perhaps unsurprising that it was during the Victorian Age,  when a societal preoccupation with death and mourning took root and questionable methods arose to provide the inconsolable with methods to contact dead loved ones on the “the other side.”

None who lived in the White House were as obsessed with thoughts of a morbid nature than was Jane Pierce.
Jane Pierce in later years, perpetually wore black mourning clothes. (NH Historical Society)

Jane Pierce in later years, perpetually wore black mourning clothes. (NH Historical Society)

From an early age her letters to family members fixate on illness, debility and death. When her two youngest sons died, a morose pall settled on her, but she lived in a permanent state of depression after the horrific death of her eleven-year old son Bennie. The trauma occurred after her husband Franklin Pierce was elected President in November of 1852 but before his March 1853 Inauguration.

The boy and his parents were traveling a short distance by train in Massachusetts, when their rail car overturned into an embankment.
An English railroad derailment into an embankment, like the January 1853 one which killed Bennie Pierce. (wikipedia)

An English railroad derailment into an embankment, like the January 1853 one which killed Bennie Pierce. (wikipedia)

All the passengers were thrown from their seats but metal and wood smashed the skull of the president-elect’s son,, killing him instantly.

Mrs. Pierce briefly glimpsed her dead son in this condition, a sight which haunted her thoughts as long as she lived.

Beyond the grief of personal loss, however, Bennie Pierce’s death left his mother overwhelmed with guilt.
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2018, 09:27:27 pm »

In the Joints of Their Toes
By Edward White November 4, 2016

The Lives of Others

The ruse that gave rise to the spiritualist movement.

The Fox Sisters.

Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.

On July 13, 1930, Arthur Conan Doyle made an appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall in the middle of his own memorial service, six days after his death. Nobody saw him, but the spirit medium Estelle Roberts assured those present that Doyle had kept his deathbed promise: he’d returned to deliver proof that talking to the dead really is possible. In life the creator of the arch logician Sherlock Holmes had been as suggestible as those ten thousand paying guests in South Kensington: he was the world’s best-known proponent of spiritualism—the discipline of talking to the dead—and an adherent of just about any wad of mumbo-jumbo going. Doyle believed not only in clairvoyance, but telepathy, telekinesis, and, quite literally, fairies at the bottom of the garden. 

Throughout the 1910s and ’20s Doyle’s books, articles, and talks on these subjects helped to furnish spiritualism with mainstream credibility. But the roots of the movement were planted decades earlier in a tiny one-bedroom cottage in the hamlet of Hydesville, New York, the family home of Margaret and John Fox and their daughters Maggie, fourteen, and Kate, eleven.

March 1848 was a troubling time for the Foxes. All month long they’d been plagued by thuds and cracks loud enough to awaken them in the predawn silence. By the evening of March 31, John and Margaret were at the end of their tethers. The girls were sent to bed early at six o’clock to catch up on lost sleep and allow their parents an evening of quiet to still their nerves. No sooner had Maggie and Kate slid beneath the sheets than the noises started reverberating through the cottage. From floorboards, ceilings, bedsteads, and doorframes came louder and more frenetic knocking than ever before. It seemed that wherever in the cottage the girls went these mysterious sounds followed, as though they were being pursued by some invisible force. Margaret was convinced that something demonic was afoot and sent her husband to rouse the neighbors for help.

That evening the Foxes’ bedroom was crowded with people who stood awestruck in the candlelight as the cracking sounds echoed around them. William Duesler, a neighbor, spoke aloud into thin air, asking questions and receiving in reply knocking sounds, “raps,” as he termed them. Slowly, it emerged that this disembodied spirit had an earthly identity: a thirty-one-year-old peddler who had been murdered for the sum of five hundred dollars and then buried beneath the Foxes’ house by a previous tenant. At the time, nobody in the room had any idea who the victim might have been, and even though the Foxes’ adult son David had hit upon the idea of running through the letters of the alphabet to allow the spirit to spell out words, nobody seems to have asked the spirit to give its name. In later weeks, locals began to recall that perhaps a young peddler had indeed passed through one day some years earlier. Exactly when, they couldn’t say. Others would later swear that David, digging beneath the house one summer, had discovered bones and a set of human teeth. Very quickly fabulous tales and half-remembered anecdotes congealed into a dense tissue of myth that made for an alluring alternative to empirical truth.

In many parts of the world, the spring and summer of that year was a momentous time. There were revolutions across western Europe; the Mexican-American War came to an end; the gold rush was underway in California. In rural New York, things were evidently a little slower. Within a few weeks, the story of the Hydesville haunting scrabbled its way across the state. Leah Fish—the Foxes’ eldest daughter, a music teacher in nearby Rochester—first heard about it when an excited pupil read aloud from a newspaper report about the case. By the time a perplexed Leah arrived at the family home, the Foxes had all decamped to David’s house in a neighboring village to escape the crowds of locals hoping to meet the little girls who had made contact with the dead.



The precise run of proceeding events is contested, but it’s clear that Leah, whose worldliness was in direct proportion to her parents’ naivety, quickly sussed that her siblings were pulling a fast one. Maggie and Kate admitted to her that they had perfected the art of cracking their toes with no perceptible movement. When performed in contact with wooden surfaces to amplify the noise, the raps sounded as if from the ether. Leah should have been furious at their deception; perhaps she was. But she also realized that Maggie and Kate had, in the joints of their toes, the potential to change the fortunes of the Fox family forever. 

