Ghosts

New England is a region rich with the lore and legend of our ancestors. All it takes is a peek beneath the surface of the thrifty, hardworking, and no-nonsense Yankee to see the superstition and wild imagination that, undoubtedly, has helped make our region so interesting and, occasionally, down right creepy.

 

Spiritualism, put simply, is the belief that the spirit continues to exist after physical death and that it can be scientifically studied through interaction with the spirit via seance, which is made possible through the use of a medium, or person who possesses the ability to contact and channel spirit energies. The purpose of this is to learn about the afterlife and the spirit world. There are still Spiritualist Churches in existence today including On-I-Set-Wigwam Spiritualist Camp in Onset, Massachusetts.(On the Cape near Wareham.) {Spiritualists believe in the Christian God and see the existence of the human soul as proof of passages in the bible}

 

The American Spiritualist Movement came into being in March 1848 in Hydesville, New York. The Fox family; John Fox, his wife, and their daughters Margaret and Katie moved to New York from Canada. They took temporary residence in a house that had been abandoned and was reported to be haunted. John Fox paid no heed to the rumors of strange activity and instead looked for physical answers to the thumps and knocks that their family was hearing. Every night he would go around the house and knock on walls and look for loose floor boards and other things that may be causing the noises. His daughters, however, had no problem believing that there was a spirit in the house and had even given him a nickname (Mr. Splitfoot).

 

One evening as their father was performing his checks Kate noticed that when her father would knock on a wall the knocks would be repeated back in the same number. This led to the invention of a system where a certain number of knocks would be “yes” and a different number would mean “no”. They also had different knocks for the letters in the alphabet. Using this system allowed the Fox sister’s to “communicate” with the spirit. Soon the neighbors of the Fox family were coming to see the girls use their mediumistic powers and question the spirits. By 1849 Margaret and Kate were performing all over New England to crowds of people both eager to see thier talents or to see evidence that the sisters were a sham.

 

Although the sisters did engage in some questionable lines of performance no one was ever able to prove that their abilities were fake despite being bound around the ankles and wrists and even submitting to having their underwear checked. In 1904, years after both the Fox sister’s were dead, some children were playing in the basement of their old Hydesville home when a wall collapsed nearly killing one child. When the structure was investigated it was found to be a poorly constructed false partition and upon it’s excavation the skeletal remains of a man were unearthed.

 

The Fox sisters really launched the American Spiritualist Movement. Soon after they began performing for the public all sorts of other people were discovering that they too had mediumistic powers. The idea that the soul could survive physical death appealed to a great many people. To truly understand the appeal and popularity of the Movement we must consider the social climate of Victorian times.

 

The Victorians held themselves to very strict codes of social conduct and dress. Women were considered to be fare, frail, and submissive to men. Men were the head of the household and expected to maintain their families respectability. Both men and women were expected to be extremely sexually prude. Not even written expressions of emotion or sexuality were considered permissible. To maintain this respectability Victorians even went to the extreme of not using any words with even a miniscule sexual connotation (“indelicate” words) or coming up with euphemisms for them. For example the word “leg” was replaced by “limb” as it was considered less offensive. Women’s and men’s lives were considered to be and expected to be maintained within different spheres.

 

It is during these times that great changes were occurring and competing with traditional Victorian vales. Evangelicalism was very popular as it emphasized moral conduct and humanitarian causes, but it was coexisting with utilitarianism- the belief in reason to solve problems, and empiricism – which aimed to have legislation to help improve men’s talents. It also promoted a series of reforms designed to improve the lives of the lower classes, such as free education, women’s emancipation, and the organization of trade unions. Scientific discovery, especially in geology and biology, was breaking new ground and scientific principals were gaining favoritism. Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859. The Women’s Right and Suffregate Movements were gaining popularity. All these changes and expectations were churning up the lives of these people and then Spiritualism came along.

 

Spiritualism offered a compromise between religion and science, it offered the hope that familial ties could transcend death, it offered a place where rigid social conduct and expectations could be relaxed for an evening. Spiritualism quickly became popular among all the social classes, although most formal seances were conducted within the Middle and Upper Classes. These seances became social passtimes and a place where men and women could relax and let their separate social spheres mingle. It is also important to note that, although there were male mediums and mesmerists, the Spiritualist Movement was dominated by women.

 

– Moonchild

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