It was soon believed that the Fox sisters, Kate and Margaret, were communicating with the dead.
The Fox family lived in a small house in the hamlet of Hydesville, New York – now a part of Arcadia, Wayne County (Hydesville no longer exists). The house was said to be haunted, and several previous tenants later stated they had vacated the premises due to mysterious noises.
In mid-March, the Fox family began to be disturbed by strange noises and activity in their house. At first, John Fox (the father of the girls) believed the noises to be natural, the floorboards of the house settling in the changing seasons. The children did not take to this explanation, and soon would be found in the morning, sleeping in their parent’s bed, having fled there during the night.
The Fox's had heard strange sounds in their pantry, and footsteps on the stairs leading to the cellar.
After the sounds completed the counting out of numbers, the eldest of the Fox sisters was too afraid to venture further. However, Kate tried to explain it all away as someone trying to fool them, as April Fools Day was to take place the following morning.
Mrs Fox decided on one more challenge, asking for it to sound out the ages of her children. Once again, the request was answered with each of the children's ages rapped out, a gap in between, but what shocked Mrs Fox was the final, seventh set of raps, numbering three, the age her youngest child had died.
More communications were made that night, and it was finally discovered that it was the spirit of a 31 year old man, who had been murdered in the house, his body buried in the cellar. He had living children, but his wife had since passed. Finally, he agreed to keep creating the raps for witnesses.
The Story is Out... More Witnesses
Before the night was ended, the present living were able to ascertain how the murder took place and where. The spirit was that of a peddler named Charles Rosna, and he was murdered, throat cut, for his money (about five hundred dollars) in one of the bedrooms a few years previous. He was taken down the cellar and was buried quite deep.
On April 1st the cellar was dug out, till the workers hit the waterline, at which point they gave up. No bones were found, and that day and night no rappings were heard. Perhaps it was an April Fools Day joke after all?
However, the sounds did return, and this time, on the following Saturday, over three hundred people crammed in the house, and overflowing outside. The rappings began to be heard the following day as well.
Although much of the community was mystified, there were a select few who considered the communications as witchery and trickery. The Fox family were asked to leave the church congregation, due to being seen as engaging in unholy practices.
The sisters were moved - Kate to her brothers house, and Margaret to her elder sisters house. The Rappings were heard at both locations, so it was determined that it was the girls themselves the spirit realm wanted to communicate with.
It was suggested that an alphabet be developed and used to communicate with the spirits, a kind of spiritual Morse code. With this new, more in depth way of communicating in place, the sisters received the message that they should not hide "this truth" from the world.
A Movement is Born
By 1850 the sisters were performing public séances in New York, their elder sister Leah being the official interpreter of the raps, which became very popular and as their fame spread, so did the rise of many other people declaring they too could communicate with the spirit worlds through the 'rapping' medium. Many people attended the séances in the hopes of getting financial tips, love advice, seeking truth about their partners and many other quite frivolous things.
However, as always, there were the critics who investigated these claims. Dr Charles Page from Washington DC booked himself in to a few of the Fox sister’s séances, in order to closely investigate what was happening. He finally came to the conclusion that it was the girls making the noises, the rappings seemingly coming from under their dresses. Even though he published such findings, it was not conclusive and still the sisters popularity grew.
They began to move through high society circles, and also married into them. Margaret married an Arctic Explorer, and Kate a London Barrister. Soon they engaged on 'missionary work', sitting for high class and high financed people in order to provide a spiritual aspect to their lives, making them more complete.
Several influential religious leaders at the time also turned from the church to embrace spiritualism, a fact that alarmed many.
A Harrowing Confession
She demonstrated how she had faked the rappings, and other phenomena throughout the years, by cracking her toe joints. She could do this at will and repeated how the 'spirits' would answer her questions. She also explained how it all began -
It started as a prank the sisters formulated to scare their mother, all those years ago. They used apples attached to strings and raised and released them to create the rhythmic rappings heard throughout their Hydesville home. They also soon learned they could cause further sounds, by snapping their fingers while placing their hands against a solid wooden object.
They attempted to end it by suggesting it as an April Fools Day Joke, but had messed up when they/the spirit agreed to continue with the neighbours present.
They felt if, at that point, they came clean, they would be in a lot of trouble with their mother. It was when they moved to Rochester that they confided in their sister Leah the truth of the matter, and she helped them develop their skills by teaching them to snap their toes and other joints. They got so good at it they could use either feet, swapping one from the other.
She also explained that no one was touched by spirit during the séance, but rather it was an effect of the noise. At times people could hear the noise, and that by feeling the slight vibration, they may feel it in their shoulder and exclaim to that extent. None of it was real.
The confession ran in the newspapers, much to the spiritualists dismay and the rejoice of their critics. The sisters then made statements against the spiritualist movement, denouncing the entirety of it as a falsehood. Kate Fox was especially damning claiming "I regard Spiritualism as one of the greatest curses that the world has ever known." for the New York Herald.
Truth, Lies, Coverups???
She also wanted to hurt her sister Leah, whom she had been quarrelling with. The damage had been done, and Margaret Fox died, largely from her alcoholism, on July 1st, 1892. A Mrs Mellon visited with Margaret Fox during her final days, and claimed to have heard the rappings. Margaret could not have performed them, as she was essentially paralysed. They came from the ceiling and floor. Mrs Mellon was not a supporter of the spiritual movement.
Leah had died a few years previously, and Kate died the following year in 1893.
Still, you never know I guess.
So what do you think?
Were the Fox sisters frauds?
Or was the confession false, that of a desperate and angry woman?