With entrepreneurial sharpness, Leah moved herself, Maggie, and Kate into a house in Rochester where, for a dollar each, visitors could attend a séance with them. It was an instant hit. The Fox sisters’ fame as spirit mediums spread so quickly that they soon performed to packed theaters in New York, New England, and beyond. It marked a shift in popular attitudes toward the paranormal. Two hundred years earlier, a couple of adolescent females who claimed to be in conversation with the dead may well have been burned alive as witches; in the mid-nineteenth century they became show-business celebrities. Most who came to see them were happy to believe the Fox girls were the real deal, though Maggie in particular was subject to some terrifying abuse from those who thought her either a fraud or a heretic. In Troy, New York, she was even the victim of an attempted kidnapping by a group of men who seemed offended by the sisters’ show. For Maggie and Kate, children who had started this as a prank to enliven the dullness of their daily routine, it was too much. As early as November 1849 they tried to bring the circus to an end, spelling out “we will now bid you farewell” with their toe joints during a séance. For two weeks the spirits remained silent; their reappearance was testament to Leah’s unshakable belief that the show must go on, and her formidable skill at ensuring that it would.

Even had they stopped, it wouldn’t have slowed the juggernaut they had set in motion. By 1850, “rapping” had become a nationwide craze. That October, the New Haven Journal reported that there were forty families in upstate New York who claimed to have the same gifts as the Foxes, and hundreds more ranging from Virginia to Ohio. In 1851, a writer at the Spiritual World tallied more than one hundred spirit mediums in New York City alone. From the Fox sisters, the phenomenon of spiritualism emerged not as some shadowy occult practice or roadside attraction but as an exciting way of reconciling the ineffable mysteries of the soul with the complex realities of a modern, rapidly industrializing nation; newly respectable, it could count among its proponents Thomas Edison, the antislavery leader William Lloyd Garrison, and many prominent women’s rights advocates based in Rochester, the Foxes’ adopted hometown. A conspicuous number of the new adherents were from scientific backgrounds. A physician from New England named Dr. Phelps reported that his windows had shattered spontaneously, his clothes had been torn without human interference, inanimate objects had danced together on his floor, and, weirdest of all, turnips inscribed with mysterious hieroglyphs had surged forth from the living room carpet.

That men and women of science should have been so captivated by spiritualism isn’t as incongruous as it first appears. In the 1840s and ’50s, advances in science and technology seemed to be eradicating the America of Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson in which many of the older generation had grown up. The railroads and the telegraph had opened up the country, mass production and mass immigration were transforming the character of its cities, and Darwin’s theories were questioning the most basic assumptions about life and death. As science challenged all the old sureties, spiritualism offered a way of clinging to the past; far from rejecting science and rational thinking, spiritualists believed they were on the cutting edge, using scientific methods to prove the existence of God and the afterlife. Many ordinary Americans struggled to see that there was anything more outlandish in spiritualism than in the other scientific marvels that were transforming their world. The very sound of rapping echoed the sound of the new telegraph machines that, seemingly by magic, allowed people in New York to instantaneously communicate with people in Boston, Los Angeles, or even on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. 


In the first four years of the Foxes’ fame there was ample evidence that their rapping was a fraud. Some wryly pointed out the frequency with which the ghosts of famous figures such as Benjamin Franklin appeared at the Foxes’ séances; one observer couldn’t help noting that the great man’s command of spelling and grammar had diminished terribly since passing over. Then there were times when Franklin and the other stiffs refused to turn up at all: conditions weren’t to their liking. At a performance in Buffalo, cushions were placed between the girls’ feet and the wooden floorboards. Nothing but the sound of strained silence filled the air that night. Leah wheeled out her stock defense: the negative energy of cynics polluted the channel between the girls and the spirits; only those of pure heart who believed without question would be able to witness definitive proof of the girls’ powers. It was the circular logic of magical thinking, and it worked beautifully. 

Powered by the turbines of self-delusion, spiritualism quickly spread to Great Britain, arguably the first American cultural export to conquer the old motherland. Kate played a significant part in that, staging shows where ghosts appeared not just through rapping but in physical form. Quite how she achieved that is unclear, but apparitions were said to appear in a strange “psychic light” during her seances. The British were as enthralled by the myth of the Fox sisters as Americans had been, and Leah, in particular, capitalized on the transatlantic fame. Before the Hydesville rapping she had been a single mother, hampered by the ubiquitous social restrictions that came with being born female. In the field of spirit mediumship—a branch of the entertainment industry that she more than anyone else had helped to invent—women dominated. She acquired wealth, social clout, and opportunities that would never usually have been afforded someone of her background. Over the next decades, she became a venerable society lady and the wife of a Wall Street banker. Spiritualism had become so mainstream that she felt no need to distance herself from the movement despite her social elevation.

But for Maggie—the sister on whom the greatest burden of performing had been placed, and who had been troubled from the beginning by her deceit—the rapping phenomenon brought heartache and misery. In 1852, at seventeen, she met Elisha Kane, a famous Arctic explorer with whom she entered into a strangely fraught long-distance romance. Kane balanced genuine love with embarrassment that his beloved devoted her life to sideshow quackery. He promised Maggie that they would be married one day; for years she clung to the prospect of becoming Mrs. Elisha Kane and jettisoning her role as prophet of the spiritualist movement. But the Kane family, in the snootiest echelons of Philadelphia society, considered Maggie a backwoods purveyor of profane heresy. Fearful of the consequences of a proper marriage, Elisha compromised on a ring-exchanging ceremony before his latest foreign expedition. On his return, he promised, would follow a full wedding recognized by God and the law. That day never came: Elisha fell gravely ill during his travels and died in Cuba, aged just thirty-six. Maggie’s despair was compounded by insult when Elisha’s parents forbade her from attending the funeral and refused to acknowledge her as their son’s betrothed and common-law wife, thereby rejecting her claim to a share of his estate. 

