Spiritualist Movement


The Spiritualist Movement was founded in Hydesville, NY by the family of John D. Fox. Instigated in his farmhouse in 1848, the Foxes claimed that mysterious tapping heard inside the family farmhouse, and that these taps were the attempts of spirits within the house to communicate with the family and visitors. Once the family broke the 'code' (using the taps to answer questions), they were able to question the spirits and communicate. An older Fox sister, noting the local interest, created the first "Society of Spiritualists" in Hydesville, who dealt primarily with the tappings. Soon after the creation of the society, the Foxes began travelling to Rochester to hold seances, where audiences were charged money to communicate with the spirits of the dead. According to Jim Steinmeyer's book, Hiding the Elephant, "In Rochester, the Fox sisters earned as much as $100 to $150 a night in profit [and] the citizens of Rochester were fascinated with the new 'spiritual telegraph.'" These performances, and the Rochester-based Society of Spiritualists inspired subsequent Spiritualist movements around the world, growing in popularity throughout the late 1800's. [WWW]SpiritHistory provides ample documentation of the growth of the Spiritualist movement.

Steinmeyer goes on to write that in 1988 Margaret Fox Kane (one of the original Fox sister mediums) published a confession in 'New York World' of the fraud of the seances - the sisters initially developed the idea of the mystery tappings to antagonize their nervous mother, using apples on strings to make a bumping sound on the floor. The later refined their technique by "surreptitiously snapping their toe joints against the wall or floor, creating a loud resonant knock" (Steinmeyer 2003).

Notably, the Fox family's seances inspired another family of performers: the Davenport Brothers moved to Rochester around 1850 and were similar in age to the Fox sisters, later going on to perform seances of their own and developing a significant following based on their Davenport Cabinet illusion, developed while the brothers lived in Rochester. The Davenports were originally from Buffalo, NY (Steinmeyer 2003).

Steinmeyer, Jim. Hiding the Elephant. New York, Carroll & Graf: 2003.