The Fox Sisters - Part II
Spiritualism was now at its height. With its guiding principals of equality of souls - regardless of gender, race, wealth or religion, it allowed these Victorian women a place to speak out – so what if they were in a trance? Women became influential, powerful and financially independent for the first time in America. In the Spring of 1854 the Spiritualist movement in America had grown so much that it received the attention of congress. Senators from Illinois and Massachusetts presented a petition requesting the appointment of a scientific commission to study spiritualist phenomena.
Meanwhile, the three Fox sisters were holding onto the foundations of their familial relationship by their fingertips. Leah distanced herself from her younger sisters to become a medium in her own right. Margaret fell deeply in love with famous Arctic explorer Dr. Elisha Kane, who held a deep disdain for the Spiritualist movement and forbid her to continue in it. She then became a Catholic. Kate married and moved away to England. She continued to conduct séances, but refused payment for them.
As the years went on Leah dug her heels into her celebrity and society and authored a book. Margaret’s beloved Dr. was lost on an expedition, and Kate’s husband died too, leaving both sisters devastated. They sought comfort in the other kind of spirits now, and often appeared drunk in public. Embarrassed by her now poor and drunken siblings, Leah began to make trouble for them, going so far as to even report Kate to child welfare services.
On October 21st 1888, a now 54 year old Margaret Fox was paid a large sum of money to take out the Spiritualist movement and her sister Leah with it. In front of an audience of 2,000 paying customers, including Kate, at the New York Academy Of Music, Margaret took the stage and delivered what has been referred to as the historic “Death Blow To Spiritualism.” As reported in the NY Times, she “seated herself and a committee of physicians called by Dr. Richmond from the audience who examined her to see that no deception was practiced.” She then proceeded to slip off one of her shoes, her feet covered in a plain, black stockings which then emitted a series of raps, loud enough to be heard by everyone.
Margaret further explained that as young girls the sisters had set out to frighten their mother, first thorough little knocks and noises but then by more creative means of tying a length of twine around an apple, allowing it to thump across the floor and ricochet off the walls and furniture. Margaret continued, saying “My sister Katie was the first to observe that by swishing her fingers she could produce certain noises with her knuckles and joints and the same effect could be made with her toes. Finding that we could make raps with our feet – first with one foot and then both – we practiced until we could do this easily when the room was dark. A great many people, when they hear the rapping imagine at once that spirits are touching them. It is a very common delusion.” Sounds are difficult to place in space and let’s face it, people will believe anything if they want to bad enough.
The critics took up the mantle of I told you so, others were disillusioned and the rest, refused to believe.
Just before she died Margaret Fox took it all back and recanted her confession – saying she did it for the money and that everything she and Kate did was indeed real and true.
In 1904, the Fox family’s house in Hydesville, where it all began, was being torn down. In one of the walls near Margaret and Kate’s bedroom the skeleton of a man was discovered along with a suitcase full of salesman samples and a family Bible, he appeared to have been murdered just a few years before the Fox family moved in.