Leah, Margaret and Catherine Fox were three siblings resident in upstate New York in the 1840s. By 1848, Leah had married and moved to Rochester, while her younger sisters were living nearby with their parents. In March of that year, “rappings” began to be heard around the two young girls. These were attributed by family and neighbours to spirits. In time a code was worked out, and “Mr Splitfoot”, as the girls named the entity with whom they were in contact, claimed to be a murdered pedlar whose body had been buried in the basement.
Leah took her sisters’ careers in hand, and their phenomena on the road. An early association with radical Quakers led to their following being imbued with a moral element, and a new religion was born: Spiritualism. Soon other “mediums” appeared. Seances became popular, the planchette (a forerunner of the Ouija board) was invented, and “spirit photography” came into vogue.
The oceans of blood shed during the Civil War caused an explosion of interest from the bereaved, with the president and Mrs Lincoln hosting seances in the White House. After the war ended, interest continued to grow, and Helena Blavatsky came to the US to investigate it – and founded theosophy.
From the 1850s onwards the claims of the Fox sisters were questioned, their denigrators claiming that the rappings were produced by the clicking of bone joints. Eventually Margaret and Catherine, their lives already in ruins due to drinking and financial failure, owned up to the fraud. Yet Spiritualism (the Foxes had many imitators) endured.
Today, there are Spiritualist churches featuring quasi-Christian worship and spirit messages in most major US cities. These activities are condemned by the Church as a resurrection of necromancy; through the ages she has consistently taught that in conjuring the dead you are far more likely to make contact with demons disguising themselves as the dearly departed – and they mean none of us any good.