Spirit home Introduction William H. Mumler Fraud? The movement The Founders Buguet Today
Photo of a seance,
Psychic researchers investigating
a female medium, July 1897
Although the basic principals of Spiritualism had been in circulation in Europe over a century earlier, the movement in the United States began in Hydesville, a small town in upstate New York. The "founders" of the movement were three young women, the Fox sisters, who demonstrated an ability to communicate with spirits. Although there are many variations on the story, most agree that something happened on the night of March 31st, 1848. Some accounts have the Fox family fleeing in terror but the following version is frequently repeated.

A few weeks prior to that historic March night, the Fox family was disturbed by unexplained noises such as rapping, footsteps, and other "activity." (Michael Weakman, the previous tenant, had allegedly vacated the house entirely because of similar complaints). On March 31st, however, something different transpired; there was an actual exchange between Kate and Margaret Fox, then twelve and fifteen years old and the offending spirit. Kate Fox spontaneously challenged the boisterous spirits to follow her lead; the same number of taps soon followed her clapping. Sister Margaret joined in offering a similar challenge, which again was met by distant corresponding taps. An astonished Mrs. Fox immediately put the spirits to a test by demanding that it - or they - tap out her daughter's ages. The correct number of taps followed her request.

Spiritual drawing of a spirit
Spiritual drawing of a spirit, from Owosso, Mich.

Further questioning by Mrs. Fox revealed that the spirit belonged to a thirty-one year old man who had been murdered in the house and buried beneath the cellar. Neighbors were summoned as witnesses to the extraordinary exchange. Mr. Duesler, a Fox neighbor, proved to be a talented spirit communicator; he discovered that the injured spirit of the murdered man had been killed five years earlier in his bedroom for the sum of five hundred dollars.

Immediate attempts to exhume the murdered man's remains were unsuccessful until the following summer when hair and bones were unearthed. Fifty-six years later, the Boston Journal reported that the skeleton of a murdered man had been discovered in the walls of the Fox house. The grisly discovery clearly proved beyond a doubt that the Fox sisters had been telling the truth about their spiritualist abilities, a claim that enabled them to turn quite a profit by touring the country demonstrating their talents before large audiences. For some, however, suspicion remained and that, coupled with a confession of trickery by one the sisters, which was later retracted, resulted in the downfall of the Fox sisters fame and fortune. They died destitute and alone.