She retaliated by publishing The Love-Life of Dr. Kane, a book of his letters to her. Her savior and soulmate ripped away, Maggie’s life veered onto the wrong side of the road. She turned to drink to dampen the pain of her loss and to submerge the shame and self-loathing that spiritualism caused her. Yet the more she drank, the more unfit she became for dealing with life, and the farther she drifted from sense of purpose.


Arthur Conan Doyle.

 In 1888, forty years after the childhood prank that changed her life, Maggie collected herself sufficiently to make a public confession. There were now millions of confirmed spiritualists across the planet, including Doyle, who published the first Sherlock Holmes book that same year. It was hard for Maggie to believe that the cotton reel, once dropped, could have spun so far from her grasp. Her confession at New York’s Academy of Music was fulsome and emotional, incorporating a full demonstration of how she and her sister had performed their trick. Kate, now also a widow with a drink problem, sat in the audience and dourly confirmed everything Maggie said; Leah rolled her eyes from afar, dismissing her sisters as wanton attention seekers who put their grubby material desires before truth and righteousness. The fact that Maggie had been paid $1,500 for the performance has always been cited by defenders of spiritualism as definitive, damning proof that she was lying through her teeth that evening, thinking only of the check that would pay for her next snifter. They’re half right about that. No sooner had Maggie made the confession than she retracted it, realizing that her disavowal would do nothing other than deprive her of her only source of income. 

Maggie died in 1895, a bitter and broken women relying on the kindness of friends and acquaintances to keep a roof over her head. She had, in a curious way, been an accidental pioneer. Twenty years before vaudeville began to give female entertainers a new standing in American popular culture, she and her sisters had trod out a path along which dozens of other female spiritualists followed, many gaining financial independence, social standing, and an outlet for their talents, personalities, and ambitions. It’s unlikely that Maggie could ever have taken any pride in that. To her last day she felt tarnished by her involvement in spiritualism and shamed by her dependence on it. Her death made little impact upon the spiritualist community; there was no memorial séance for her as there would be for Doyle, and no spirit medium to receive her message from the other side. If it is possible for the dead to reach us from beyond the grave, Maggie has chosen to withhold her touch.

Edward White is the author of The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America.
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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2018, 09:30:09 pm »

The Sisters Who Spoke to Spirits

After an otherworldly encounter in their bedroom, two young women found fame and fortune helping nineteenth-century mourners speak to their dead. The religion they inspired lives on to this day—and so does the suspicion that it was all a childhood prank.
Story by Ada Calhoun  ·  Illustrations by Aimee Bee Brook   ·  9.2.15
“Rap, rap, rap! Rap, rap, rap! Rap, rap, rap! Lov’d ones are rapping to-night.
Heaven seems not far away; Death’s sweeping river is bright, Soft is the sheen of its spray.”

—Emma Rood Tuttle, “Spirit Rappings,” c.1880

— Engraving on a stone Spiritualists erected in 1927 on the site of the Fox family home

The vibrant, pretty Fox sisters played in this western New York forest until their mother called them in for dinner. In their simple dresses, coats, and long dark braids, they ran through weeds and stomped in ice puddles. Clever Maggie, fourteen, and ethereal Kate, eleven, lived in a land of magic, sprites, and the devil, known in these parts as Mr. Splitfoot. Whether romping among the trees or going about their chores, they kept each other entertained with stories and songs. And when they lay down to sleep at night, it was side by side.

“Hydesville is a typical little hamlet of New York State,” Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would later write of the Foxes’ hometown in his 1926 book The History of Spiritualism, “with a primitive population…[It] consists of a cluster of wooden houses of a very humble type. It was in one of these…that there began this development which is already, in the opinion of many, by far the most important thing that America has given to the commonweal of the world.”

Doyle was talking about none other than those two little girls in the woods.

* * *
The Fox Family Cottage. Hydesville, New York, March 1848

“Mama!” Maggie Fox screamed out one night about three months after moving into their rented Hydesville house. John and Margaret came running into the room. The girls were sitting bolt upright in bed, looking as though they’d seen a ghost. They’d heard something, they said. All was quiet for a moment, and then John and Margaret heard it too: rap, rap, rap. It sounded like someone was tapping on the wall.

Quaking in their beds, the girls asked their mother if she knew what — or who — was making that creepy sound. The Fox family stood there in the dark listening, and the noise repeated: rap, rap, rap.

Margaret said perhaps the girls should sleep in their parents’ room that night, and the girls dutifully moved their blankets and pillows across the hall. Then all was quiet.

But the next night, soon after the girls had gone to bed, the sound returned, more insistently this time: rap, rap, rap. It went on for hours, keeping the family awake and anxious, but then quieted.

Each night, the sounds grew louder. Now even the beds and chairs seemed to tremble.

One night, Mr. Fox heard a knocking on the front door of the house, but when he went to see who it was, there was no one there.

Kids playing pranks, he assured his wife. But the next morning Mrs. Fox told David, the girls’ twenty-eight-year-old eldest brother, she worried that the house had a ghost.

