Although the Fox sisters were mediums, each in her own right, they are generally and, we believe, more appropriately connected to the events which took place on the evening of March 31, 1848. The events which took place with the Fox family in Hydesville, New York, are generally considered to have initiated the Modern Spiritualist Movement. We shall look at the reasons for this a little later on; but first, let us look at the characters involved and the events which took place on that fateful evening of March 31, 1848.
Hydesville was a small hamlet about 20 miles from Rochester, New York. On December 11, 1847, John Fox, along with his wife Margaret and their two daughters, Kate and Margaretta, moved into the house in question. The house had a reputation of being "haunted"; there were several instances recorded of raps, taps, and other noises. In fact, the prior tenant, Michael Weakman, moved out of the house because of the inexplicable disturbances.
Beginning at around the middle of March, 1848, the Fox family began to be disturbed by the strange sounds and activities. The children were so alarmed at what was happening that they refused to sleep apart and were taken into the bedroom of their parents. The sounds were so loud, that the beds themselves often shook. Every possible opportunity was made to ascertain the source of the sounds, but to no avail. Finally, on March 31st, Kate Fox made history. She challenged the mysterious unseen power to repeat the snaps of her fingers.
To offer a more personal sense for what actually took place during this evening, we are presenting the content of a signed affidavit written by Mrs. Fox on April 4, 1848. As you read this, see if you can envision mentally what transpired:
"On the night of the first disturbance we all got up, lighted a candle and searched the entire house, the noises continuing during the time, and being heard near the same place. Although not very loud, it produced a jar of the bedsteads and chairs that could be felt when we were in bed. It was a tremendous motion, more than a sudden jar. We could feel the jar when standing on the floor. It continued on this night until we slept. I did not sleep until about twelve o'clock. On March 30th we were disturbed all night. The noises were heard in all parts of the house. My husband stationed himself outside of the door while I stood inside, and the knocks came on the door between us. We heard footsteps in the pantry, and walking downstairs; we could not rest, and I then concluded that the house must be haunted by some unhappy restless spirit. I had often heard of such things, but had never witnessed anything of the kind that I could not account for before.
On Friday night, March 31st, 1848, we concluded to go to bed early and not permit ourselves to be disturbed by the noises, but try and get a night's rest. My husband was here on all occasions, heard the noises, and helped search. It was very early when we went to bed on this night; hardly dark. I had been so broken of my rest I was almost sick. My husband had not gone to bed when we first heard the noises on this evening. I had just lain down. It commenced as usual. I knew it from all other noises I had ever heard before. The children, who slept in the other bed in the room, heard the rapping, and tried to make similar sounds by snapping their fingers.
"My youngest child, Cathie, said: 'Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do,' clapping her hands. The sound instantly followed her with the same number of raps. When she stopped, the sound ceased for a short time. Then Margaretta said, in sport, 'Now, do just as I do. Count one, two, three, four,' striking one hand against the other at the same time; and the raps came as before. She was afraid to repeat them. Then Cathie said in her childish simplicity, 'Oh, mother, I know what it is. Tomorrow is April-fool day, and it's somebody trying to fool us.'
"I then thought I could put a test that no one in the place could answer. I asked the noise to rap my different children's ages, successively. Instantly, each one of my children's ages was given correctly, pausing between them sufficiently long to individualize them until the seventh, at which a longer pause was made, and then three more emphatic raps were given, corresponding to the age of the little one that died, which was my youngest child.
"I then asked: 'Is this a human being that answers my questions so correctly?' There was no rap. I asked: 'Is it a spirit? If it is, make two raps.' Two sounds were given as soon as the request was made. I then said: 'If it was an injured spirit, make two raps,' which were instantly made, causing the house to tremble. I asked: 'Were you injured in this house?' The answer was given as before. 'Is the person living that injured you?' Answered by raps in the same manner. I ascertained by the same method that it was a man, aged thirty-one years, that he had been murdered in this house, and his remains were buried in the cellar; that his family consisted of a wife and five children, two sons and three daughters, all living at the time of his death, but that his wife had since died. I asked: 'Will you continue to rap if I call my neighbors that they may hear it too?' The raps were loud in the affirmative.
"My husband went and called in Mrs. Redfield, our nearest neighbor. She is a very candid woman. The girls were sitting up in bed clinging to each other and trembling with terror. I think I was as calm as I am now. Mrs. Redfield came immediately (this was about half-past seven), thinking she would have a laugh at the children. But when she saw them pale with fright, and nearly speechless, she was amazed, and believed there was something more serious than she had supposed. I asked a few questions for her, and was answered as before. He told her age exactly. She then called her husband, and the same questions were asked and answered.
