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The Fox Sisters and Spiritualism

Updated on March 14, 2012

Spiritualism is often confused with spirituality, which is the self-discovery of an individual's chosen path in life. Spiritualism is a monotheistic religion with a belief in one God, and a belief that spirits can communicate with people through mediums. Many people who are Catholic may find themselves gravitating to Spiritualism because of the many common threads, including the Holy Spirit.

Fox Sisters Slideshow

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A plaque from the Fox Sister's home in Lily Dale, New York. Photo by GerberInk.The Fox Sisters- Margaret, Kate and Leah.A photo of the original Fox homestead.Outbuilding that protects the original foundation of the Fox home in Hydesville, New York. Photo by Spiritualist Church of Orlando.The Fox home stone foundation in Hydesville, New York. Photo by Spiritualist Church of Orlando.
A plaque from the Fox Sister's home in Lily Dale, New York. Photo by GerberInk.
A plaque from the Fox Sister's home in Lily Dale, New York. Photo by GerberInk.
The Fox Sisters- Margaret, Kate and Leah.
The Fox Sisters- Margaret, Kate and Leah.
A photo of the original Fox homestead.
A photo of the original Fox homestead.
Outbuilding that protects the original foundation of the Fox home in Hydesville, New York. Photo by Spiritualist Church of Orlando.
Outbuilding that protects the original foundation of the Fox home in Hydesville, New York. Photo by Spiritualist Church of Orlando.
The Fox home stone foundation in Hydesville, New York. Photo by Spiritualist Church of Orlando.
The Fox home stone foundation in Hydesville, New York. Photo by Spiritualist Church of Orlando.

The Fox Sisters

For Spiritualists, the official date when their religious movement started is March 31, 1848. On this date, Kate and Margaret Fox stated that they made contact with the spirit of a murdered peddler in the Hydesville, NY home. They claimed that this spirit communicated with them through a series of knocking noises, which others in the room could also hear.

The girls at first called the spirit "Mr. Splitfoot" and then later called him Charles B. Rosma, who identified himself as a murder victim. An investigation in the basement of the home at the time produced some bone fragments. An excavation of the home's cellar wall in 1904 produced a human skeleton.

Skeptics of the girl's abilities had a difficult time trying to figure out how they were producing the rapping and knocking noises. One skeptic in particular, Charles Grafton Page, believed that they were hiding an apparatus under their skirts, which made the loud knocking noises. He declared that they would have been exposed as frauds immediately if they were forced to lift their dresses. Due to decorum reasons of the era, the girls were never forced to do this.

In 1888, Margaret publicly confessed that what the girls were doing was a hoax. This confession was printed in the New York World on October 21, 1888. This confession ruined their reputations and they were shunned by the Spiritualist community and in general, society. It is believed that Margaret made the confession in order to return to the Catholic faith, and because she felt that "speaking" with the dead was the devil's work. In 1889, Margaret recanted, but the damage had already been done.

How They Did It

The Fox sisters admitted that they figured out how to make the knocking noises with their fingers, then figured out how to do the same thing with their toes (basically snapping their toes, like fingers, against a hard surface). They would have been able to do this unseen, as the clothing of the day (hoop skirts and bustle skirts) would have covered their feet, especially while sitting down.

Fox Sisters Quotes

After Margaret's confession, the following quotes from the two sisters appeared in various publictions of the time, including the New York Herald, New York World and the New York Daily Tribune:

"That I have been chiefly instrumental in perpetrating the fraud of Spiritualism upon a too-confiding public, most of you doubtless know. The greatest sorrow in my life has been that this is true, and though it has come late in my day, I am now prepared to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God! . . I am here tonight as one of the founders of Spiritualism to denounce it as an absolute falsehood from beginning to end, as the flimsiest of superstitions, the most wicked blasphemy known to the world." — Margaretta Fox Kane, quoted in A.B. Davenport, The Death­blow to Spiritualism, p. 76

Kate Fox was quoted as saying "I regard Spiritualism as one of the greatest curses that the world has ever known." — Katie Fox Jencken, "New York Herald", October 9, 1888.

The Fox Family Home

The Fox family home was located in Hydesville, New York. It was later moved to the Spiritualist community of Lily Dale, New York in April 1916 by Benjamin Bartlett (see plaque photo from the site in the slideshow above). On September 12, 1955, the home burned to the ground.

A replica of the Fox's Hydesville home was built at the site in Hydesville on the original foundation, but it too burned to the ground in 1983. Today, the stone foundation is all that remains and is protected by a large wooden building.


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