Editor’s note: This article appeared originally in the newspaper The New York World, on October 21, 1888. It is the testimony of the first modern-day psychic, Margaret Fox, where she tells the story of how a simple childhood joke sparked the spiritualist movement that even today has a strong following, with numerous TV shows about psychics and how they talk to the dead.
On many occasions, THE WORLD has been able to expose the fraudulent practices of so-called spirit mediums and turn the bright light of careful investigation upon the secret methods of these social vampires. Several times have WORLD reporters torn the white robes from the mediums as they groped about their darkened parlors deceiving their dupes into the belief that the returned spirits of their friends were before them. Besides this many persons have been saved from the clutches of these soulless impostors just as the mediums were about to hold them within their avaricious grasp.
But the severest blow that Spiritualism has ever received is delivered to-day through the solemn declarations of the greatest medium of the world that it is all a fraud, a deception, a lie. This statement is made by Mrs. Margaret Fox Kane, who has been able, through long training and early muscular development, to produce peculiar rappings and knocks which were affirmed to be spiritual manifestations, and which were so skillfully done as to baffle all attempts at discovery. It was this woman, then Margaret Fox, and the most expert of the world-famous “Fox sisters,” who was first brought before the public as a medium. Her tour of the great cities of the United States is historical. She was seen by most of the prominent theologians, physicians and professional men, but there was not one who could solve the mysterious power that seemed to possess her nor imitate her alleged spiritual rappings.
The Exposure is Complete
The unparalleled excitement caused by these young girls suggested to the minds of many unscrupulous persons the vast financial field that lay before anybody who should pretend similar mediumistic powers. At once there were hundreds of mediums in all parts of the country and the number of these impostors has increased year by year. Now the Fox sisters have come forward and as a matter of long-neglected duty to the public and for their own peace of mind say boldly that theirs has been a life of deception and fraud. As the first and greatest of all mediums the weight of their evedence can not fail to sound the death knell of the abominable business which they, at an age when they knew not what they did, began and have seen flourish into one gigantic world-wide fraud.
The statement which THE WORLD gives was prepared by Mrs. Margaret Fox Kane, the widow of the famous artic explorer, Dr. Kane. This she will repeat to-nite at the Academy of Music, and she will demonstrate to all, as she has to a WORLD reporter, exactly how she preforms the tricks which have deluded 8,000,000 people in this country alone. At the same time Dr. C. M. Richmond and Mr. Frank W. Stecham will expose the many other tricks and illusions commonly practiced by mediums at their seances. The admission to the Academy to-night has been placed at such a figure as to merely pay the expenses of the exposure, which is made purely in the interest of the public.
The Medium’s Statement
Mrs Margaret Fox Kane Tells the Story of Her Remarkable Life
I think that it is about time that the truth of this miserable subject “Spiritualism” should be brought out. It is now widespread all over the world, and unless it is put down soon it will do great evil. I was the first in the field and have the right to expose it.
My sister Kate and myself were very young children when this horrible deception began. I was eight, and just a year and half older than she. We were very mischievous children and we wanted to terrify our dear mother, who was a very good woman and very easily frightened. At night, when we went to bed, 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. My mother listened to this for a time. She could not understand it and did not suspect us of being capable of a trick because we were so young.
Childish Mischief at First
At last she could stand it no longer and she called the neighbors in and told them about it. It was this that set us to discover the means of making the raps. I think, when I reflect about it, that it was a most wonderful discovery – a very wonderful thing that children so young should make such a discovery, and all through mischief. Children will always find means to accomplish mischief. And to the thought of spirits, this never entered our brains. We were too young to know anything about that.
Our eldest sister, Mrs. Underhill, was twenty-three years of age when I was born. She was in Rochester when these tricks first began, but came to Hydesville, the little village in central New York were we lived and were born, shortly after. My father and mother were very good, honest people and great friends with the Hyde family for whom the village was named and who lived near. They took a great fancy to us and we were especial favorites of the Hydes, both before and after the notoriety that our rappings made became widespread. All the people around, as I have said, were called in to witness these manifestations. My siter, now Mrs. Daniel Underhill – she was Mrs. Fish then – began to form a society of spiritualists. There were so many people coming to the house that we were not able to make use of the apple trick except when we were in bed and the room was dark. Even then we could hardly do it so that the only way was to rap on the bedstead.
And this is the way we began. First as a mere trick to frighten mother, and then, when so many people came to see us children, we were frighten ourselves and kept it up. We were then taken by Mrs. Underhill to Rochester. There it was that we discovered how to make the other raps. My sister Kate was the first one to discover that by swishing her fingers she could produce a certain noise with the 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, then with both – we practiced until we could do this easily when the room was dark. No one suspected us of any trick because we were such young children. We were led on by my sister purposely and by my mother unintentionally. We often heard her say, “Is this a disembodied spirit that has taken possession of my dear children?”
Convinced That Murder Had Been Done
That encouraged our fun, and we went on. All the neighbors thought there was something, and they wanted to find out what it was. They were convinced some one had been murdered in the house. They asked us about it, and we would rap one for the spirit answer “Yes” not three, as we did afterwards. We did not know anything about Spiritualism then. 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. They found finally a man by the name of Bell, and they said this poor innocent man had committed a murder in the house, and that these noises came from the spirit of the murdered person. Poor Bell was shunned and looked upon by the whole community as a murderer. As far as spirits were concerned, neither my sister nor I thought about it.