THE BEGINNING OF SPIRITUALISM: THE FOX SISTERS
The Fox family moved into a house in Hydesville, New York on December 11, 1847. Several former tenants had vacated the premises due to mysterious noises. However, the family did not experience any problems there until March of 1848. At this time raps and noises as of moving furniture began to be heard at night. These increased in intensity until on March 31st, there was a very loud and continued outbreak of the inexplicable sounds. Mr. and Mrs. Fox looked all over the small house but could not find the origin of the noises. Then Kate, the youngest, noticed that the sounds responded to sounds that they made. The idea came to her to ask for an answer to the snapping of her fingers and in this way their first communication with the unseen was established by getting it to rap once if an answer was YES and not to rap when an answer was NO.
Mrs. Fox tested the noise by asking it to rap her childrens different ages successively. It did so correctly even including a child that had died in infancy. She then ask if the noise was human and got no answer; when she asked if it was a spirit, she got a strong knock. Asking YES and NO questions, it was established that the spirit was a man age 31, a peddler, who was murdered for his money and goods in the house and buried in the cellar. Further questioning revealed that the spirit would also communicate with the neighbors. They were summoned and it did so, correctly answering their questions.
On Saturday night, April 1st they started digging in the cellar; they dug until water started filling the hole and they had to give up. That summer digging was resumed. At a depth of 5 feet they found a plank, deeper below charcoal and quicklime, and finally human hair and bones which were pronounced by medical men to belong to a human skeleton. However, nothing else was found.
The rest of the missing skeleton, and verification of the experience, was found 56 years later. According to a report of the Boston Journal of November 23, 1904, some parts of a rough wall built a yard from the true wall of the cellar fell down. Excavations revealed almost an entire human skeleton along with a peddlers tin box. The New York Times carried a similar artical on that date (See Figure 1).
The manifestations continued and grew in intensity until most nights the sounds of a literal death struggle were heard. Consequently the family left the house and went to live with a married son, David. However, the raps continued in the house after they left and one night more than 300 people conversed with the invisible entity.
Even though they were away from the house, Mrs. Fox was convinced that spirit was following her daughters so it was suggested that they be split up and leave the area. Kate Fox went to her brother in Auburn and Margaret to her sister in Rochester. However the plan didn't work because raps and other manifestations broke out in both places but were especially violent in Rochester.
These violent disturbances continued until Isaac Post, a visiting friend, remembered that Leah's brother David conversed with the Hydesville spirit by using the alphabet. Tremendous raps came in answer to the first question and the message was spelled out: "Dear friends, you must proclaim this truth to the world. This is the dawning of a new era; you must not try to conceal it any longer. When you do your duty God will protect you and good spirits will watch over you."
After this time communications began to pour through and the manifestations became orderly. The table rocked, objects moved, guitars were played, and psychic touches were experienced.
On November 14, 1849, the first public demonstration took place at Corinthian Hall in Rochester. The spirits came through and made the usual physical manifestations. Also, a challenge was made; a committee from the audience would be selected by the audience to examine the mediums and ,the manifestations to determine if they be genuine; the committee was to give its report the following evening. After investigation, the committee was convinced of the genuiness of the mediums and the phenomena. Two more committees were subsequently selected and reached the same conclusion.
From this point on the movement began growing and other mediums began to develop. Mrs. Tomlin and Mrs. Benedict of Auburn were the first two well known mediums who were developed in the circle of Kate Fox.
On November 28, 1849 owing to the increased demand for sittings and the obvious handicaps to one following a normal occupation, professional mediumship was begun by Leah. Later under the aegis of the Society for the Diffusion of Spiritual Knowledge, free public sittings were initiated for which Mr. H. H. Day paid 1,200 dollars a year to Kate.
The phenomena in these first sessions were not powerful. Raps occurred, ,the table and chairs moved and the sitters were touched by invisible hands. Perhaps their most powerful early manifestation was recorded in 1853 by Governor Talmadge of New York. It was the complete levitation of the table with himself on top. He also claimed to have received a communication in direct writing from the spirit of John C. Calhoun.
In 1861, Kate Fox was engaged exclusively for Charles F. Livermore, a rich banker of New York whose wife, Estelle, died a year before. For a period of five years Kate gave him nearly 400 sittings of which detailed records were kept. The following conditions of the sittings were noted:
1.The doors and windows were carefully locked and the sessions, witnessed by prominent men, were often held in Livermore's own house.
2.While the medium retained consciousness, Estelle gradually materialized. She was not recognized until the 43rd sitting when she was illuminated by a psychic light.
3.Later, the materialization became more complete but the figure could not speak, except a few words. The communication took place through raps and writing. Estelle and another phantom, calling himself Benjamin Franklin, wrote on cards brought by Livermore.
4.While Estelle wrote, the hands of Kate Fox were held. The script was a perfect reproduction of the characters she used when on earth.
5.At the 388th session, Estelle declared that she appeared for the last time. Livermore never saw her any more.
In gratitude for the consolation he derived from these sittings, Livermore enabled Kate Fox to visit England in 1871. While there she sat for many important people, gave excellent opportunities to learned men for investigation, and often held joint sessions with D. D. Home and Mrs. Gruppy.
Leah died in 1890, Kate in 1892, and Margaret in 1893. In a meeting of the Medico Legal Society of New York in 1905 the subject of Spiritualism was discussed. Mrs. Mellon, a woman doctor who did not happen to be a Spiritualist, told the story of the last hours of Mrs. Margaret Fox Kane. In a house on Ninth Street she passed some hours every day at her bedside. Mrs. Kane was unable to move hand or foot. There was not a closet in the place or any other hiding place of any kind. And yet knockings were heard now through the wall, now through the ceiling, and again through the floor. "They were heard," said Mrs. Mellon, "in response to questions the woman put to her guide, as she expressed it, and she was as incapable of cracking her toe-joints at this time as I was."