A year, or so, later I am realizing I never did post the video that went along with the Haunted Homework story. Here is the story in case you missed it: http://merricatblackwood.blogspot.com/2010/02/haunted-homework-part-iii.html and the video from one of our cameras, to boot!
The headline sums it up, really - "Heiress created perfect mini replicas of crime scenes." Frances Glessner Lee, a volunteer police officer with an honorary captain's rank, created 19 dollhouse rooms during the 1940's culled from real cases.
Corinne May Botz, "The Nutshell Studies"
Forensic report: On April 11, 1944, an aproned Robin Barnes is found dead in her kitchen, midcuisine. The gas jets on the stove are open, her rosy hue indicates carbon monoxide poisoning, and the doors to the kitchen are locked, barring escape for a murderer. But would a suicidal housewife take the time to bake a cake? And why is the ironing board tagged "50¢"? A beverage on the table and ice trays on the floor suggest that Mrs. Barnes could have had company.
- New York Times
Lee called her miniatures the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, after a saying she had heard from detectives: "Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell."
Of Dolls And Murder is a documentary that closely examines Lee's work and our fascination with murder.
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.
Normally, I detest Valentine's Day, save for my annual viewing of Picnic At Hanging Rock. Although, I had quite a good time making you this Valentine - won't you be mine?
Labels: cabinet of curiosities podcast
The rappings and strange noises seemed to be completely mysterious in nature. It was especially unnerving to Mrs. Fox, who had moved into the little house in Hydesville, New York with her previously estranged husband and three children only weeks prior – it was the winter of 1848.
The rappings continued, with more frequency. First at night, then, spilling over into the waking hours, from the floor, the walls, the furniture – or anywhere the Fox girls happened to be.
14 year old Margaret and her sister, 11 year old Kate began to engage in a discourse...with the dead.
One night in March, Kate called out “Here Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do,” and knocked a number of times on the floor. Mr. Splitfoot obliged by responding with the same number of raps. It wasn’t long before the Fox’s had devised a method of communication with the “spirits.” And soon, a horrible story was revealed – that of a salesman who was murdered by having his throat cut with a knife then, buried in the cellar of the house.
Neighbors were invited in, people fishing at the nearby creek and all of them heard the same series of questions and answers. Many more came throughout the night, for word spread fast in the little town.
Mrs Fox composed an affidavit recounting the story of the rappings, saying: ” I am not a believer in haunted houses or supernatural appearances. I am very sorry that there has been so much excitement about it. It has been a great deal of trouble to us. It was our misfortune to live here at this time; but I am will and anxious that the truth should be known, and that a true statement be made. I cannot account for these noises; all that I know is that they have been heard repeatedly, as I have stated. I have heard this rapping again this morning, April 4th. My children also hear it.”
Mr. and Mrs Fox were frightened. They and the people who witnessed these rappings and exchanges were all convinced the Fox girls possessed an incredible power – they were also convinced there was a ghost in their house. So, Margaret and Kate were sent to live with their older sister, Leah, a 33 year old single mother who lived in Rochester, New York. Leah had just read The Divine Principles Of Nature – a book wherein the author claimed the dead were in daily contact with the living and predicted that someday the truth would be known to us through a living demonstration. Leah had just found her “living demonstration.”
Under Leah’s management, Margaret and Kate were soon in high demand to conduct séances. Once guests arrived they would seat themselves around a table, recite a prayer, sing a bit then, either Margaret or Kate would fall into a trance.
On November 14th, Rochester’s largest Hall, seating 400, was rented out. The local paper, the Daily Democrat, reported that those in attendance were in the best possible humor, ready to be entertained and watch Fox sisters be exposed for perpetrating a fraud. This was not the case and, in fact, the paper later reported that the “ghost” was indeed there.
There was some who refused to let it go and demanded an investigation. In result, Over the next few nights at the live demonstrations, the girls were subjected to being placed on glass, on pillows, their feet placed in shackles and probed by a subcommittee of ladies to search their bodies for concealed machinery. Of course, nothing even remotely suspicious was ever discovered. On the final night of performances a barrel of hot tar that had been hidden was discovered and removed, the non- believers lit fireworks inside and attempted to storm the stage – the Foxes were taken to safety by the police.
All this publicity ensured that theaters showcasing the Fox sisters were sold out. They began receiving invitations from some of New York’s most illustrious citizens to hold these – “conversations through the veil” for them. The girls were bone fide celebrities – there was even Fox Sisters merchandise! People would wait in line for hours for a chance to see these two young mediums. For a chance to hear something, anything from a loved one who had left them behind.