Rochester Rappings
The outbreak of rappings that occurred in Hydesville, near
Rochester, New York, in 1848, and which became popularly
known as the ‘‘Rochester Rappings,’’ was of peculiar importance,
not because of its intrinsic superiority to any other poltergeist
disturbance, but because it inaugurated the movement
of modern Spiritualism.
Hydesville is a small village in Arcadia, Wayne County, New
York, and there, in 1848, lived John D. Fox with his wife and
two young daughters, Margaretta, aged fifteen, and Kate, aged
twelve. Their house was a small wooden structure previously
tenanted by Michael Weekman, who afterward claimed that he
had frequently been disturbed by knockings and other strange
sounds in the Hydesville house.
Toward the end of March 1848, the Fox family was disturbed
by mysterious rappings, and on the evening of the 31st,
they went to bed early, hoping to get some undisturbed sleep.
But the rappings broke out even more vigorously than they had
on previous occasions, and Mrs. Fox, much alarmed and excited
when the raps manifested signs of intelligence, decided to
call in her neighbors to witness the phenomenon.
The neighbors heard the raps distinctly and it was decided
to try to communicate with the unseen forces. Questions were
asked by the ‘‘sitters’’ of this informal séance—if the answer was
in the affirmative, raps were heard, if in the negative, there was
silence. By this means the knocker indicated that he was a
ghost, the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered for his
money by a former resident of the house.
The raps also answered correctly other questions relating to
the ages of those present and other particulars concerning persons
who lived in the neighborhood. In the few days immediately
following, hundreds of people made their way to Hydesville
to witness the marvel.
Fox’s married son, David, who lived about two miles from
his father’s house, recorded a statement to the effect that the
Fox family, following the directions of the raps, which indicated
that the peddler was buried in the cellar, had begun to dig
early in April, but were stopped by water.
Later, however, hair, bones, and teeth were found in the cellar.
Vague rumors were afloat that a peddler had visited the village
one winter, had been seen in the kitchen of the house afterward
inhabited by the Foxes, and had mysteriously
disappeared without fulfilling his promise to the villagers to return
the next day. There was not a scrap of real evidence,
whether for the murder or for the existence of the peddler, particulars
of whose life were furnished by the raps.
Soon after these happenings, Kate Fox went to Auburn, and
Margaretta to Rochester, New York, where her married sister
Leah lived, and at both places outbreaks of rappings subsequently
occurred. New mediums sprang up, circles were
formed, and soon Spiritualism started.
Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York Hawthorne
Books, 1970.

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