(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The modern Spiritualist movement began rather unceremoniously in the home of a family named Fox in the town of Hydesville, New York, in 1848. The family, especially two of the children, Kate (1836–1892) and Margaret (1833–1893), found their routine disturbed with rapping noises that could be heard throughout the house. The children assumed that someone was making the noises and gave the name Mr. Splitfoot to him. At one point, in a somewhat playful mood, Kate called aloud, “Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do,” and she then clapped her hands twice. She then heard two rappings as if in response. From this incident, over a period of time, the family devised a code in order to turn the rappings into an intelligible form of communication.

The rappings continued through the rest of the year, and many people came to hear and participate in the communications. Eventually, the girls were sent away, but the rappings followed them to their new homes. Margaret went to live with her older sister Leah in Rochester, New York, and here the rappings not only continued but were combined with poltergeist phenomena that included objects being thrown at people by the spirits.

In Rochester, Kate was investigated by two committees, neither of which could come up with a mundane explanation for the rappings. Both she and her sister Leah would go on to become professional mediums. At their séances, in addition to the rapping sounds, objects would move about. As the movement spread, the occurrence of the rapping, and the movement of the table around which the people trying to contact spirits would sit, were common.

Over the next generation, rappings and table tipping would be replaced by trance mediumship in which the person leading the group of people gathered to contact the spirit world would go into a trance and allow spirits to speak through him or her. To this vocal means of communication would also be added various physical phenomena, especially materializations. Much of the physical phenomena would later be proven fraudulent.

One reason that rappings died out was the ease with which they could be produced fraudulently, and from the beginning a number of critics denounced the phenomena as the product of trickery. For example, as early as 1869 British medium William Ferguson testified how he produced and sold simple magnetic devises that could be used to produce the rapping sounds.


Brownson, Orestes. The Spirit-Rapper. Boston: Little Brown, 1854.
Carrington, Hereward. The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. London: L. T. Werner Laurie, 1907.
Jackson, Herbert G., Jr. The Spirit Rappers. Garden City,NY: Doubleday & Company, 1972.
Pearsall, Ronald. Table-Rappers. London: Joseph, 1972.
References in periodicals archive ?
In 1848, in the town of Hydesville, New York, not far from Rochester, the sounds of disembodied rappings were produced in the presence of Maggie and Katy Fox, and then of their older sister Leah.
She describes the spiritualists' memorial to Congress in 1854 asking for an investigation into the rappings but does not seem to realize that the petitioners believed they had been betrayed by Senator Shield's mockery of the subject.
Stuart repeatedly describes those who, beginning in 1848, were interested in the Fox sisters' rappings and in forming spirit circles as converting to "spiritualism" or as becoming "spiritualists.