“Oh, Mother,” David replied, “when you find out the cause it will be one of the simplest things in the world.” He also asked her not to tell the neighbors, worrying the family would be mocked for being soft-headed.
A postcard image of the Fox family cottage.<span class="_Credit">(Photo Courtesy of the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society)</span>
A postcard image of the Fox family cottage.(Photo Courtesy of the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society)

That night, the rapping returned. John and Margaret searched the house. They determined that the sound was loudest in the girls’ room, but it seemed to be coming from within the house’s very walls. John stationed himself outside of the girls’ bedroom door, and Margaret stood inside. Rap, rap, rap. The knocks seemed to come from the door between them.

Another night, the girls screamed, and when their mother came into the room, they told her they’d felt something heavy, like a dog lying across their feet. Kate said she felt a cold, invisible hand on her face. Often, the girls said that they felt as though their sheets were being pulled off of their bodies as they slept, and that something was rearranging their furniture. And every night: raps. The sisters said to them it sounded like someone was inside the walls, trying to get out.

The Foxes noted that the sounds only happened when their daughters were nearby, and ended around the same time the girls fell asleep, usually around midnight. They wondered if something about the spirits required the girls’ presence.

What they knew for sure, though, was that they hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks, and they were starting to feel like they were losing their minds.

Then came the night of March 31.

Mrs. Fox was so exhausted that she felt an illness coming on. She insisted they all go to bed early, right at dusk, and all in the same room, for safety. All was quiet for a moment, and then the rapping began.

“Here it is again!” Maggie cried. They listened very carefully, and the noise grew louder and louder.

Suddenly, Kate suggested they try to talk to whatever was making the noise, to see if it might answer. “Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do!” she called out, giving two claps.

There was a pause, and then two raps answered.

“Now do as I do,” Maggie called, joining in, and she clapped four times.

Four raps answered.

Kate then held up two fingers. The spirit rapped twice.

“Look,” Kate told their mother, “it can see as well as hear.”

Mrs. Fox marveled. Could this be a ghost trying to communicate with them out here in this little house in the woods? Was their cottage really a portal to the world beyond?

“Now you,” Maggie said to their mother. “Ask it a question.”

Shivering, Mrs. Fox called out into the dark house: “How many children do I have?”

A pause, and then: rap, rap, rap, rap, rap, rap. Six.

“But I only have five,” Mrs. Fox said, almost relieved that the ghost had made an error.

The girls reminded their mother that she’d had a baby who died in infancy.

“Is this a human being that answers my questions so correctly?” Mrs. Fox asked.

No rap.

“Is it a spirit? If it is, make two raps.”

Two loud raps came, shaking the bed.

“Were you injured in this house?”

Two raps.

Questions and corresponding raps revealed that the spirit was a man who had been murdered in the house when he was thirty-one years old, and that his body was buried in the cellar, ten feet deep. She learned that he was a husband and father to two sons and three daughters, and that his wife had died after he did, orphaning his children.

“Will you continue to rap,” Mrs. Fox asked, “if I call in my neighbors that they may hear it too?”

Mr. Fox went out into the cold country evening and called for a Mrs. Redfield to come and see what was taking place in their home. Mrs. Redfield showed up, sure it was the Fox girls playing a joke on their parents, but she was moved when she saw the sisters sitting up in bed, looking pale and frightened.

Upon hearing the raps, Mrs. Redfield called her husband to join them. More questions were asked and answered in raps. Then Mr. Redfield went and got the Dueslers. The Dueslers called the Hydes and the Jewells. Soon the house was packed with about fifteen people, all baffled by the talking ghost.

Mrs. Fox asked the spirit if anyone in that room had hurt him. He replied no.

The neighbors had follow-up questions, and in the course of their long interview, they determined that the spirit was a traveling salesman who had been killed in the east bedroom about five years earlier, on a Tuesday night at midnight, with a butcher knife. The motive: money. One of the neighbors wanted to know how much money, and the spirit rapped that it was five hundred dollars, a substantial fortune at the time.

Mrs. Fox took the children and stayed with a neighbor that night, and Mr. Fox and Mr. Redfield stayed up all night in the house listening for further messages, though no more came.

Maggie (l.) and Kate (r.) Fox. Daguerreotype by Thomas H. Easterly.
Maggie (l.) and Kate (r.) Fox. (Daguerreotype by Thomas H. Easterly.)

In the days that followed, the Fox family was besieged. Simple farmers came straight from the field, dirt under their fingernails; shopkeepers in their best work clothes came from their places of business. Walking in, they asked if the ghost was still accepting questions. Were they too late? they wondered. Had the ghost returned to the other side? Or was it still here among them?

The ghost had not left. The visitors asked the spirit about dead relatives, about the afterlife, about their crops and their lives and their children’s futures. They walked away consoled that death was not the end, that those who they had lost were still around them, and were at peace. By the end of the weekend, three hundred people surrounded the house, eager to hear messages from the great beyond.

“Oh, Mother,” Kate had said at one point that first night, as their house filled with neighbors, “I know what it is; tomorrow is April Fool’s Day, and it’s somebody trying to fool us.” But as the days rolled on, the spirit didn’t leave.

Nor did the town want it to. Mrs. Redfield returned to the house one evening to ask the spirit something that she had long wanted to know. She knelt beside the Fox girls’ bed. “Is there a heaven to obtain?” she asked.

The spirit knocked yes.

Another woman in the room said, “I’m afraid.”

“God will protect you,” Mrs. Redfield told the woman. “The raps are a gift from God, aren’t they?” she gently asked the spirit.

And the spirit said yes.

