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A fascinating story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts in the second half of nineteenth century America viewed through the lives of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters whose purported communication with the dead gave rise to the Spiritualism movement—and whose recanting forty years later is still shrouded in mystery. In March of 1848, Kate and Maggie Fox—sisters a A fascinating story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts in the second half of nineteenth century America viewed through the lives of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters whose purported communication with the dead gave rise to the Spiritualism movement—and whose recanting forty years later is still shrouded in mystery. In March of 1848, Kate and Maggie Fox—sisters aged 11 and 14—anxiously reported to a neighbor that they had been hearing strange, unidentified sounds in their house. From a sequence of knocks and rattles translated by the young girls as a "voice from beyond," the Modern Spiritualism movement was born. Talking to the Dead follows the fascinating story of the two girls who were catapulted into an odd limelight after communicating with spirits that March night. Within a few years, tens of thousands of Americans were flocking to seances. An international movement followed. Yet thirty years after those first knocks, the sisters shocked the country by denying they had ever contacted spirits. Shortly after, the sisters once again changed their story and reaffirmed their belief in the spirit world. Weisberg traces not only the lives of the Fox sisters and their family (including their mysterious Svengali-like sister Leah) but also the social, religious, economic and political climates that provided the breeding ground for the movement. While this is a thorough, compelling overview of a potent time in US history, it is also an incredible ghost story. An entertaining read - a story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts - Talking to the Dead is full of emotion and surprise. Yet it will also provoke questions that were being asked in the 19th century, and are still being asked today - how do we know what we know, and how secure are we in our knowledge?


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A fascinating story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts in the second half of nineteenth century America viewed through the lives of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters whose purported communication with the dead gave rise to the Spiritualism movement—and whose recanting forty years later is still shrouded in mystery. In March of 1848, Kate and Maggie Fox—sisters a A fascinating story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts in the second half of nineteenth century America viewed through the lives of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters whose purported communication with the dead gave rise to the Spiritualism movement—and whose recanting forty years later is still shrouded in mystery. In March of 1848, Kate and Maggie Fox—sisters aged 11 and 14—anxiously reported to a neighbor that they had been hearing strange, unidentified sounds in their house. From a sequence of knocks and rattles translated by the young girls as a "voice from beyond," the Modern Spiritualism movement was born. Talking to the Dead follows the fascinating story of the two girls who were catapulted into an odd limelight after communicating with spirits that March night. Within a few years, tens of thousands of Americans were flocking to seances. An international movement followed. Yet thirty years after those first knocks, the sisters shocked the country by denying they had ever contacted spirits. Shortly after, the sisters once again changed their story and reaffirmed their belief in the spirit world. Weisberg traces not only the lives of the Fox sisters and their family (including their mysterious Svengali-like sister Leah) but also the social, religious, economic and political climates that provided the breeding ground for the movement. While this is a thorough, compelling overview of a potent time in US history, it is also an incredible ghost story. An entertaining read - a story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts - Talking to the Dead is full of emotion and surprise. Yet it will also provoke questions that were being asked in the 19th century, and are still being asked today - how do we know what we know, and how secure are we in our knowledge?

30 review for Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    This is an excellent biography of the Fox sisters, Maggie and Kate, as well as the Spiritualist movement they headlined in the United States in the middle of the 19th century. In addition to providing the story of the girls' arrival on what would be their stage, the author uses a wide variety of sources to follow their lives into their active teen age years and on into their more controversial adult years. Along the way, we meet the other members of their family, including fellow medium Leah, va This is an excellent biography of the Fox sisters, Maggie and Kate, as well as the Spiritualist movement they headlined in the United States in the middle of the 19th century. In addition to providing the story of the girls' arrival on what would be their stage, the author uses a wide variety of sources to follow their lives into their active teen age years and on into their more controversial adult years. Along the way, we meet the other members of their family, including fellow medium Leah, various supporters around the United States who both came to see them in New York and invited them into their own homes and cities. We meet those who doubted or despised their beliefs and techniques and we are left with many answers and still more questions. One point the author makes that spoke to me is that the United States was in the midst of significant transition during the time that the Fox sisters lived and Weisberg wonders about this. And perhaps change itself is what makes the story resonate, at least for me: the devices we use or the the faith we rely on to ease anxiety in periods of significant transition. Everyone in the saga of the Fox sisters was in motion in one way or another: progressing, passing from childhood to adulthood; from sinner to saint; from lower to upper class; from an agricultural society to a commercial and industrial one; from life to death to eternity. The children, Kate and Maggie, represented and embodied these many different and overlapping transitions, as did the spirits for whom they claimed to speak. (loc 4454) I heartily recommend this to anyone interested in 19th century history, the history of religions, spirituality, death and dying.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    This is a marvelous example of what good history can do: putting bits of things one might (or might not) already know into a useful context. I've known about the Fox sisters and the rapping they introduced from whence seances and Spiritualism both developed. I knew they were young, that the rapping sound started at night while they were in bed, and that the sounds were eventually credited to knuckle-popping of the toes. Now because of when I first read about them, I pictured them as Laura and Mar This is a marvelous example of what good history can do: putting bits of things one might (or might not) already know into a useful context. I've known about the Fox sisters and the rapping they introduced from whence seances and Spiritualism both developed. I knew they were young, that the rapping sound started at night while they were in bed, and that the sounds were eventually credited to knuckle-popping of the toes. Now because of when I first read about them, I pictured them as Laura and Mary Ingalls. What I didn't know is everything else in this book: the background of the family, how an older sister would also have a career as a medium, why their mother took them on the road, how many people in early Spiritualism were also involved in other progressive issues such as women's rights and abolition...just so much. Weisberg does a marvelous job of sifting through all the documentation, all the newspaper reports and books and diaries and letters for the illuminating quote. Altogether she covers fifty or so years (more time spent on the early, rather than the later), and manages to convey both their lives as celebrities and their personal relationships. It's a weird and fascinating story with some odd addenda, well-told. Gift copy for Kindle.