*Two* Women to Know: The Fox Sisters
|Julia Carpenter||Mar 23, 2017|
They asked the spirit through us about it, and we would rap one for the spirit answer 'yes.' — Margaret Fox
(image via Missouri History Museum)
In 1848, when Margaret and Kate were just teenagers, they decided to play a trick on their mother, thumping, clicking and "rapping" late into the night, to convince her that ghosts haunted their house. Their mother, terrified of the "spiritual communications," insisted her daughters come clean: were they making the noises, or was it something else?
The sisters kept quiet. Soon, they declared themselves "mediums," and from there their innocent prank spawned a lifetime of deception -- and a nationwide movement of ghostly rapport, known as Spiritualism. Margaret and Kate's readings were seen as especially accurate because of the sound produced when they called upon ghosts to "show themselves." These eerie "rapping" sounds would echo throughout their public seance halls, bewitching audience members and convincing journalists and politicians of the sisters' powers.
Margaret and Kate's oldest sister, Leah, began managing the mediums' hectic schedules, leading the duo on public seance tours around the country, even setting up private readings for such famous figures as Arthur Conan Doyle and Mary Todd Lincoln. But their deception couldn't last forever. Both Margaret and Kate developed serious drinking problems, and as the Spiritualism movement swept the country, other mediums (with more spectacular shows of accuracy than a mere noise or two) stole the show. With Leah tightening her control on their productions and Kate worried they had actually been communicating with the Devil ("Mr. Splitfoot," as she called him), Margaret came clean: in 1888, she took $1,500 from a journalist and, in a public arena, demonstrated how she and Kate had deceived their millions of fans.
Turns out, the whole time the Fox Sisters had hinged their productions on a very simple trick: the "rapping" noises had actually just been the two of them cracking their creaky toe joints.
Add to your library list:
Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox (Barbara Weisberg)
Talking to the Other Side: A History of Modern Spiritualism (Todd Leonard)
The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox (Nancy Rubin Stuart)
Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights (Ann Braude)
The Fox Sisters and the rap on spiritualism (Smithsonian)
The sisters who spoke to spirits (Salon)
The ruse that gave rise to the spiritualist movement (The Paris Review)
"A very common delusion": Fox Sisters and Spiritualism (Smithsonian)
The rise and fall of five claimed mediums (Mental Floss)
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