The Fox Sisters – Con Artists Who Talked To The Dead

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  • Intro
  • Years
  • The Beginning of The Sisters Fame
  • Lies Being Unravelled
  • The Truth About The Sisters
  • Outro The Sisters

Intro

The Sisters were three girls that lived in the state of who conned everyone into thinking that they could talk to the dead. What had originally began as an innocent prank by the younger girls soon spiraled out of control with the girls holding paid séances for hundreds of people and intermingling with the elites of society. Helping create one of the greatest religious movements in the 19th century, Spiritualism. This thrust into stardom for their supposed medium abilities at such a young age came with its only problems though. Despite earning lots of money in the early years all three of the Sisters would die in poverty.

Years

1848, the two youngest girls (age 10) and (age 14) lived at home with their parents. Their house was located in Hydesville, which would be located in Waynes County, but the town no longer exists. Their house was known by locals as a place that could already be potentially haunted and the two little girls took full advantage of that. 

of 1848, the girls began to play pranks on their unsuspecting parents. It all started with an apple tied to a string. would reveal the story that follows in 1888. “When we went to bed at night we used to tie an apple to a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound. Mother listened to this for a time. She would not understand it and did not suspect us as being capable of a trick because we were so young.”

On 31st, the eve of Fools, ’s sister would challenge the noise-making spirit to prove its real existence. First, she told it to repeat the snapping of its fingers. She snapped and the “spirit” repeated. Then she told it to thump out the number of the girl’s ages. The spirit thudded away stopping at the correct amount and stunning the parents. They soon went and got the neighbours and of the next few days, the girls secretly created a code to represent yes, no and all the letters of the alphabet with their rappings. 

The Girls called the spirit “Mr.Splitfoot” which was another name for the Devil. They later claimed that the specific spirit they were talking with was that of B. Rosna who had been murdered and buried in the cellar of the house the girls were living in. While no man by that name was ever identified as missing the neighbours would later dig up the cellar and oddly enough found several pieces of bone and some hair in the dirt.

would later say this about the events. “They were convinced that someone had been murdered in the house. They asked the spirits through us about it and we would rap one for the spirit answer ‘yes,’ not three as we did afterwards. The murder they concluded must have been committed in the house. They went over the whole surrounding country trying to get the names of people who had formerly lived in the house. Finally they found a man by the name of , and they said that this poor innocent man had committed a murder in the house and that the noises had come from the spirit of the murdered person. Poor was shunned and looked upon by the whole community as a murderer.”

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The Beginning of The Sisters Fame

The family deserted the now haunted house they lived in and the two girls were sent to Rochester, . was sent to her sister ’s house and was sent to her brother ’s house. There they would continue their rappings tricking their family members. would believe strongly in her sister’s abilities and would later become basically their manager but before that happened the two girls were moved to the home of and who were close friends of the Sisters Family. and were both radical Quaker who became convinced that the Sisters really could speak with the dead. stating “I suppose I went with as much unbelief as felt when he was introduced to after he had ascended.” The couple showed the girls to their friends who were also strong believers in Spiritualism. They all helped spread the news about the Girl’s abilities. and ’s older sister would also trick the Posts later on making them believe she was able to talk to their recently deceased daughter.

On November 14th, 1849 only about a year and a half since the girls first tied a string to an apple and dropped it onto their floor, they were demonstrating their abilities at the Corinthian in Rochester in front of about 400 people. People had to pay money to get inside to see the show and some point this too the beginning of people scamming others with their spiritualistic abilities. Within a year they were attracting many famous people to attend their shows and became quite famous for the time. All though with this fame came hundreds of other people claiming to also have the ability to talk with the dead.

They were now giving séances to hundreds of people. people at the beginning not even wanting to talk to the dead and were confused thinking that the girls could also tell the future. People would come to ask about the stock market or their love affairs. They were soon taken under the wing of Greeley who brought them into the social circle of the elites of the time. With all this fame and lack of parental guidance, the girls soon found themselves falling down the rabbit hole of alcohol.