We have all this detail and dialogue thanks to the fact that a local lawyer named E.E. Lewis went around town in 1848 gathering up testimonies from the Foxes and their neighbors, and published them that same year as A Report of the Mysterious Noises Heard in the House of Mr. John D. Fox, in Hydesville, Arcadia, Wayne County.
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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2018, 09:30:43 pm »

In the course of those first rapping events, the spirit named his killer as John Bell, a former inhabitant of the house, and he identified himself as one Charles B. Rosna. No one could find a record of any Rosnas, but neighbors went to find Bell, who had since moved to Moravia. They accused him of having committed a murder in the house. Bell rushed back to Hydesville eager to clear his name and ranting about slander. No one believed him, but they did not try him for the killing, there being only one witness — a ghost — so Bell returned home annoyed, but a free man.

* * *
The Move to Rochester

It was May before the girls’ domineering older sister, Leah, caught wind of what had been happening back in Hydesville. She went home to find her family hiding out at David’s house, fending off increasingly hostile thrill seekers.

Mrs. Fox begged the spirits to leave her family alone, but they did not honor her request. The days when they would have been burned at the stake as witches were long gone, but some of the religious did recommend exorcism.

Leah decided to take Kate with her when she went back to Rochester. Maybe if the girls were separated the ghost would leave. Strangely, the ghost only seemed to acquire the ability to be in two places at once. The family was amazed that the rappings continued at David’s house after Kate left, and also mysteriously followed Kate to Leah’s in Rochester. Leah reported that the noises were even heard on the boat as they traveled home. The family marveled: Had the spirit adhered to both Kate and Maggie?

Back in Rochester, Leah, toughest of the Fox children (she had grown even more rigorously practical since her husband had abandoned her as a teenage mother) came up with a plan to exploit her sisters’ gift for their profit, as well as her own. She wrote and asked for Maggie and their mother to join her and Kate in Rochester. She offered to take a break from her work as a piano teacher to help her little sisters reach their full potential as mediums. Some of Rochester’s leading intellectuals became intrigued by the story of the Fox girls, and invited them over for demonstrations. One rich couple, the Grangers, had lost their daughter Harriet, and wanted to speak with her.

The resulting séance is described in several books, including David Chapin’s 2004 Exploring Other Worlds. Walking into their parlor, Leah set ground rules. The table had to be wood. The room had to be dark. They had to open with a prayer. Questions were to be phrased such that the spirit could answer yes or no. If the spirit wanted to expand, it would “call for the alphabet,” by rapping five times. At that point, someone in the group would recite the alphabet until the spirit heard the letter it wanted, at which point it would rap once. If the spirit felt disrespected at any point, it would leave.

The party sat at a cherry table laden with cakes and tea. A Methodist preacher in attendance, Reverend Clark, said a prayer, and as soon as he did, the rapping began. The Fox girls said it was the murdered peddler, calling for the alphabet. Charles Rosna, Hydesville spirit, told the now-famous story of his murder.

“Did God send you?” Reverend Clark asked.

The rapping signified yes.

“But what can have been his object?” Clark asked. “Has He any important purposes to accomplish, the fulfillment of which depends on such manifestations from the spirit world as you are now making?”

Loud rapping replied, and the table began to move, shaking the teacups.

Suddenly Maggie Fox announced that the spirit of Harriet Granger had appeared.

Her parents had one question: had her husband murdered her?

Yes, the spirit rapped. And now, the rapping testified, he planned to hurt Mr. and Mrs. Granger as well.

Reverend Clark asked about heaven. Harriet assured him that it was more wonderful than he could imagine.

The girls would go on to do this hundreds and hundreds of times.

* * *
Spiritual Stardom

The Fox Sisters’ first big public séance was held on November 14, 1848, at Corinthian Hall, Rochester’s largest venue. Advertisements placed in the local paper and reprinted in various books, including Eliab W. Capron’s 1855 Modern Spiritualism: Its Facts and Fanaticisms, Its Consistencies and Contradictions, read, “Let the citizens of Rochester embrace this opportunity of investigating the whole matter, and see if those engaged in laying it before the public are deceived, or are deceiving others, and if neither, account for these truly wonderful manifestations…Come and investigate.” The admission fee was twenty-five cents per person.

Leah Fox. (From the book "Hydesville" by Thomas Olman Todd.)
Leah Fox. (From the book “Hydesville” by Thomas Olman Todd)

The evening began with a speech by a respected local figure telling the story, by now well known, of the girls and the murdered peddler. He compared the girls’ discovery to those of Galileo, Newton and Fulton. People laughed at them, too, he said. This was new science, not just religion, he said. The girls would be tested before the crowd, he insisted, and found to be sincere.

Young Kate was said to be indisposed. Leah took her place. Leah led Maggie, looking even younger than her fifteen years in a pale blue dress, onto the stage and they tried to tune out the audience’s crude comments.

The Fox sisters had done séances now many times, with Leah occasionally sitting in for one or the other of her sisters, but never before hundreds of people at once. They were seated at a wooden table. The lights were dimmed. Five influential members of Rochester society sat in chairs on stage, providing a silent endorsement.

Silence filled the great hall, and then someone asked if the spirit was with them. After a dramatic moment, a clear, loud rapping broke the silence: Yes.

