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
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
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
"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.