The Fox Sisters and the Birth of Spiritualism

The Fox sisters are one of the most iconic aspects of spiritualism in antebellum America. During this period preceding the 1800 civil war, the three sisters Margaret, Catherine, and Leah Fox begun and influenced what is referred to as spiritualism in the present day. Spiritualism was rare during the Antebellum period. Spiritualism asserts that dead people survive as spirits capable of communicating with the living through a medium.

The three Fox sisters became the first medium to channel spirits of the deceased from the haunted house they lived in, which led to the sprout of spiritualism. In 1848 the fox family lived in Hydesville, New York, in a house with a haunting reputation.

The family could at times experience sounds that resembled knockings or rapping through the walls. These strange sounds and knockings lead Katherine and Margaretta to challenge the origin of the noises. Catherine first challenged the invisible noisemaker to mimic the snap of her fingers, which it willingly obliged. The sisters then challenged the noisemaker, later unanimously believed to be a spirit, to rap out their ages, and once again, it obliged. The sisters from then admitted communicating with spirits and nicknamed the noisemaker Mr Splitfoot, the devil.

The three sisters claimed the ability to communicate with the spirit of Mr Charles Rosner, believed to have been murdered and buried in the house cellar. Although Rosner turned out to be a stereotype, the neighbours found a bone buried in the house and took up the common belief of the three sister’s ability to communicate with spirits. The fox sisters had developed a code for every sequence of tappings from which they could interpret the information relayed by the spirits. During the antebellum period, death was rapid in the US, and people wanted answers to the cause of the sudden deaths. They wanted hope, and the ability to communicate with their deceased loved ones was a blessing much awaited.

People were willing to pay for the services of Catherine and Margaret, and their sister Leah managed their career to travel around the world channelling spirits. Soon enough, several women started copying their art, and the concept of spiritualism gathered momentum.

There was, however, a contradictory occurrence right before Margaretta Fox passed away when she claimed that spiritualism was a pure hoax. She openly suggested that the concept of spiritualism was a pure lie that she intended to expose and give spiritualism the death blow it deserved. Her intentions of denying the very belief she brought the world were still unknown until she revealed the mysterious story of young children seeking to scare their parents. They had been making the tapping noises by bouncing an apple tied to a string on the floor or hitting their bed frames.

When they travelled around channelling spirits, they contorted the cracking sounds of their fingers, toes, and joints to mimic the sounds they needed for the art. Despite this revelation, spiritualism has much ground in the US and other parts of the world, with much application in religious and cultural aspects.