The demonstration continued with a series of questions and responses. When Leah and Maggie left the stage, the applause from the believers was deafening, but there were plenty of jeers, too. Either way, they were instant celebrities — divine to some, absurd to others. And for two more nights, the girls would return to Corinthian Hall, where investigators would declare that they had been able to uncover no deception. The insinuation that the girls had let themselves be “investigated” signified to some in Rochester that whether the girls were lying or not, they were certainly not ladies.
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2018, 09:32:37 pm »

The groups of respected local figures charged with verifying the girls’ authenticity had indeed looked them over closely. Soon after the performance, Maggie and Leah were brought into a private room, where a committee examined them for concealed tricks. The examiners put Maggie on a feather bed both with and without her dress on (the second test was supervised by a group of deputized women), and the raps continued.

The sisters stayed in Rochester, by now a city of 70,000, for four years, holding séances at the Fox-Fish home and elsewhere, day and night. They received a steady stream of mostly enthusiastic press. Newspapers called them the “Spiritual Knockers from Rochester,” and they began to collect invitations to visit Troy and Albany.

The dark side of fame was soon in evidence. Men yelled vulgar things at the girls as they entered and left theaters. Many men assumed that these mediums fell into the category of girls who did things in the dark for money. Having been groped and catcalled repeatedly, Maggie was already growing tired of the routine. But Leah wouldn’t let her quit. In 1850, Leah even decided they needed a bigger platform. She told her sisters that it was time to move to New York City.

* * *

The mid- to late-1800s brought ever more new inventions: electric lights, safety pins, dynamite, rubber bands, anesthetic, concrete, elevators, typewriters, the telephone, the internal combustion engine, the modern bicycle, chewing gum, bullets. Why not also a way to talk to the dead? And after the Civil War began, nearly every family in the nation was in mourning. People wanted to hear that their dead relatives were not truly gone. They craved the chance to say to the departed, “I love you,” “I miss you,” or “Goodbye.”

When she moved into the White House, President Franklin Pierce’s wife, Jane Appleton, was in mourning for her two dead children, especially eleven-year-old Benny, whose death she had witnessed. He had been killed by falling luggage in a train accident. The First Lady insisted black bunting be placed throughout the White House, and one day, according to Barbara Weisberg’s great Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rose of Spiritualism, Mrs. Pierce invited the famous Maggie Fox there to facilitate a conversation with Benny.

There is no good account of this meeting, but it’s safe to assume that the First Lady wanted to know why Benny had been taken from them. She reportedly worried that it was cosmic payback for her husband’s political ambition. We might also assume that in a darkened room of the White House, Maggie translated as Benny rapped out reassurances to his mother.

The pushback against the rapping craze matched its supporters’ enthusiasm. By April 1854, “rappomania”—as it was called by critics of the time like Adin Ballou, who wrote a book titled An Exposition of Views Respecting the Principal Facts, Causes and Peculiarities Involved in Spirit Manifestations, referring to Maggie and Kate’s promotion of “atheism…fanaticism, madness, idiocy”—had swept the nation.

In the spring of that year, two members of the U.S. Senate, General James Shields of Illinois and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, presented a petition from 15,000 Americans demanding a commission to study spiritualist phenomena like rapping. The discussion about whose job it was to look into the matter was lively; someone said it should be the Post Office, because of the prospect of a “spiritual telegraph” between this world and the next.

In New York City, the Fox women stayed at Barnum’s Hotel, a major destination on the Bowery and Maiden Lane, owned by a cousin of P.T. Barnum, the great showman. The sisters held regular séances in Barnum’s hotel parlor. They also spent two weeks as houseguests of Horace Greely, the New York Tribune’s editor. He invited over friends and introduced them to the Fox sisters, telling everyone that at last, here was proof of the afterlife, and verification that death was not the end. (In 1872, as Greely lay dying, he would speak of the girls: “Tell the Fox family I bless them. I have been made happy through them. They have prepared me for this hour.”)

A panel including some of New York’s most respected men — including the novelist J. Fenimore Cooper — visited the girls, grilling them and trying to catch them in lies. They passed muster, and charmed their examiners, clearing their path for success in the city’s highest echelons of society.

In New York, Leah allowed her sisters little free time, causing them to resent her more and more by the day. She had the girls presiding over groups of 30 three times a day: at ten a.m., five p.m. and eight p.m., charging each person one dollar. They were pulling in $90 a day, the equivalent of about $1,600 now. The spirits sometimes delivered inspirational messages, spelled out laboriously by the guests listing letters and the ghost rapping to signal to stop there. An abolitionist, for example, heard the spirits rap out this message: “Spiritualism will work miracles in the cause of reform.”
Tablet erected by Spiritualists at the site of the Fox Cottage in 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society.)
Tablet erected by Spiritualists at the site of the Fox Cottage in 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society.)

The money was coming in, but competition was growing. Others around the country, and especially in New York, were claiming to be mediums, and adding effects: furniture floating through the air, messages magically written in foreign languages, and music played by unseen orchestras. Kate did the most work to expand her craft. She learned how to do “automatic writing” and spiritualist drawing, as well as “materialization,” the mysterious creation of matter, like ectoplasm.

There were hoaxes everywhere, but believers insisted that, though some bad actors may prey on the gullible, the spirits undeniably had spoken to the Fox girls. They were too young, too uneducated, and too innocent, the logic went, to have tricked so many learned people.

The girls occasionally attended other mediums’ séances, and were shocked by what they saw. One summoned a young female ghost, naked except for gauze-like wrappings. Other times, things happened in the dark that made the young girls confused and scared. Maggie was appalled by these sexually charged events. No wonder men suspected her of being a prostitute, she thought. Plenty of mediums seemed to be just that. (There are some wonderful books describing medium practices of the time, including Charles Grafton Page’s 1853 Psychomancy: Spirit-Rappings and Table-Tippings Exposed, Joseph McCabe’s 1920 Spiritualism: A Popular History from 1847, and more recently Peter Washington’s 1995 Madam Blavatsky’s Baboon.)

