The Fox Sisters and the Birth of Spiritualism

 Maggie (Margaret), Kate, and Leah are credited with the birth of Spiritualism.

In 1848, the Fox family moved into a house alleged to be haunted in the tiny hamlet of Hydesville, New York.The Fox Home

It wasn’t long before the family noticed strange knockings and the sounds of furniture being moved across the floor. Kate (aged 12) and Maggie (aged 15) challenged the knocker, and the knocker responded. Through a ritual of knocking or “rapping”, Kate and Maggie were able to communicate and ask questions of the spirits in front of a frightened adult audience. Despite repeated searches of the home, neighbors failed to locate any tangible person or object knocking.

The girls claimed that the knocker was a poor, traveling peddler, who had been murdered by a Mr. Bell. The girls informed their avid audience that the peddler had been buried in the basement.

The oldest sister, Leah, descended on Hydesville and moved her sisters to Rochester, New York. The knocking followed the sisters, and distinguished guests, such as Amy and Isaac Post, provided support and belief for the sisters’ growing powers. Through these connections, Spiritualism became linked with Equal Rights for Women, Abolition, and Temperance. Despite the politically charged link with Temperance, Kate and Maggie developed serious drinking problems as they grew older.

In 1888, Maggie announced to the world in a signed confession that the Fox sisters were frauds and explained how they were able to “crack” their joints to make the knocking sounds. Much speculation ensued and continues today over Maggie’s confession. At the time Maggie was destitute. Many people believe Maggie was motived by pecuniary need rather than a “spirit” of honesty.

Shortly after her confession, Maggie returned to work as a medium. Sadly, Kate and Maggie suffered from their extreme poverty. When they died, they were buried in pauper’s graves.

Post Script
In 1901, a retaining wall crumbled in their old Hydesville home. A man’s skeleton was then discovered in the Fox’s basement. Coincidence?


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