3
Aug

The Fox Sisters

   Posted by: David   in Uncategorized

Kate and Maggie Fox: hailed as among the founders of Modern Spiritualism by some reviled as frauds by others.

The paranormal presents a quandary to our comfortable predictable existence, to the religious and to the scientific alike. It tends to polarize the way many religious or political topics do.

Paranormal activity simply doesn’t fit the paradigm no matter what paradigm you choose. Religious leaders tell us that we go to heaven maybe hell when we die but we surely don’t linger in a disembodied state on earth. Science tells us that we simply cease to exist upon death. From dust we came and to dust we return.

Ed Warren once said, “Perhaps our biggest fear of ghosts is that they don’t exist. What could be more frightening than the idea that our lives and those we love are as temporal and expendable as tissue?” (From Ghost Tracks p. 310).

It is not my intention to convince anyone of anything pertaining to the interpretation of paranormal activity or to the existence or nonexistence of such. I am a believer but you don’t have to be and best of all we can disagree and still be friends.

My ideology, my belief system, has changed so radically and so many times over the course of my life that the only thing I feel certain of is that change in my belief system is inevitable. The very idea I might scoff at today I may embrace tomorrow so my writing should not be construed as “apologetic” in nature. I am not writing to convince but to explore.

I know that Maggie confessed herself to be a fraud. She was paid handsomely at a time when she was destitute and alcoholic to do so. She later recanted that “confession.” Make of that what you will. I believe her paid confession of fraud occurred in a moment of desperation. I believe when she did it she lost a part of her soul and apart of the soul of every true believer. Realizing her mistake, made in a moment of weakness she recanted.

Maggie Fox was one of the finest mediums of all time.

She could write while in trance in the handwriting of the one she was channeling.
She could write it in such a way that it had to be held to a mirror to be read or she could use both hands to channel two different spirits, each hand producing messages in the penmanship of the channeled spirit.

She could provide information known only to sitter and diseased – the true acid test of any medium.

I went to Lily Dale and I stood inches from Charles B. Rosna’s peddler’s pouch. I did that shortly after a medium told me things about my grandfather that only I and my grandfather knew. The medium quoted his words to me expressing a sense of humor that only he had.

After visiting with my grandfather who died when I was an infant it wasn’t a vast leap of faith when I looked upon that old pouch to believe that it actually was the physical evidence of the restless earthbound spirit that reached out to two sensitive girls in 1848.

I took a picture of that pouch.
You can see it below:

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But the image does nothing for you until you have exhaustively read their story from as many sources as you can.
If you have done that as I have, and then if you make the pilgrimage to Lily Dale and see it for yourself, well, the moment is nothing short of sacred.

I have read the story of the Fox sisters over and over in skeptical and believer accounts alike.
I believe it is one of the defining stories of history.

The best telling of the story of the Fox sisters is, in my opinion, The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox by Nancy Rubin Stuart. Once I picked that book up I could not put it down. Even if you don’t believe, Ms. Stuart presents a very human portrait of a remarkable Victorian woman, a story I’m sure you will find challenges you to be more tolerant, more loving, and more understanding.

I will not attempt to outshine Ms. Stuart here.
I’m not a historian.
I am a story teller.
I love to embellish but I will do my best in these entries to keep my proclivity for embellishment in check.

Emotional impact is more important to me than facts.
That does not mean that I will ignore or make up facts.
What it does mean is that in the telling of the tales I will tell I am going to exercise poetic license so that you will feel what I feel.
It is the emotion I am trying to convey.
The story of Katie and Maggie has had a profound impact on my life and it is that impact I hope to share more than facts figures, and dates.

Margaret Fox (also called Maggie) born: 1833, died: 1893.
Kate Fox born: 1837, died: 1892.

The year was 1848.
Kate was 12.
Maggie was 15.
Their family had just moved to a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York.

Hydesville is to the Spiritualist what Azusa Street is to the Pentecostal or Rome to the Catholic although today the Rome of Spiritualism is almost certainly Lily Dale so let’s go with Hydesville is the Bethlehem of the story of Spiritualism, the birth in a humble manger.

Pictured below is the farm house, the Fox home, the first of the modern haunts, and the birthplace of Modern Spiritualism:

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If you are well read in the paranormal you might recognize the pattern already but remember this was the first scientifically investigated case – the pattern setter.
It wasn’t “oh yea I know this story” then for there was no precedent at least not in the way it unfolded with direct two-way communication, an investigation by the best minds in the area, and the search for verifying evidence.

The house was haunted by the restless earthbound spirit of a man murdered.

He had come to call on previous owners hoping to make a sale.
They murdered him for the few dollars he carried on his person and buried his body in the basement.

When a person’s spirit is suddenly separated from their body it is not uncommon for the spirit to find itself in a state of confusion.

Have you seen the Sixth Sense or Passengers?
Both films deal effectively with the theme.

Charles B. Rosna was confused, lost, and possibly frightened.
He might not have known he was dead at least not for a time but he knew by the time he reached out to Maggie and Kate.

