The Death of Modern Spiritualism? Nah.



You have to appreciate that the beginning of Modern Spiritualism is credited to three young ladies from New York. Actually two really young girls and one older sister. I stumbled across this story the other day, but here’s the tale in 500 words or less. Hopefully. 

Maggie and Katie fox began pretending ghosts in the house at ages 7 and 9 by dropping apples on the floor of their attic bedroom. They learned to hoist these apples on strings connected to their toes while laying in bed pretending to sleep. The apples would bob and thump in the night for a dramatic and ghastly effect.

Their mother, much to their impish delight, began reporting in tones of mild hysteria of the strange goings on.

Time passed and Maggie and her little sister Katie found a new trick. At their young ages the joints in their bodies were not so set as adults and they found with a little practice that they could manipulate the joints in their toes, thereby making little audible thumps. They needed not move any other part of their bodies to effect the trick. So, by touching the sides of their toes to, say, a table leg–any good sound conducter, like wood–they could send a series of little whaps that could be felt as well as heard.

This caused quite a stir and didn’t take long before Mother Fox invited the neighbors over. And from there it spread to the whole of New York and then the world. You see, because Maggie and Katie had a sister, 23 years older, who saw one thing in all of this: money. 

Leah Fox did not for one second believe this nonsense about spirits communicating with thumps, twice for “yes,” once for “no” and the like. She took those two little girls and began taking apart their clothes saying, “How do you do it? Show me just exactly how you do it!”

And on the road they went. 

Well, the story can only end one way, of course. Maggie and Katie took to the drink at a young and tender age because defrauding millions played havoc on their conscience and it was Maggie who finally announced she and her two sisters were frauds, explaining every detail of how they did it. 

One might imagine that the whole of Spiritualism might fold up when the icon announces it all a con job.

No way.

Folks wrote in by the mail bag trying to ascertain if the newspaper announcement had indeed come from Maggie herself. Many felt betrayed and still others felt relief that finally their suspicions and fears could be laid to rest along with the memory of their loved one. You see it wasn’t just talking to “random dead” that these Fox girls pretended, it was deceased husbands, wives and children. The kind of thing you wouldn’t want to get someone’s “hopes up” about. 

But the whole of Spiritualism, mediums and the like denied any such notion that the cracking of a toe joint could create such a spectacle and went on about their business. 

The eldest, Leah, never did admit to it, Instead she wrote a book expounding on her life with spirits.

Sadly, the three died alone and bereft and broke. Yet, their memory lives on and we admire the courage of Maggie coming forward and saying how it was. And we can appreciate this too: despite the world’s foremost spiritualist declaiming it all a fraud, the subject lives on. It would seem Man has no notion, any time soon, of doing away with his belief in life after death.    




Andrew Michael Schwarz is a speculative fiction writer working in the genres of fantasy and horror. He describes his work as Narnia for Grown Ups and uses themes of horror and fantasy to examine deeper philosophical underpinnings about the nature of the universe and the human experience.

4 thoughts on “The Death of Modern Spiritualism? Nah.

    • A. Michael Schwarz

      Yeah I thought so. Where it hit me was when I realized that these girls were conning bereaved widows and the like. Before that I could quite grasp why they carried on so. Those girls never forgave themselves.

      • owyl

        It reminds me of today’s TV psychics who claim to be able to talk to the dead and read into your future, making millions of dollars off people who believe their claims. I have had many profound psychic and supernatural experiences, so I don’t doubt the possibilities, but when money gets involved… It’s hard to sort out truth from fraud.

  • A. Michael Schwarz

    Indeed. Well, it shows you how desperate people are for some kind of guidance and reassurance. Future predictions are easy. Anything can “come true” and if a psychic tells you something that will happen, it’s nothing to decide it will and then it does. Sometimes you hear about a psychic just knowing really detailed stuff. That I can see as talented. In relationships you get sharing of thought all the time. If you’ve been with someone for a while, you start completing each others sentences and like that. I think that’s definitely an example of telepathy. But TV anything puts my sensors on alert so to speak. Be it Madam Divine or Tammy Faye Baker.


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