Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism

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Zondervan, Oct 13, 2009 - Religion - 336 pages

A fascinating story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts in the second half of nineteenth century America viewed through the lives of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters whose purported communication with the dead gave rise to the Spiritualism movement – and whose recanting forty years later is still shrouded in mystery.

In March of 1848, Kate and Maggie Fox – sisters aged 11 and 14 – anxiously reported to a neighbor that they had been hearing strange, unidentified sounds in their house. From a sequence of knocks and rattles translated by the young girls as a "voice from beyond," the Modern Spiritualism movement was born.

Talking to the Dead follows the fascinating story of the two girls who were catapulted into an odd limelight after communicating with spirits that March night. Within a few years, tens of thousands of Americans were flocking to seances. An international movement followed. Yet thirty years after those first knocks, the sisters shocked the country by denying they had ever contacted spirits. Shortly after, the sisters once again changed their story and reaffirmed their belief in the spirit world. Weisberg traces not only the lives of the Fox sisters and their family (including their mysterious Svengali–like sister Leah) but also the social, religious, economic and political climates that provided the breeding ground for the movement. While this is a thorough, compelling overview of a potent time in US history, it is also an incredible ghost story.

An entertaining read – a story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts – Talking to the Dead is full of emotion and surprise. Yet it will also provoke questions that were being asked in the 19th century, and are still being asked today – how do we know what we know, and how secure are we in our knowledge?

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User Review  - nancyewhite - LibraryThing

For some reason Talking to the Dead became a slog for me even though I also enjoyed learning more about the rise of Spiritualism generally and the Fox Sisters specifically. I wanted to know more about ... Read full review

TALKING TO THE DEAD: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism

User Review  - Kirkus

A wide-ranging account that persuasively demonstrates that the Fox sisters' role in the founding of modern spiritualism was more a reflection of mid-19th-century culture than an occult phenomenon ... Read full review


TWO Some Family Antecedents
EIGHT The Knocking Spirits Are Actually in Town
ELEVEN Doctor Kane of the Arctic Seas
TWELVE My Dreams Always Prove False
NINETEEN We of Modern Times
Selected Bibliography

FOURTEEN A Medium of Reflecting Others

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Page 205 - My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.
Page 129 - Margaretta was absent, she wanted somebody to help her, and that if I would become a medium, she would explain it all to me. She said that when my cousin consulted the spirits, I must sit next to her, and touch her arm when the right letter was called. I did so, and was able to answer nearly all the questions correctly. After I had helped her in this way a few times, she revealed to me the secret. The raps are produced by the toes. All the toes are used. After nearly a week's practice with Catherine...
Page 83 - ... investigation at the office of Chancellor Whittlesey, and they heard the sound on the floor, on the wall and door — that the ladies were placed in different positions, and, like the other committee, they were wholly unable to tell from what the sound proceeded, or how it was made, that Dr. Langworthy made observations with a stethoscope to ascertain whether there was any movement...
Page 68 - I took several shells from a card-basket on the table (small lake shells), closed my hand, and placed it entirely out of sight, and requested as many raps as there were shells. It was done correctly. As I knew how many shells there were in my hand, I resolved to test it another way, to see if there was a possibility of my mind having any influence in the matter.
Page 164 - When I think of you, dear darling, wasting your time and youth and conscience for a few paltry dollars, and think of the crowds who come nightly to hear of the wild stories of the frozen north, I sometimes feel that we are not so far removed after all. My brain and your body are each the sources of attraction, and I confess that there is not so much. difference.
Page 104 - Now I am ready, my friends. There will be great changes in the nineteenth century. Things that now look dark and mysterious to you will be laid plain before your sight. Mysteries are going to be revealed. The world will be enlightened. I sign my name, Benjamin Franklin.
Page 298 - L., and others. Advocates of legislation which would require that railroad corporations which issue new stock shall dispose of the same for market value. ntp [Bost., 1893.] 4. (4) p. [4] — To the members...
Page 320 - History of the strange sounds or rappings, heard in Rochester and western New York, and usually called the mysterious noises!
Page 100 - And back it came, as though it were carried on the head of some one who had not suited his position to a perfect equipoise, the balance being sometimes in favor of one side, and then the other. But it regained its first position. In the meantime the 'demonstrations' grew louder and louder. The family commenced, and sung the 'spirit's
Page 290 - History of ^the Strange Sounds or Rappings heard in Rochester and Western New York, and usually called THE MYSTERIOUS NOISES, which are supposed by many to be communications from the Spirit World ; together with all the explanation that can as yet be given of the matter.

About the author (2009)

Barbara Weisberg has also written about the Fox sisters for American Heritage magazine. Formerly a freelance producer whose work has appeared on cable, network, and public television, she lives with her stepchildren and husband, writer and producer David Black, in New York City.

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