March 31st, 1848 saw the beginnings of spiritualism in the parlor of the Fox home in Hydesville, New York. Kate and Margaret had been living with their parents in what was considered a haunted house. Raps and knocks were pretty much the extent of the activity.
On this infamous night, Kate began to ask the spirits questions, like repeating how many times she snapped her fingers or asking the sisters’ ages. The responses developed into yes and no, so that other questions could be asked. Very quickly these methods spread like wildfire, with mediums coming out of the woodwork.
Margaret Fox, in her later years noted:- “They [the neighbors] were convinced that some one had been murdered in the house. They asked the spirits through us about it and we would rap one for the spirit answer ‘yes,’ not three as we did afterwards. The murder they concluded must have been committed in the house. They went over the whole surrounding country trying to get the names of people who had formerly lived in the house. Finally they found a man by the name of Bell, and they said that this poor innocent man had committed a murder in the house and that the noises had come from the spirit of the murdered person. Poor Bell was shunned and looked upon by the whole community as a murderer.”
The two women were sent to sibling homes, Kate to Leah’s and Margaret to their brother David’s home. The Fox parents felt it might be good for them to get away from the fervor that the rappings had caused in an ever-expanding area around Hydesville.
Unfortunately sending them away wasn’t the answer. The goings-on followed them. This, of course, convinced everyone that the mediums were genuine and the contact with spirits was very much real. Friends of the family, Amy and Isaac Post, Quakers, had the girls visit their home.
“In this way, appeared the association between Spiritualism and radical political causes such as abolition, temperance and equal rights for women.”
By mid 1850, the girls had channeled for both famous and not famous people of the time, conducting séances and spirit communication. The sisters began to travel in circles of high society because of their apparent gift of talking to the dead. Wine drinking and late nights took their toll on the women.
In the fifties, Margaret married a man named Kane, a skeptic who tried to keep her from her sisters by moving her away and having her convert to Roman Catholicism. After Kane’s death however, she returned to her sister Kate in England and the mediums continued. Kate’s husband passed away in 1881, leaving her with two kids.
William Crookes, a scientist of some note between ’71 and ’74, said that Kate was a powerful medium, producing raps with authenticity.
“I have tested them in every way that I could devise, until there has been no escape from the conviction that they were true objective occurrences not produced by trickery or mechanical means.” Crookes – 1874
In later years, both Margaret and Kate drank far too much, causing Leah and other spiritualists to be concerned for her children. The sisters feuded with Leah and took money for a confession of fraud and Margaret was seduced by the offer. She went into detail about how her toe joints caused the crackings and rappings, that she and Kate had devised methods to convince those attending that the messages were real.
Within five years of Margaret’s recanting of her expose, both sisters were dead, in pauper’s graves, turned away by former followers and friends.