These grown-up environments, coupled with the lack of supervision, led the Fox sisters to kill time between séances by drinking wine, and daydreaming aloud about handsome men who might one day take them away from Leah, whom they had grown to truly hate. Kate would manage to escape to England, where she would marry a Spiritualist and have two children. And Maggie, too, would find love. One day, as if she had conjured him, a dashing older man appeared at her door.

* * *
“The Love-Life of Elisha Kane”

A hero of the age, handsome thirty-two-year-old Arctic explorer and Navy surgeon Elisha Kent Kane stood on the bow of his ship in his furs, scanning the tundra for any trace of Sir John Franklin, who went missing with two ships and 128 crewmembers in a famous 1845 expedition. Charged by the U.S. Navy with determining what had happened to his colleague, Kane — who had stared down into the Taal Volcano in the Philippines, served as doctor to the U.S. embassy in China, and explored Bombay, Rio, Cairo and Athens — sailed into some of the most brutal waters in the world, trying to keep his crew alive in extreme temperatures.

As a child, Kane had suffered rheumatic fever, and he had never been strong, but in spite of — or, the holders of the Elisha Kent Kane papers suggest in a background note — because of his ill health, he was fearless, and took risk after risk around the globe, earning a reputation for bravery and heroism.

Of aristocratic American stock (his father was a U.S. district judge, and his brother was a Civil War general and lawyer), Kane was considered one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. He was famous enough that his love life was tabloid fodder and that it was a publishing event when in 1865 a collection of his love letters was published under the title The Love-Life of Dr. Kane.

Captain Kane first saw nineteen-year-old Maggie Fox sitting and reading in a window of an elite Philadelphia hotel. She had been presiding over séances all day. Dozens of people had streamed in and out of the Webb’s Union Hotel suite where she and her mother were staying, all of them wanting Maggie’s help speaking to their dead relatives. They were a blur, except for one: Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, who arrived skeptical of Spiritualism but found himself intrigued by the beautiful young woman in the window.

He began visiting her every day, bringing gifts, siting in on séances, and taking her out for rides and walks. He wrote flattering, polite notes to Mrs. Fox about her lovely daughter. His own family couldn’t know, so they had to be discreet, but he still showed the Foxes every courtesy, and keeping to the rules of his class, he ensured that every date was appropriately chaperoned.

Their dates were friendly and traditional — far from both the daring adventures Kane usually undertook and Maggie’s shadowy hotel-suite séance world. He was formal and pompous, but could take a joke about himself from time to time. She coyly evaded his direct questions, replied to only a third of his letters, and teased him for being an old man when he suggested she learn to act like a proper lady. Once when Maggie and Kane found themselves alone in a room with a bed in it, he scolded her for her lack of decorum. She nicknamed him “The Preacher.”

And yet, one day Maggie accidentally spilled a cup of cough medicine just as Kane was arriving. Her mother and Leah elsewhere for the moment, Kane took her to the sink and washed the sticky medicine from her dress and skin, kissing her and stroking her hair.

In his letters during their time apart, he was bossy and cajoling, condescending and affectionate. “My dear sweet Maggie,” he wrote. “Night has come, and the hour which ushers in another day is chiming from the cracked bells of Washington. Yet I sit down to give you my regular record of remembrance, to show my dear little Maggie that she is not forgotten…Do, dear darling, be lifted up and ennobled by my love. Live a life of purity, and met your reward in the respect of yourself, the praise of the world, and the blessings of Heaven.”

For Leah, Kane was a menace trying to break up their family and steal their livelihood. She also didn’t trust him. A family fortune might make up for the loss of séance income, but that was only if he married Maggie, and Leah insisted he would never do any such thing.

Meanwhile, Maggie fell hard. “It is late, my beloved,” she wrote to Kane in one letter, “and I have carefully stolen from my bed, that I might write to you undisturbed even by the breathings of others. It is after midnight, and the sweet moon is the only witness to my devotion. For four days I have done naught but weep. How has our separation affected you? I am very gloomy. Without you all is darkness, and every place seems like a grave. You ask if I mix in company? No, no! I join no merry scenes. Lish, I have not laughed since we parted… On the wings of angels I send you ten thousand kisses.”

When at last they were reunited, they married secretly, in a Quaker ceremony, which didn’t require a minister. They announced the marriage to her family, but not to his. They didn’t dare live together, but from then on he called her “Dear Wife.”

Kane’s health, never good, had been weakened by another bout with rheumatic fever, and further damaged by his difficult Arctic expeditions. Within a couple of years of their secret marriage, Kane, carrying Maggie’s portrait, sailed for Cuba, where his doctor hoped the climate would help him would recover. The treatment failed. On a boat between Cuba and St. Thomas, at the age of thirty-seven, Kane had a stroke and died. Maggie, who had now known Kane for nearly her entire adult life, was a widow.

She would never remarry. Upon Kane’s death, Maggie sank into a deep depression. She sat silent and alone in dark rooms, drinking, and wishing she could give herself the same consolation she’d given to her desperate clients.

Against Leah’s objections, Maggie converted to Catholicism, which she knew would have pleased Kane, and tried to pray the way he had. She read and reread his letters. “Remember then as a sort of dream,” Kane had written in one, “that Doctor Kane of the Arctic Seas loved Maggie Fox of the Spirit Rappings.”