"Then Mr. Redfield called in Mr. Duesler and wife, and several others. Mr. Duesler then called in Mr. and Mrs. Hyde, also Mr. and Mrs. Jewell. Mr. Duesler asked many questions, and received answers. I then named all the neighbors I could think of, and asked if any of them had injured him, and received no answer. Mr. Duesler then asked questions and received answers. He asked: 'Were you murdered?' Raps affirmative. 'Can your murderer be brought to justice?' No sound. 'Can he be punished by the law?' No answer. He then said: 'If your murderer cannot be punished by the law, manifest it by raps,' and the raps were made clearly and distinctly. In the same way, Mr. Duesler ascertained that he was murdered in the east bedroom about five years ago and that the murder was committed by a Mr. _______ on a Tuesday night at twelve o'clock; that he was murdered by having his throat cut with a butcher knife; that the body was taken down to the cellar; that it was not buried until the next night; that it was taken through the buttery, down the stairway, and that it was buried ten feet below the surface of the ground. It was also ascertained that he was murdered for his money, by raps affirmative.
"'How much was it - one hundred?' No rap. 'Was it two hundred?' etc., and when he mentioned five hundred the raps replied in the affirmative.
"Many called in who were fishing in the creek, and all heard the same questions and answers. Many remained in the house all night. I and my children left the house. My husband remained in the house with Mr. Redfield all night. On the next Saturday the house was filled to overflowing. There were no sounds heard during the day, but they commenced again in the evening. It was said that there were over three hundred persons present at the time. On Sunday morning the noises were heard throughout the day by all who came to the house.
"On Saturday night, April 1st, they commenced digging in the cellar; they dug until they came to water, and then gave it up. The noise was not heard on Sunday evening nor during the night. Stephen B. Smith and wife (my daughter Marie), and my son David S. Fox and wife, slept in the room this night.
"I heard nothing since that time until yesterday. In the forenoon of yesterday there were several questions answered in the usual way by rapping. I have heard the noises several times today.
"I am not a believer in haunted houses or supernatural appearances. I am very sorry that there has been so much excitement about it. It has been a great deal of trouble to us. It was our misfortune to live here at this time; but I am willing and anxious that the truth should be known, and that a true statement should be made. I cannot account for these noises; all that I know is that they have been heard repeatedly, as I have stated. I have heard this rapping again this (Tuesday) morning, April 4. My children also heard it.
"I certify that the foregoing statement has been read to me, and that the same is true; and that I should be willing to take my oath that it is so, if necessary."
(Signed) MARGARET FOX, April 11, 1848.
Upon further inquiry, it was ascertained that the spirit's name was Charles B. Rosna and that he had been a peddler who stayed at the house five years prior to these incidents.
The digging could not be resumed until the summer months, at which time, at a depth of about five feet, a plank was found, deeper below charcoal and lime, and finally hair and bones. But it was not until 56 years later that a further discovery was made which proved beyond all doubt that someone had actually been buried in the cellar of the Fox household.
The following statement appeared in the Boston Journal (a non-Spiritualist paper) on November 23, 1904:
"Rochester, N.Y., Nov. 22nd, 1904: The skeleton of the man supposed to have caused the rappings first heard by the Fox sisters in 1848 has been found in the walls of the house occupied by the sisters, and clears them from the only shadow of doubt held concerning their sincerity in the discovery of spirit communication.
"The Fox sisters declared they learned to communicate with the spirit of a man, and that he told them he had been murdered and buried in the cellar. Repeated excavations failed to locate the body and thus give proof positive of their story.
"The discovery was made by school-children playing in the cellar of the building in Hydesville known as the "Spook House," where the Fox sisters heard the wonderful rappings. William H. Hyde, a reputable citizen of Clyde, who owns the house, made an investigation and found an almost entire human skeleton between the earth and crumbling cellar walls, undoubtedly that of the wandering peddler who, it was claimed, was murdered in the east room of the house, and whose body was hidden in the cellar.
"Mr. Hyde has notified relatives of the Fox sisters, and the notice of the discovery will be sent to the National Order of Spiritualists, many of whom remember having made pilgrimage to the "Spook House," as it is commonly called. The finding of the bones practically corroborates the sworn statement made by Margaret Fox, April 11, 1848."
These were the events which transpired with the Fox family on the evening of March 31, 1848. Yet, this is just the beginning of the story. Let us now look briefly at what happened after these incidents took place.
It is reported that Mrs. Fox's hair turned white because of these occurrences. Kate had to move to her brother's house in Auburn, New York, while Margaret took refuge at her sister Leah's house in Rochester. Raps broke out at both places, indicating that it was the young girls who were supplying the necessary, vital energy for Spirit to manifest as it did. The raps were particularly violent in Leah's house.
The violent disturbances continued in Leah's house until a friend named Isaac Post remembered that the girls' brother, David, had once conversed with the Hydesville spirits using the alphabet. As an experiment, they tried this method again with the following results:
"Dear Friends, you must proclaim this truth to the world. This is the dawning of a new era; you must not try to conceal it any longer. When you do your duty God will protect you and good spirits will watch over you."
From that time onward, the communications poured forth and the manifestations were orderly and nonviolent in nature. The successful relaying of the above message apparently released the frustration and urgency on the part of Spirit, thereby allowing more orderly and cohesive communication. Imagine, if you can, the sense of release you would feel if, after trying so very hard to convey a message to someone without success, you were suddenly able to do so. This is exactly what Spirit experienced during this period.