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The Fox sisters were born in a small farming community, Consecon (near Belleville) Ontario. They are credited by many sources as being the original mediums.


In September 1851, Columbus Ohio papers announced that the Fox sisters had arrived in Columbus for an indefinite stay.

Announcements like this were sometimes made to report that friends or relatives of local residents were in town for a visit. Columbus was a small town of 17.000 people at the time and the arrival of familial visitors actually qualified in some quarters as news. In some parts of Ohio, it still does.

But the Fox sisters were not these sorts of visitors.

Announcements like this were sometimes made to note the arrival in town of celebrities of one sort or another. Some might have made their name militarily or politically, like Gen. William Henry Harrison or former President John Quincy Adams. Others might be notable authors like Charles Dickens or actors like Edwin Booth.

But the Fox sisters were only by a broad definition like these notable people.

In fact, Columbus -- and most of the rest of the country -- had rarely seen anything quite like the Fox sisters.

Arguably, many of the people who tried to follow their example paled in comparison to the original.

The Fox sisters were "the original mediums of Hydeville, New York" and were holding "sittings for spiritualist communication" at a local residence. A donation of one dollar -- a not inconsiderable sum of money in those days -- was requested in order to gain admission to a sitting. Margaret Fox was 17 years old and her sister, Kate, was only 11. Ably managed by their older sister Leah, the Fox sisters were holding three sittings a day to rooms full of people eager to see them.

How all of this came about and what became of these "original mediums" is a story worth retelling.

It began in 1847 in a pleasant house in Hydeville, N.Y. Hydeville -- or Hydesville, as it is sometimes called -- is near Rochester in upstate New York. It is an area of various and abiding public interests.

The movements against slavery and for women's rights and against alcohol and for prison reform all found strong adherents here in the years after the turn of the 19th century.

The area was also home to a wide variety of religious, utopian and other philosophical movements. It was in this area of great idealism and firm beliefs that a man named Michael Weekman found himself with a problem in his house at Hydeville.

It made noises.

Many older houses make noises. But these noises were more like rappings made by a person. Mr. Weekman chose not to determine if whatever was making the noise was trying to get in. Mr. Weekman decided to get out.

Replacing him in the house was the family of one John D. Fox, whose two youngest daughters, Margaret and Kate, began to hear the rappings as well. At one point, as she later recounted, Margaret -- as fearless as 12-year-olds often are -- told the hidden presence knocking on the walls to tap as many times as she did. And the mysterious tapper did just that.

Inviting friends and acquaintances to their house, the girls demonstrated their ability of tapping and tapping back. Eventually, it was decided to point to letters of an alphabet and ask the presence to tap when an appropriate letter was reached.

The news of the success of the Fox sisters in tapping with unseen spirits traveled quickly and soon, hundreds of people were coming to see them. A journey to New York City produced an endorsement from editor Horace Greeley. The Fox sisters soon began charging admission to their "sittings."

A society was founded as early as 1849 and soon, dozens of other men and women were claiming to be in communication with the spirit world. By 1888, it was estimated that 8,000,000 Americans, and even more in Europe, were attending seances.

But the early leaders of the movement were the Fox sisters. By 1851, when they arrived in Columbus, the sisters had acquired an international reputation. Their sÈances were well-attended and in the wake of their brief visit, a spiritualist society in Columbus became quite popular.

Like many new movements, spiritualism was viewed with some derision by skeptics. In October 1854, the Ohio Statesman noted that, "the little knot of spirit rappers still continue ... near Peters Run (where I-70 passes through downtown today) in the south end of town. The performances on Sunday commence at church time, both morning and afternoon. At night, by way of variety, they are held in a dark room occasionally."

The end of the story of the Fox sisters was not very pleasant. Margaret Fox became closely acquainted with the noted explorer, Elisha Kent Kane, who attempted to persuade her to leave spiritualism behind. After his death in 1857, Margaret entered the Roman Catholic Church and seldom worked as a medium in her later years.

In the 1870s, the sisters moved to England, where Kate Fox married a man named Henry Jenkyn. In this period, both sisters allegedly became increasingly alcohol dependent.

In 1888, Margaret appeared before an audience at the New York Academy of Music and announced that the entirety of her experiences had been a hoax. Originally intended to be a joke on their superstitious mother, the rappings were done in a variety of ways, including cracking the bones in one's toes and feet.

The sensation caused by this announcement was lessened when Margaret soon thereafter retracted her admissions and claimed she had done it because she had been promised a large sum of money for a "confession" of fraud.

After living a few years in poverty and obscurity, Kate Fox died in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1892. Her older sister, Margaret, died in New York City a year later.

Originally published by Columbus This Week Newspapers By Ed Lentz Jan 12.06

Further Reading: The Birth Of Spiritualism

 

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