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The Fox Sisters

Religious Figure / Fraud

Born: c. 1835
Died: c. 1890
Birthplace: New York
Best known as:

The toe-cracking teens who claimed to be spiritualists

The Fox Sisters are considered to be the founders of the Modern Spiritualist movement. Leah, Margaretta and Kate Fox were three sisters from 19th-century New York who claimed to communicate with the spirits of dead people. On March 31, 1848 Kate and Margaretta (aged 11 and 13) communicated with a spirit they called "Mr. Splitfoot" by rapping on the walls. The phenomenon wowed the locals and the story spread that the girls were communicating with the spirit of a previous tenant of the house who had been murdered. Leah, the oldest sister, also claimed to have the ability to communicate with spirits and soon the three found themselves touring the region and demonstrating their abilities. Eventually the Fox Sisters appeared in New York City (thanks in part to P. T. Barnum) and across the United States. They endured plenty of criticism and fell on hard times, and by 1888 they renounced their claims of special powers; Kate admitted they'd fooled everyone by simply cracking their toes to mimic rapping sounds from the dead. A year later they retracted that confession, making the whole deal even more confusing. Skeptics now claim the sisters died destitute alcoholics and were frauds who made a living out of pretending to talk to the spirits of the dead. Believers still maintain the truth of the sisters' original story, and Spiritualism continues to have hundreds of thousands of followers.

Extra credit:

Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle was an early defender of Spiritualism... Magician Harry Houdini was a famous skeptic who fought the popularity of Spiritualism and exposed several frauds... Religious leader Ellen G. White did not dismiss the Fox sisters as frauds -- she claimed the communicating spirits were the work of Satan... The basic ideas of Spiritualism still thrive, as witnessed by the popularity of television personality John Edward.

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