The Spirit-rapping And Medium Humbugs And Their Origin

The "spirit-rapping" humbug was started in Hydesville, New York, about

seventeen years ago, by several daughters of a Mr. Fox, living in that

place. These girls discovered that certain exercises of their anatomy

would produce mysterious sounds--mysterious to those who heard them,

simply because the means of their production were not apparent. Reports

of this wonder soon went abroad, and the Fox family were daily visited

by people from different sections of the country--all having a greed for

the marvelous. Not long after the strange sounds were first heard, some

one suggested that they were, perhaps, produced by spirits; and a

request was made for a certain number of raps, if that suggestion was

correct. The specified number were immediately heard. A plan was then

proposed by means of which communications might be received from "the

spirits." An investigator would repeat the alphabet, writing down

whatever letters were designated by the "raps." Sentences were thus

formed--the orthography, however, being decidedly bad.

What purported to be the spirit of a murdered peddler, gave an account

of his "taking off." He said that his body was buried beneath that very

house, in a corner of the cellar; that he had been killed by a former

occupant of the premises. A peddler really had disappeared, somewhat

mysteriously, from that part of the country some time before; and ready

credence was given the statements thus spelled out through the "raps."

Digging to the depth of eight feet in the cellar did not disclose any

"dead corpus," or even the remains of one. Soon after that, the missing

peddler reappeared in Hydesville, still "clothed with mortality," and

having a new assortment of wares to sell.

That the "raps" were produced by disembodied spirits many firmly

believed. False communications were attributed to evil spirits. The

answers to questions were as often wrong as right; and only right when

the answer could be easily guessed, or inferred from the nature of the

question itself.

The Fox family moved to Rochester, New York, soon after the

rapping-humbug was started; and it was there that their first public

effort was made. A committee was appointed to investigate the matter,

most of whom reported adversely to the claims of the "mediums;" though

all of them were puzzled to know how the thing was done. In Buffalo,

where the Foxes subsequently let their spirits flow, a committee of

doctors reported that these loosely-constructed girls produced the

"raps" by snapping their toe and knee joints. That theory, though very

much ridiculed by the spiritualists then and since, was correct, as

further developments proved.

Mrs. Culver, a relative of the Fox girls, made a solemn deposition

before a magistrate, to the effect that one of the girls had instructed

her how to produce the "raps," on condition that she (Mrs. C.) should

not communicate a knowledge of the matter to any one. Mrs. Culver was a

good Christian woman, and she felt it her duty--as the deception had

been carried so far--to expose the matter. She actually produced the

"raps," in presence of the magistrate, and explained the manner of

making them.

Doctor Von Vleck--to whom I referred in connection with my exposition of

the Davenport imposture--produces very loud "raps" before his audiences,

and so modulates them that they will seem to be at any desired point in

his vicinity; yet not a movement of his body betrays the fact that the

sounds are caused by him.

The Fox family found that the rapping business would be made to pay; and

so they continued it, with varying success, for a number of years,

making New York city their place of residence and principal field of

operation. I believe that none of them are now in the "spiritual line."

Margaret Fox, the youngest of the rappers, has for some time been a

member of the Roman Catholic Church.

From the very commencement of spiritualism, there has been a constantly

increasing demand for "spiritual" wonders, to meet which numerous

"mediums" have been "developed."

Many, who otherwise would not be in the least distinguished, have become

"mediums" in order to obtain notoriety, if nothing more.

Communicating by "raps" was a slow process; so some of the mediums took

to writing spasmodically; others talked in a "trance"--all under the

influence of spirits!

Mediumship has come to be a profession steadily pursued by quite a

number of persons, who get their living by it.

There are various classes of "mediums," the operations of each class

being confined to a particular department of "spiritual" humbuggery.

Some call themselves "test mediums;" and, by insisting upon certain

formulas, they succeed in astonishing, if they don't convince most of

them who visit them. It is by this class that the public is most likely

to be deceived.

There is a person by the name of J. V. Mansfield, who has been called by

spiritualists the "Great Spirit Postmaster," his specialty being the

answering of sealed letters addressed to spirits. The letters are

returned--some of them at least--to the writers without appearing to

have been opened, accompanied by answers purporting to be written

through Mansfield by the spirits addressed. Such of these letters as are

sealed with gum-arabic merely, can be steamed open, and the envelopes

resealed and reglazed as they were before. If sealing-wax has been used,

a sharp, thin blade will enable the medium to nicely cut off the seal by

splitting the paper under it; and then, after a knowledge of the

contents of the letter is arrived at, the seal can be replaced in its

original position, and made fast with gum-arabic. Not more than one out

of a hundred would be likely to observe that the seal had ever been

tampered with. The investigator opens the envelope, when returned to

him, at the end, preserving the sealed part intact, in order to show his

friends that the letter was answered without being opened!

Another method of the medium is, to slit open the envelope at the end

with a sharp knife, and afterward stick it together again with gum,

rubbing the edge slightly as soon as the gum is dry. If the job is

nicely done, a close observer would hardly perceive it.

Mr. Mansfield does not engage to answer all letters; those unanswered

being too securely sealed for him to open without detection. To secure

the services of the "Great Spirit-Postmaster," a fee of five dollars

must accompany your letter to the spirits; and the money is retained

whether an answer is returned or not.

Rather high postage that!

Several years since, a gentleman living in Buffalo, N. Y., addressed

some questions to one of his spirit-friends, and inclosed them, together

with a single hair and a grain of sand, in an envelope, which he sealed

so closely that no part of the contents could escape while being

transmitted by mail. The questions were sent to Mr. Mansfield and

answers requested through his "mediumship." The envelope containing the

questions was soon returned, with answers to the letter. The former did

not appear to have been opened. Spreading a large sheet of blank paper

on a table before him, the gentleman opened the envelope and placed its

contents on the table. The hair and grain of sand were not there.

Time and again has Mansfield been convicted of imposture, yet he still

prosecutes his nefarious business.

The "Spirit-Postmaster" fails to get answers to such questions as these:

"Where did you die?"


"Who attended you in your last illness?"

"What were your last words?"

"How many were present at your death?"

But if the questions are of such a nature as the following, answers are

generally obtained:

"Are you happy?"

"Are you often near me?"

"And can you influence me?"

"Have you changed your religious notions since entering the


It is to be observed that the questions which the "Spirit-Postmaster"

can answer require no knowledge of facts about the applicant, while

those which he cannot answer, do require it.

Address, for instance, your spirit-father without mentioning his name,

and the name will not be given in connection with the reply purporting

to come from him--unless the medium knows your family.

I will write a series of questions addressed to one of my

spirit-friends, inclose them in an envelope, and if Mr. Mansfield or any

other professed medium will answer those questions pertinently in my

presence, and without touching the envelope, I will give to such party

five hundred dollars, and think I have got the worth of my money.