In 1847, the Fox family moved from Rochester to Hydesville. The family—which included sisters Leah, Katie, and Maggie—moved into a cottage which already had a reputation for having strange, unexplained noises. The girls soon claimed to be able to communicate with a spirit in the house through a series of “rappings.” The Fox sisters gained international attention and their activities led to the birth of the spiritualist movement.
John and Margaret Fox and their
two young daughters, Katie and Maggie, moved to Hydesville from Rochester in
1847. While John Fox built a new home for his family, the Foxes lived in a
nearby cottage. The cottage already had a reputation for having strange noises
and unexplained phenomena, and other families who had lived in the cottage
quickly moved out.
In the winter of 1848, Maggie and
Katie Fox began to hear strange rappings in the house. They became convinced
that a spirit inhabited the home, and they began referring to him as “”Mr.
Splitfoot,” a common nickname for the devil. The girls developed a way to
communicate with the spirit, who would respond to their questions with a series
of raps. The girls claimed that the spirit was that of a murdered peddler who
was buried beneath the home.
Neighbors and locals began coming
to the Fox home to hear the rappings for themselves. Stories of the spirit and
of the girls’ ability to communicate with it soon spread throughout New York,
and the Fox sisters became celebrities. The events at the Fox household—whatever
they were—launched the spiritualist movement, a philosophy which rests on the
belief that the dead can communicate with the living.
Spiritualism spread far beyond
New York and became a widely accepted belief in both the United States and
Europe. The Fox sisters were renowned for their abilities as mediums, and
numerous well-known and respected public figures attended their séances,
including Horace Greeley, William Lloyd Garrison, and Mary Todd Lincoln.
Many years later, Maggie Fox
announced to an audience that the initial rapping sounds heard in the house
were a hoax—that the girls made the noises themselves by popping their toes and
knuckles. She later recanted her statement, but the damage to the spiritualist
movement was already done. Though a number of people still believe in the
ability of the dead to communicate with the living, the confession of Maggie Fox
created widespread doubts about the practice of mediumship, and the skepticism