Reports of strange knocks or sounds with no apparent cause go back centuries. For our purposes we can start with the now legendary sisters, Maggie and Kate Fox, of Hydesville, New York in 1848.
THE FOX SISTERS
The first knocks or “raps” they heard came from a table around which the family was sitting. The sounds developed into noises such as furniture being moved, of loud poundings echoing from the walls or floor causing violent vibrations in the house. Maggie, 14 or 15, and Kate, 12, moved their beds into their parents’ room because they were afraid, but no sooner had they got into bed than the knockings started.
RAPS RESPOND TO FOX SISTERS’ COMMANDS
This time instead of showing fear the girls started interacting with the raps: For instance, Kate would snap her fingers and the raps would respond. Maggie would clap her hands asking for a reply—and would get it. Their mother got into the act and asked for ten raps, which were obediently supplied, and then requested the ages of her children. Again the raps replied with complete accuracy.
They then used a code for “Yes” or “No” answers, also reciting the alphabet until a rap sounded, giving them letters, then words to answer questions.
THE FOX SISTERS’ PEDDLER STORY SPREADS RAPIDLY
The girls asked who was causing the raps. The sounds spelled out that it was the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered and whose remains had been buried under the house.
Needless to say the news of the rapping spirit spread quickly, and as the audience grew the “story” was developed: he had been a 31-year-old widower whose initials were “B.C.,” came from Orleans County, and had left five children.
The raps were heard for the first time in daylight about the third day. Some of those present made investigations and signed statements swearing that they could not find any apparent cause of the raps.
The family moved to another house but the noises followed them.
PEDDLER NEVER EXISTED
The raps eventually spelled out the peddler’s name but no trace of such a person or his five children was ever found.
In retrospect, of course, it is easy to see that the raps originated with either one or both of the girls. The messages were either products of their suggestive unconscious or facts that they knew or were picking up telepathically from the townspeople, similar to those messages produced by the Bindelof group. The general populace, however, believed these were communications from the dead.
FOX SISTERS FAME SPREADS
The sisters began to hold séances and the range of their abilities increased. There were reports of tables moving and at least partial levitation.
The Fox sisters became world famous, and together with their older sister, Leah, toured the country giving demonstrations.
FOX SISTERS’ DOWNFALL DUE TO DIRTY DEALINGS.
Much later in their lives the two sisters fell upon hard times. By 1888 they were penniless widows who were rumored to be alcoholic to boot. A real soap opera. Maggie “confessed” that the rappings had been fraudulent but later withdrew her “confession,” saying she had been given a $1,500 bribe—quite a sum of money in those days—to do so.
UNDESERVED BAD REP
This “confession” led to the commonly held belief, widely spread by the professional “skeptics” or debunkers to this day, that the Fox girls had cheated by making the sounds by manipulating their toe bones or some such other nonsense.
Television shows on psychic phenomena will generally mention the Fox sisters as frauds as a preface to their programs, their writers just assuming that they were fakes. The “debunkers” have done a good job of deceiving the public.
KATE FOX WAS GENUINELY GIFTED
However we know that Sir William Crookes met Kate Fox and tested her as well. He reported that Miss Fox had only to “place her hand on any substance for loud thuds to be heard in it, like a triple pulsation, sometimes loud enough to be heard several rooms off.
Crookes witnessed direct writing somewhat like that obtained by the Bindelof group. The medium was Kate Fox, and the circumstances were very much the same as the New York boys experienced.
KATE FOX AND THE TRAVELING BELL
Crookes also cites, under “Miscellaneous Occurrences of a Complex Character,” an incident where Miss Fox was responsible for the dematerialization of a small hand-bell belonging to Crookes that he had left in his library.
The bell re-materialized in the dining room where Kate was giving a séance. The door between the two rooms was locked and, in addition, the library was brightly lit and was occupied the whole time by Crookes’s two sons. They reported that no one had entered the room and that they were sure the bell was there after the adults had gone into to the dining room because one of them had been playing with it until admonished by his brother to stop.