Clio Logo
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.

  • The Fox sisters
  • The foundation of the Fox house

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 lingers today. 

The original Fox cottage no longer exists. Only the foundation, which is located in a protective enclosure, remains. The site is maintained by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches and the enclosure can only be entered with a guide. Some people still report hearing rappings and other noises at the site
Hydesville Park History. National Spiritualist Association of Churches. Accessed November 29, 2017.

Clemens, Chris. Hydesville Memorial Park and the Fox Sisters--Newark, NY. Exploring Upstate. April 14, 2015.