Claiming to be able to talk to the dead is a skill that can instantly turn you into a celebrity. This was especially true in 1848, when Ouija boards and seances were all the rage.
That’s how the Fox sisters became notorious in New York. Growing up in Rochester, word spread that Katherine and Margaret Fox, then 12 and 15, could communicate with spirits.
How? They would snap their fingers, and this would elicit rapping sounds from the deceased that could be decoded into a message.
They quickly became the talk of pre-Civil War New York, serving as mediums for high society.
Among the bold-face names they attracted to their hundreds of seances were journalist and poet William Cullen Bryant, writer James Feinmore Cooper, and Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.
Though thousands of people believed the sisters and followed their quasi-religion “spiritualism,” skeptics publicly doubted them. The girls eventually quarreled and became alcoholics.
In 1888, Margaret confessed in the New York World that their medium powers were a hoax; the rappings sounds that supposedly came from dead people were created by cracking their joints.
They died before the century’s end, as paupers.