I was very excited to get this book and to start reading it. Then life happened. I absolutely hate for a book to take me longer than 2 weeks to read when I’m busy, but this book took me three weeks. For an earlier post about the Fox sisters from three weeks ago when I started the book, CLICK HERE.
I think you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about Kate and Maggie Fox with this book, Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism by Barbara Weisberg. If you read books on ghosts or paranormal investigation topics you know that most of these books include a small section that usually credits these two sisters for starting the movement known as Spiritualism on accident in the late 1840s. Usually when you read this section you get a little bit of the author’s personal opinion on whether or not the Fox sisters pulled off the biggest hoax ever. Before reading this book I knew that they admitted to being frauds but then later recanted, but it seemed to me as if most authors that mentioned the sisters believed there was at least an element of authentic spirit communication happening.
The two younger sisters (Maggie and Kate) claimed to hear “rapping” and knocks in their home coming from what they eventually decided was the spirit of a murdered peddler from years before. They were one of the first to attempt to communicate with spirits with this system of rapping. They eventually developed a system of “yes” and “no” answers and even spelling out messages. People came from all over to see it and they were an overnight sensation!
Throughout this book I kept thinking to myself… “So was it real or not? Just tell me!” As I read I started out with the feeling the author was pro-spiritualism and seemed to believe almost every detail. Then toward the end I was surprised to find the author seemed to actually be very skeptical and was only telling the story from documented history. Strangely though, there are a lot of holes in the records and history involving the Fox sisters… I mean it wasn’t THAT long ago. It seems that some people believe they were legit and some people don’t. I definitely learned they had some sketchy and unclear moments.
In this book we learn a lot about Maggie and Kate’s parents and other siblings. Leah was a much older sister and was very influential in Maggie and Kate’s futures as mediums and speakers who travel around the world demonstrating their abilities. The book doesn’t always paint a nice picture of her. I had never heard of Leah. It seems to me that she is just as important in the story.
I learned about their loves and relationships. Maggie went through a particularly rough time with a man who tried to change her (Elisha Kent Kane, the explorer). I despised this man more and more with every detail I learned.
There were a lot of famous and influential people who supported, followed, or were clients of the Fox sisters.
There is much history of the Spiritualism movement in general included in the book. These women had leadership roles and started a movement in the days that women weren’t really accepted as leaders and weren’t supposed to be influential and smart. There were times they were definitely in danger. These were some ballsy girls!
In general, I had no idea that they were famous into adulthood and led the movement for such a long period of time. They were full-blown celebrities for a while. The book follows them till death and closes out with a summary of the Spiritualism movement since then.
So what do I think now? I think there is definitely proof of spirit communication and we learned a LOT from the Spiritualism movement (Obviously… this is The Big Séance). I also think a lot of frauds came out of it… and maybe there is much to learn from that too. But I think this story has to have some element of truth to it. I fell in love with the Fox sisters in this book and I really want to believe that they weren’t complete frauds.
On a final note, there are 34 pages of notes & bibliography at the end of this book. I didn’t read these pages, but I feel good knowing they’re there if I need them. 🙂
If anyone has suggestions of any good reads on the Spiritualism movement in general, I’d love to read more!