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Who Were The Fox Sisters?

Updated on January 31, 2012
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In 1848 the Fox family lived in a home in Hydesville, New York. The two younger sisters of the family, Kate (age 12) and Margaret (age 15) reported being able to communicate with spirits through knockings on the walls of their home.

To the general public this claim coming from a strict Shaker family was most impressive. At first the young girl’s claims were ignored by their parents, but it became more and more apparent that something of a supernatural nature was occurring at the home. Neighbors began visiting to witness the mysterious communication, and from that the news spread worldwide quickly.

Hydesville was a hamlet of Arcadia Township in Wayne County, New York. The home had a reputation for being haunted before the Fox family moved into it. Soon after they settled in the family began hearing strange unexplained noises, like someone knocking on the walls and furniture being moved, but when investigated, everything in the home remained as it was.

On March 31st Kate decided she had had enough of the mysterious disturbances. She asked whoever was making the knocking to reply to some questions. Kate first asked that the knocking repeat a pattern she performed by snapping her fingers. It repeated the pattern perfectly. She then asked the “spirit” to knock out her age… again the knockings counted out the exact number of years.

The young girls made up a name for their spirit friend, Mr. Splitfoot. Later the entity claimed (through his knocking out letters) to be the soul energy of Charles B. Rosma. Rosma had been murdered at the home and was buried in the cellar. When a search was done of the cellar bone fragments were found and a full skeleton was also discovered buried within one of the cellar walls.

The Fox girls later became mediums and were very popular. They are credited with being the ladies who started the Spiritualist movement in the late 18oos. In 1888 Margret claimed that they had pulled off a hoax by using an apple to create the tapping sounds. However, she recanted her statement afterwards.

Why would young ladies brought up in s strict Shaker household make up such a story? Both of these ladies were of the age of puberty, so it is possible that they did have something to do with the mysterious events at the Fox home. This could be one of the first documented instances of true poltergeist activity. Since when the girls were removed from the home the activity followed them, it is the most likely explanation, (assuming it was not a hoax).

In 1853 Dr. Charles Grafton Page studied the Fox sisters’ talent and determined that the knocking sounds were made from beneath their long dresses and that it had nothing to do with spirits. He wrote a book about his investigation, Psychomancy.

Other investigators did not agree with Page, however. Between the years of 1871 and 1874 prominent scientist, William Crookes investigated Kate’s talents of not only knocking, but generating spirit lights, automatic writing and producing apports (materializing material objects) and concluded she had genuine psychic talent.

Despite the claims of fraudulent practices, Kate and Margaret Fox became well-known mediums. Prominent publisher and politician of the era, Horace Greeley became the Fox sisters protector and manager to a degree by introducing them into his elite social circles.

All three sisters eventually married, but Kate remained a popular medium throughout her adulthood. In 1871 she traveled to England. The expenses for her trip were picked up by a wealthy New York banker who believed in her talents. He was a Spiritualist and wanted to ensure that Kate would not have to charge for sessions. The banker considered the trip missionary work. While in England Kate met and eventually married, H. D. Jencken, a London barrister and devout Spiritualist. Kate had two sons with Jencken and became a widow in 1881.

Unfortunately, by 1888 Kate and Margaret had developed serious drinking problems. They had a fall out with sister, Leah and other leading Spiritualists of the time. Margaret dropped out of the Spiritualist movement and decided that their powers had been wrought by the devil. In October of 1888 both Kate and Margaret made a public appearance at the New York Academy of Music and announced that they had made the mysterious knockings by manipulating their toe joints.

Margaret recanted her confession in November of 1889, but by this time the damage had been done to their reputation. Within five years both Kate and Margaret died in abject poverty. However, what they had started, the Spiritualist Movement, did not parish with them. Many prominent social aristocrats and popular authors believed in Spiritualism and the movement flourished for many decades after the death of its founders. Today there are thousands of Spiritualist church all across America and Great Britain.

Some Famous Spiritualists include: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Rev. Florence Becker, Edgar Cayce, Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, Andrew Jackson Davis (Father of Modern Spiritualism), George Dexter, M.D. (Pioneering Physical Medium),
Judge John W. Edmonds (Supreme Court Judge, Congressman & Senator),
Hamlin Garland (Author, Pulitzer Prize winner), Victor Hugo (Author, Poet, Statesman), Professor James Hervey Hyslop, Ph.D., LL.D (Abnormal psychology and psychical research), Dr. Alexander Imich (Chemist and Parapsychologist).
President Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria of England, and many more . . .

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    • Christine B. profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine B. 

      6 years ago from Medina, Ohio

      Thanks, John... and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. :o)

    • profile image

      John 

      6 years ago

      very good article, alot of good info that I did not know.Thanks for the info.....

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