He wanted his story known and now an obscure peddler from the nineteenth century will never be forgotten.

1848

A community engaged, a time ripe for the first scientific investigation of a haunt.
Haunts have been since the dawn of time. But they were not rigorously studied until 1848.

The skeptics and critics forget that what these girls were subjected to.

They forget that they were strip searched, that men of science held on to their legs and feet because they suspected “toe cracking” and yet the raps came not from anywhere near the girls but from all over. When spirit manifests physically it is like that. It comes from everywhere and nowhere.

A struggling family finds a new home, a humble farmhouse in upstate New York.
The family is devoutly Christian that is why the girls name their mysterious visitor Mr. Splitfoot, one with a cloven foot, the devil. In the Christian mind the devil is the root cause of such disturbances but the Fox family, their neighbors, and soon the world would learn that there is continuity to life, that the dead can communicate if we listen.

It is cold in upstate New York at the end of March but not as cold as it was when the manifestations came.

The little girls could see their breath.
It was a chill that went straight to the bone.

They hear a rapping on the walls.
Not a soft tap like the knock of a friendly neighbor on a door.
This is a pounding like the house itself is crying out in pain.
They run to their parent’s room.
They are not safe there.
The rapping continues, night after night, louder and louder.

John, their father, checks the house for loose shingles by the light of day.
By the light of day the rapping seems less otherworldly, more the result of a lose shingle, so he checks, he fixes, he works but still when the sun sets and the lights go out, the rapping continues.

The girls try to sleep in their own room.
They want to be brave.
They want to have faith.
But one night there is more than a rap on the wall.
One night while they sat snuggled together in bed listening to the raps, a cold hand reached out through the darkness and touched Kate on her face.
Once again they run for the sanctuary of their parents.
This time when a rap comes John hits the wall in return.
A rap follows.
So John hits the wall again.
Another rap follows.

“Here, Mr. Splitfoot,” Kate says, “Do as I do.”
And the first modern medium was born.

She snapped her fingers once.
There was one rap.
She snapped twice and there were two.

“Now Mr. Splitfoot, answer one rap for yes, two for no are you a human spirit?”

One rap was his answer.
As this communication developed John ran for neighbors.
Late at night as it was they came.
The house was full of witnesses as the young women engaged in their first interactive exchange with a disembodied human spirit.

Some reports say that someone made a letter board.
I have only read this in one account but if it is true then I would argue that Ouija was born on the very same day as Modern Spiritualism.
When they touched the right letter they received an affirmative rap and by this tedious means of communication the entire neighborhood learned the story of Charles B. Rosna.

Some members of the community had been in the community for some time and they remembered the peddler.
The peddler told them where his body was buried.
Providing evidence is one way to know the communication is authentic but when John and some of the neighbors dug in the basement the next day they did not find a body. They did find a bone fragment that was believed to be from a human skull but no body, no pouch.

The girls were moved out of the house but curiously the rapping followed them.
Why?
Rosna wanted his story told; he wanted a sense of resolution so he could move on.
Why would he follow the girls?

My guess is he didn’t follow the girls.
He chose to reach out to them because he knew they were sensitive and receptive.
When his story was told, he moved on so where did the raps come from?

I think they came from other spirits who wanted to use the receptive girls to communicate.
Soon the girls were giving demonstrations in large halls.
Their reputation grew as did their skill.
They became the first of the modern mediums exploring uncharted territory and paving the way for the rest of us.

By Nov of 1849 they were touring the eastern part of the United States.

It was in 1888 that Maggie made her infamous “confession.” As I mentioned earlier she was penniless and alcoholic but what I didn’t mention was that her sister Kate was struggling to maintain custody of her own children. Maggie’s confession may have been motivated by money but it might just as easily have been motivated by the desire to take the pressure off of her sister.

In any case it wasn’t long before Maggie realized her mistake and attempted to retract it.

Maggie dies in 1893.
Her sister Kate preceded her in death in 1892.

The Fox sisters as adults:

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In 1904 some children were playing in the basement of the crumbling ruins of the Fox home.
A wall collapsed.
The human remains of Charles B. Rosna were found less his skull along with his peddler’s pouch.
The story was published in the Boston Journal.

The Fox home was moved to the grounds of Lily Dale where it remained until it tragically burned to the ground.
All that remains now of their actual home is a meditation garden where it once stood at Lily Dale.

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I spent some time there reflecting on the story of the Fox sisters when I visited Lily Dale.

Today in Hydesville over the foundation where the Fox home once stood, there is a museum dedicated to their story.

Much love,
David

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 at 4:07 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

30 comments so far

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davidd
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davidd
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David
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David
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October 20th, 2013 at 7:11 pm
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October 21st, 2013 at 11:15 am
 29 

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October 29th, 2013 at 9:44 am
David
 30 

I have no immediate plans to write a part 2 on the Fox sisters but they did have long and illustrious careers so I am sure I will revisit them at some point.

October 29th, 2013 at 10:55 pm