Category: Other spiritually gifted people
The Fox sisters were three sisters from New York who played an important role in the creation of Spiritualism: Leah (1831–1890), Margaret (also called Maggie) (1833–1893) and Kate (also called Catherine) Fox (1837–1892).
According to Wikipedia, “the two younger sisters used "rappings" to convince their older sister and others that they were communicating with spirits. Their older sister then took charge of them and managed their careers for some time. They all enjoyed success as mediums for many years. “
Which if you think about it makes no sense at all, as if the two younger sisters had fabricated the ‘rappings’, they could not have enjoyed separate successful careers as mediums.
Many people with a lot to lose attempted to discredit them. The truly ludicrous explanations for how the rapping sounds were made include that of the Reverend John M. Austin who would later claim the noises could be made by cracking toe joints [ sic]. Then in 1851, the Reverend C. Chauncey Burr wrote in the New-York Tribune that by cracking toe joints the sounds were so loud, they could be heard in a large hall [sic]. In the same year three investigators Austin Flint, Charles E. Lee and C. B. Coventry from the University at Buffalo examined the raps produced by the sisters and concluded they were produced by cracking their bone joints such as toes, knees, ankles or hips! Aside from the near impossibility of doing this, even if it could be done, the pain over such long periods would have rendered them disabled. And they weren’t.
Much of the effort to discredit the sisters was effected later by Harry Houdini, and it has become clear that he had very confused motives in his efforts to discredit the more talented mediums, many of his accounts cannot be believed [see the Houdini entry].
We have an observation that is a more balanced and fair assessment of what actually happened written by a scientist who was their contemporary, Doctor Paul Gibier.
In 1848, the two younger sisters – Catherine (Kate) (age 10) and Margaretta (Maggie) (age 14) – were living in a house in Hydesville, New York, with their parents. Hydesville no longer exists but was a hamlet that was part of the township of Arcadia in Wayne County, New York, just outside Newark. The house had some reputation for being haunted, but it wasn't until late March that the family began to be frightened by unexplained sounds that at times sounded like knocking and at other times like the moving of furniture
Kate and Margaret were later sent to nearby Rochester during the excitement – Kate to the house of her sister Leah (now the married Leah Fox Fish), and Margaret to the home of her brother David – and the rappings followed them.
Amy and Isaac Post, a Quaker couple and long-standing friends of the Fox family, invited the girls into their Rochester home. Immediately convinced of the genuineness of the phenomena, they helped to spread the word among their Quaker friends, who became the early core of Spiritualists.
On 14 November 1849, the Fox sisters demonstrated their spiritualist rapping at the Corinthian Hall in Rochester. This was the first demonstration of spiritualism held before a paying public, and inaugurated a long history of public events featured by spiritualist mediums and leaders in the United States and in other countries.
Kate and Margaret became well-known mediums, giving séances for hundreds of people, and the religious significance of communication with the deceased soon became apparent. Horace Greeley, the prominent publisher and politician, then became their protector .
Leah, on the death of her first husband, married a successful Wall Street banker. She then married for a third time in 1858 to Daniel Underhill, a successful insurance man. Margaret met Dr Elisha Kane, the Arctic explorer and physician in 1852. Kane married Margaret who converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Following their marriages, both Leah and Margaret withdrew from practising mediumship.
Kate, however, continued her career. In 1861, she went to work as a medium for a wealthy New York banker named Charles Livermore, whose wife Estelle had died the previous year. Over the next five years, Kate provided Livermore with close to 400 sittings or séances in his home. There were witnesses to many of the sessions and written documentation was kept.
Eventually at the 43rd sitting, the spirit of Estelle Livermore ‘materialised’ and was seen bathed in what was described as a ‘psychic Light’. The spirit communicated to Kate via rappings and automatic writing. According to an account by psychic researcher and author Nandor Fodor, ‘Estelle and another spirit calling itself ‘Benjamin Franklin’, wrote on cards brought before Livermore. Whilst she [Estelle] wrote, the hands of Kate Fox were held. The script was a perfect reproduction of the characters [Estelle] used when on earth.'
At the 388th psychic sitting or séance, Estelle’s spirit made it clear that she would no longer materialise and, as she said, Livermore never again saw his late wife’s spirit. But because he was grateful to Kate Fox for the comfort she’d brought him during his grief, in 1871, he arranged for her to travel to England where she continued to work as a medium. In England, her career thrived. Kate was one of mediums examined by William Crookes, the prominent physicist, between 1871 and 1874, who concluded the raps were genuine. After Kane died in 1857 on one of his frequent trips, Margaret later joined her sister Kate in England.
In 1872, Kate married an attorney named Henry D Jencken, a London barrister, legal scholar, and enthusiastic Spiritualist, who died in 1881. The couple had two sons, both of whom showed evidence of psychic abilities when they were quite young. Kate’s reputation as a medium earned her a visit to Russia in 1883 where she demonstrated her psychic gifts for the czar.
There is a sad side to their story. Margaret, in her conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, had been convinced that her powers were ‘diabolical’, presumably by the priest converting her, she plunged into an abyss of gloom, eventually becoming alcoholic. When Margaret and Kate returned to the USA, a reporter offered them $1,500 if they would "expose" their methods and give him an exclusive on the story. Both were short of money, both were without husbands so they made something up. They lived to regret it.
Wiseman, Richard (2011). Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There.
The only real impact of the ‘confession’ was to distance the sisters from their supporters. The vast majority of Spiritualists were eager to cling to the comforting thought that they might survive bodily death, and they were not going to let a couple of rambling alcoholics stand in the way of immortality. But although Margaretta tried to retract her remarks shortly after confessing all, for the Fox sisters at least, the damage had been done.
Margaret recanted her confession in writing in November 1889. She had attempted to return to Spiritualist performances, but of course never again attracted the attention or paying clientele of the sisters' earlier careers. Within a few years, both sisters died in poverty, shunned by former supporters and were buried in pauper's graves.
Kate died at her home, 609 Columbus Avenue in New York City, on July 3, 1892. Less than a year later, Margaret was taken to the home of Spiritualist Mrs. Emily B. Ruggles, where she died on March 8, 1893.
Lehman, Amy (22 September 2009). Victorian Women and the Theatre of Trance: Mediums, Spiritualists and Mesmerists in Performance.
By the 1880s, Maggie, like her sister Kate who was now widowed after losing her English husband Jenckens, had become a full-blown alcoholic. In 1888, the sisters ‘confessed’ …. They claimed to have produced knocking sounds by manipulating and cracking the joints in their feet and knees. For a while they made money giving lectures about this "deathblow" to Spiritualism. However, before she died, Maggie recanted the confession, and Kate began conveying spirit messages to close friends once again. Ultimately, trance mediumship brought the sisters neither wealth nor happiness. Both died in penurious circumstances, essentially drinking themselves to death.
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