“You are driving me into hell!” Maggie yelled at Leah now when she insisted it was time to do another séance. “Now that you are rich why don’t you save your soul?”

Maggie, never fully committed to the life (as Nancy Rubin Stuart’s 2005 book The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox attests), had fully come around to Kane’s way of thinking. She now hated her profession. Leah told Maggie that not only did they need to keep rapping, but also that they should consider starting a new religion. Instead, they just kept on with what they had been doing, séance after séance, for years, until Maggie had finally had enough.

* * *
New York Academy of Music, New York City

On the evening of October 21, 1888, Maggie Fox, now in her mid-fifties and still wearing mourning clothes for Kane, stepped out onto the large stage of the opera house on East Fourteenth Street to face four thousand people. She had been sleepless for days, pacing her apartment in a manic state — playing the piano, talking excitedly to visiting friends about the blow she was about to deliver — and, of course, drinking.

The audience whispered to each other, wondering what the legendary Maggie Fox had to say. They called out taunts and cries of support. Maggie didn’t react to either her fans or detractors. By this point, she had been famous for forty years. She surveyed the room, put on her glasses, curtseyed, and with her words sent a shock wave through the auditorium.

“My sister Katie and I were very young children when this horrible deception began,” she said (her speech was published the same day in the New York World). “We were very mischievous children and sought merely to terrify our dear mother, who was a very good woman and very easily frightened.”

It took the crowd a minute to realize what was happening: Maggie Fox, star of the most famous medium family in the world, was saying that her career — and therefore the religion of Spiritualism, by then some eight million strong — was built on a childhood prank. She and Kate had made up the ghost “Charles Rosna,” Maggie said, as a joke. The girls had noticed how scared the rapping made their mother, and so they egged each other on to knock ever louder on their bedframe.

After those first few days of rapping in Hydesville, Maggie explained, the sisters had begun to add props, tying lines around objects and furniture so that they could cause things to fall, making ever-louder noises in the night. They took apples from the cellar and tied strings around them. Then they would throw the apples from their beds and yank them back under the covers, making a bumping sound along the dirt floor through the room. When their mother ran into their bedroom, they would look at her startled and wide-eyed.

As time went on, the girls also cultivated a special skill: They found they could loudly crack their toe knuckles and anklebones. They practiced throughout the day. When they did this against their bed frame at night, the wood would even produce a vibration.

“Like most perplexing things when made clear, it is astonishing how easily it is done,” Maggie said from onstage. “The rappings are simply the result of a perfect control of the muscles of the leg below the knee, which govern the tendons of the foot and allow action of the toe and ankle bones that is not commonly known. Such perfect control is only possible when a child is taken at an early age and carefully and continually taught to practice the muscles, which grow stiff in later years. A child at twelve is almost too old. With control of the muscles of the foot, the toes may be brought down to the floor without any movement that is perceptible to the eye. The whole foot, in fact, can be made to give rappings by the use only of the muscles below the knee.”

Of the frenzied attention they received as children, Maggie said: “There were so many people coming to the house that we were not able to make use of the apple trick except when we were in bed and the room was dark. Even then we could hardly do it, so the only way was to rap on the bedstead.”

In a Chicago Tribune article called “Mrs. Fox Kane’s Big Toe,” a reporter describing the event said, “One moment it was ludicrous; the next moment it was weird.” According to the article, the Spiritualists in the audience “almost frothed at the mouth with rage,” and “muttered furious threats against their foes.”

With Kate looking on from a box and applauding, Maggie even offered a demonstration, taking off her shoes and tights to show, in bare feet, how she could strike her joint against wood to make a loud rapping sound.

Maggie was happy in that moment, knowing that her talk would infuriate Leah when she heard about it, and that wherever he was, Elisha surely approved.

* * *
After the Confession

Unfortunately, Maggie and Kate had no long-term plan. They had not cultivated any other skills, and knew only one way to make a living. Maggie was paid $1,500 for that performance, and her confession was published in the New York World. Together she and Kate published a pamphlet called The Death-Blow to Spiritualism. (Leah, under her married name, Underhill, would tell her side of the story in 1885 in a book called The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism.) Those proceeds only lasted so long, especially because the sisters seemed fully committed to drinking themselves to death.

A year later, Maggie tried to walk back her confession. “At the time I was in great need of money and persons…took advantage of the situation,” she said. “The excitement, too, upset my mental equilibrium. When I made those dreadful statements I was not responsible for my words.”

Reactions to this recantation were mixed. Some still believed the confession and thought the attempt to retract it was laughable. Others believed in her abilities and concluded that she had faked the confession. But still, no one wanted her around anymore. Even the Spiritualists at the Manhattan Liberal Club shunned her. She attempted suicide at least once.
The Fox Cottage foundation with structural covering and historical marker, 2015. (Photo by Ada Calhoun)
The Fox Cottage foundation with structural covering and historical marker, 2015. (Photo by Ada Calhoun)

All three sisters died within just a few years of Maggie’s confession: Leah in 1890, Kate in 1892 and Maggie in 1893.

The Fox family home’s foundation today is maintained as a Spiritualist holy site, and the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society has a good collection of material related to the Fox Sisters. (Former town historian Bob Hoeltzel’s work was a major source for this article.)

Maggie and Kate were buried together in Brooklyn, New York. Today they lie together in death, just like when, as girls, they fell asleep at midnight and slept side by side in the first haunted house in America.

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