The Fox sisters were three sisters (Leah, Margaretta and Catherine) from New York who were instrumental in the creation of Spiritualism in the 19th Century. The younger sisters would use “rappings” - knocks on the floor created by an apple attached to a length of string - which the older sister, Leah, assumed were her sisters communicating with spirits. The bangs and knocks sounded like furniture being moved around or doors being slammed. The sisters also conducted communications seated around tables, like you may have seen in seances today. Word of their supposed communications soon spread, eventually reaching Quaker friends of the Fox family who, believing it was all genuine, told all of their radical Quaker friends who became the first followers of Spiritualism. Public displays were also scheduled, which kicked off a new trend for events featuring Spiritualists and mediums across the US.
At the time there were other, more rational explanations mooted for the rappings. One explanation was that the sounds were joints cracking. A physician at the time noted that the noises seemed to come from under their feet or whenever the sisters’ dresses were touching the table they were sat at. This view was shared by others, and the sisters were involved in experiments with controls applied, such as sitting on a couch or wearing cushions under their feet. The noises weren’t heard when these controls were applied.
Later in the 19th Century in 1888 Margaretta confessed that the rappings had been a hoax and demonstrated the methods used, but then recanted her confession and claimed that it was all real again. However, by this stage the sisters’ reputation wasn’t good, and within 5 years all three sisters were dead. Despite the confession their importance to the world and culture of Spiritualism cannot be overstated. There are many fascinating stories about their lives and activities and they are worth reading to see how we get to where we are today.