2017
two thousand seventeen
Twenty-Seventeen
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Fox Sisters
By: STEPHANIE L. KNARR

Spiritualism –a belief that spirits of the dead communicate with the living.

Today marks the 163rd anniversary of the Birthplace of Modern Spititualism in Hydesville, New York.


On March 31, 1848, the spirit of a peddler, allegedly known as Charles B. Rosna, found a way to effectively rap amid the walls of the Fox residence in Hydesville. With syncopated taps, he spoke to the young girls of the house, Katie and Maggie Fox.


Original Cottage before it was moved to
Lilydale in 1916.








The little cottage located on the corners of Hydesville and Parker Roads was owned by Dr. Artemus Hyde and occupied by John and Margaret Fox and their children at the time of the sensation. According to the peddler spirit, James Bell, who through a series of taps and shakes was named as his murderer, earlier occupied the little cottage. 

Spectators came from near and afar to see the unseen. No one could believe that such a blasphemous encounter was happening in this small Christian hamlet. Some onlookers reveled in the phenomena and took their turn to speak with Katie and Maggie and the potential chance of reuniting with their loved ones. 

The Fox Sisters moved from the little hamlet to live life in big cities like Chicago, New York and London doing séances for thousands of people, including Mary Lincoln, the wife to President Abraham Lincoln. Their older sister, Leah, ended up joining them in their ventures as they traveled across the country proving their existence and attempting to dispel rumors of “the great hoax”. 

Spiritualism became a new religious movement and to this day still has many followers. During the 1880’s, people who were able to communicate with the dead were called mediums and were mostly women. This enhanced the current radical movements of the time like abolition and women’s suffrage. Though this phenomenon was popular throughout the world by upper-class citizens, the movement itself began to die due to the public outcry claiming fraud. However, despite some, an organized religion was formed and a spiritualist camp was established in Lily Dale, NY just south of Jamestown.

The fraud claim became a plausible accusation, as the Fox Sisters themselves both denounced later that what they were performing was in fact hocus-pocus. Others still stand for the cause and claim that Maggie Fox recanted due to severe pressure and Katie Fox recanted her story as she was a pauper and was able to sell the story for $1,000. Katie and Maggie and Leah all died in the 1880’s as paupers, but left behind many believers. 

To everyone’s later surprise however their tale continued to unfold.

In the early 1900’s, some children were playing in the then vacant cottage that jarred loose some fieldstone of the foundation. As the fieldstone crumbled in, a skeleton and a trunk appeared. At last, physical proof that spirits really exist! The peddler’s remains and his trunk were found. It appeared that the peddler’s body was placed in between the outside wall of the foundation and a built up wall on the inside of the cellar. Once again, the sensation was inflamed with renewed passion and believers flooded to the Hydesville site. The Wayne County Sheriff’s Department took the skeletal remains away and the peddler’s trunk ended up in the Museum in Lilydale, which is still on display today.

In 1916, a spiritualist by the name of Bartlett, purchased the run-down cottage and moved it to Lily Dale. Unfortunately, in 1955, the cottage caught fire and burned down. Today, there is a memorial stone before it and where the cottage once stood is now a meditation garden.

The work of the Fox Sisters did not go unappreciated. In fact, as the residents in Hydesville know, a man by the name of John Drummond moved here from Canada to continue the work of the infamous celebration of life after death. John, known to be an eccentric man, scoured the county in search of time period barns. He purchased the barns and removed the wood, one piece at a time and relocated it to the empty corner lot. Board by board, John rebuilt the cottage with only slight changes, on the original foundation. John Drummond’s intentions were to eventually build a local spiritualist organization. John opened his home and allowed tours of the cottage. At the door, you would receive a pamphlet of the eerie Hydesville story along with excerpts of news clippings announcing that the peddler had been found.

In 1983, the replica of the Fox Cottage once again caught fire. A spark from a wood burning stove caught a pile of timber and ignited. The house was left with smoke and water damage once the fire department announced that the fire was out. John Drummond went to live with his neighbors, Ro and Jan Strassburger and remained there until his death.

In November 1991, the Strassburger’s had a controlled burn of the damaged structure of the replica cottage. They claimed that people were trespassing on the property and getting hurt inside the charred remains. They state it was clearly done for liability purposes. Some local residents say that they fought the issue of a controlled burn solely because they did not want the evil spirits floating over their homes costumed by black rolling smoke.

And here we are today, at the brink of the celebration of 163 years of modern spiritualism. The tiny cottage that could not withstand multiple occasions of heat and flames will always remain a hot topic for local residents, historians and believers alike. "There is no death, there are no dead"

A small celebrational ceremony will be held today at the site in the Fox Sisters Memorial beginning at 5:00 p.m. 


Controlled burn of cottage replica in 1991
For more information on the National Spiritualists Association or the Fox Sisters, you may visit http://www.nsac.org/foxproperty.htm.  Also, the Newark-Arcadia Museum has information and other materials available at 120 High Street, Newark, NY. (Across from the Newark Public Library) They are open on Saturday's from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.




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