Lies Being Unravelled

Skeptics of the Sisters started popping up in 1850. E.P. Longworthy was one of the first to cast doubt on the Sisters noting how the noises of the spirits always seemed to come under their feet or when their dresses were close enough to the table to be touching. claimed to believe that the Sisters were the ones actually making the noises. A man named D. also demonstrated in front of a large audience how the sounds could, in fact, be created by cracking his toe joints.

1851 three investigators from the University at Buffalo named , and C.B. Coventry examined the girls and decided that they had been creating the raps themselves by cracking their joints. They did this by making the girls sit on a couch with a cushion under their feet thus preventing them from using the floor to create the same sounds.

The next big skeptic came in 1853 who was named Grafton from D.C. thought that the sounds were coming from the girls so he challenged them to see if they could cause the sound to happen a distance away from the girls. One of the girls climbed inside of a wardrobe with her dress touching a wood plank and the sound came from the plank. However, she was unable to control the sound from the spirit sufficiently to communicate. also created devices that a user could hide under long clothing and create the same sounds that were heard when attending one of the Sisters séances. then stated that the girl’s refusal for body examinations was also proof that they were frauds.

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The last skeptics we’ll talk about came from the Courier who in 1857 created a price of $500 to anyone who demonstrate paranormal abilities to them. The Sisters attempted to win the money but when they were investigated by three Harvard professors they failed to prove their abilities. The professors had decided that the girls were, in fact, creating the sounds using their own bodies.

The Truth About The Sisters

1851 Mrs. was the first of the family to publicly expose the girls as frauds. She admitted in a signed statement that she had been aiding the Sisters during their séances. She would touch one of the girls to signal when to make sounds. She also said that and had shown her how they were making the raps with their joints.

Over time the two younger girls became annoyed with their older sister who at the time was basically their manager, helping put on shows and making money off of them. Both the girls had a serious drinking problem and in 1888 had had enough with her sister who had been trying to get her to stop drinking in fear that her addiction was hurting ’s two children. at the same time was suddenly wanting to become religious and was thinking about joining the Catholic church. She saw her powers as sinful. Resentful of their sister the two girls went to City where they were offered $1,500 to spill the beans. On October 21st, 1888 in the Academy of Music in front of an audience of 2,000 took the stage while her sister looked on. She showed the crowd how she was making the sounds by cracking her joints and after a couple of doctors took to the stage to examine her while she was creating the raps it was affirmed that the girls had been conning everyone the whole time and that they did not actually have the ability to communicate with the dead. wrote a signed confession which was published in the World, on October 21, 1888.

She wrote the following. “Mrs. Underhill, my eldest sister, took and me to Rochester. There it was that we discovered a new way to make the raps. sister was the first to observe that by swishing her fingers she could produce certain noises with her knuckles and joints, and that the same effect could be made with the toes. Finding that we could make raps with our feet – first with one foot and then with both – we practiced until we could do this easily when the room was dark. Like most perplexing things when made clear, it is astonishing how easily it is done”

She also wrote. “A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them. It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: “I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.” Of course that was pure imagination.”

Outro The Sisters

The money the Sisters made was quickly wasted away on booze. All three of the girls would soon die, all in poverty. was the first to go in 1890 only two years after her younger sisters exposed themselves, partially in spite of her. and soon followed her, died in 1892 during a drinking spree and died eight months later in of 1893. The girls are often still talked about in parapsychology and spiritualist literature with many omitting their confessions that it was all fake. Continuing the lie and presenting the rapping the girls created as evidence that it is possible to talk with the dead. They are also often cited as proof that all Spiritualism is in fact false.

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_sisters
  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-fox-sisters-and-the-rap-on-spiritualism-99663697/   

Image Sources:

  • By N. (Firm) – Library of CongressCatalog: http://lccn.loc.gov/2002710596Image download: http://cdn.loc.gov/service/pnp/pga/09400/09494v.jpg Original url: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002710596/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75430688
  • By Hardinge Britten – Nineteenth century miracles, or, Spirits and their work in every country of the earth : a complete historical compendium of the great movement known as “modern spiritualism”, : Published by Britten: & Co, 1884., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47807784

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