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This book was at intervals thought provoking, and dull. The rise of Spiritualism is a fascinating topic, as it seems like it was cushioned between very structured Calvinist dogma and then the evangelical outbreak. Humanity was standing on the precipice of modernity, and when we looked to the future we could hardly tell the difference between science and magic. Both Tesla and Edison tried to create scientific means of contact the dead, believing that “piercing the veil” could hardly be different This book was at intervals thought provoking, and dull. The rise of Spiritualism is a fascinating topic, as it seems like it was cushioned between very structured Calvinist dogma and then the evangelical outbreak. Humanity was standing on the precipice of modernity, and when we looked to the future we could hardly tell the difference between science and magic. Both Tesla and Edison tried to create scientific means of contact the dead, believing that “piercing the veil” could hardly be different than the eventual rise of radio waves and telegraphs. And there was so much death during the lives of the Fox sisters, death rates for children were high, the Civil War touched everyone, a risk of infection of sickness was ever present throughout lives. Everyone lost, and lost so much, in ways that are even barely conceivable in the modern world. They were constantly surrounded by death, but that doesn’t mean that they did not equally long for those that they had lost, and it meant that they necessarily had to meditate on their own mortality. Enter the Fox sisters- two beautiful, painfully charismatic girls that offered a promise of communication and hope. For decades they were the face of the Spiritualist movement, holding séances of increasing wonder, and communing with the dead for thousands. They were so enigmatic and shrouded in mystery that Horace Greeley, presidents, even a Czar of Russia consulted with them. That sounds fascinating, right? There was SO much happening in this time period, so how did this book turn out to only be three stars? Well, I felt that the author missed opportunity after opportunity to delve deeper into the questions that she seemed to pose only by accident. We only had a short paragraph on one of the sisters going to Russia to consult the Czar- what happened there? Who knows, because it isn’t covered in the book despite that travelling there must have been quite the culture shock to an American at the time. I could have used a whole chapter on Tesla and Edison trying to communicate with the dead to reinforce that the Spiritualist movement was mainstream, I would have loved to read more about how science and spiritualism interacted. There was almost no continuity of time in the book, the author did not do enough to reinforce how time was flowing throughout the narrative, one day the girls were 15 and the next they were 40. There were many passages discussing the strong abolitionist sense of many Northern mediums, but then failed to mention if there were any Southern mediums, how the dichotomy of North vs. South affected Spiritualism… was it mainly a Northern affair? And only offhandedly did the author mention that some mediums were not sure that Africans really had enough strength of soul to linger on a communicative plain with mediums. What? Lets go into that more! These are ideas that were integral to the identity of the nation and its people, and so would have been integral to Spiritualism, and yet we don’t really get to hear much about what Spiritualism or the Fox sisters felt about it. Most frustratingly at no point did I feel involved in the narrative. It just sort of happened, with no involvement of the reader. The author stayed objective, questioning the Fox’s motives and relations to their own movement, and that was good, but I never felt consumed by the magic or the farse of what was happening. Each time I wanted to know more, the narrative stopped and switched. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone unless you are already interested in the subject or time period.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    "There are some frauds so well conducted that it would be stupidity not to be deceived by them."- Charles Caleb Colton The spiritualist movement began in upstate New York in a small house, that was forty miles outside of Rochester. When the Fox family moved in, they had heard about the “haunted” history of the house from their neighbors. The people who lived there before had possibly murdered a traveling salesman and buried him under the house. The story keeps getting stranger and what happens t "There are some frauds so well conducted that it would be stupidity not to be deceived by them."- Charles Caleb Colton The spiritualist movement began in upstate New York in a small house, that was forty miles outside of Rochester. When the Fox family moved in, they had heard about the “haunted” history of the house from their neighbors. The people who lived there before had possibly murdered a traveling salesman and buried him under the house. The story keeps getting stranger and what happens to this particular family is the basis of the book. The family had originally lived in Bath, Canada, when the father, John Fox, who was a Goldsmith, began to gamble and lost his money. His marriage to his wife, Margaret Smith Fox, was going downhill. He decided to move his wife and three daughters (Leah, Margaret (Maggie) and Kate) to the U.S.A. and bought a farm in 1841. In 1848, when the youngest girls were still nine and eleven, they reported to their parents that there was strange knocking/rapping in the house. They claimed they could ask the spirit who they called “Mr. Splitfoot” questions and they would hear the raps as answers. Eventually they became a local sensation. The oldest daughter, Leah, who was 27 when they first moved into the house also claimed she was a medium. This was the beginning of the “spiritualist movement” and as the girls grew older, they claimed that they could talk to the dead anywhere they lived. They become very famous, held many seances, made a lot of money and traveled the world. The oldest sister Leah, began to manage both Maggie and Kate, charging a dollar a person for their seances. All three sisters married and had families. Maggie's husband never believed his wife was a medium and begged her to recant. Over the years, she eventually became a Catholic and left the Spiritualist movement. When her husband died, she began to drink very heavily and had a falling out with the oldest sister Leah over her lack of care for her children. Maggie dropped a bomb on the family when she denounced spiritualism to the public (for money) and that all three were frauds. She and her sister Kate could crack their toe and ankle joints to make the rapping noises. She recanted a year later but it was too late. Kate also began to drink and all three sisters died within a short time of one another. Leah, the oldest sister, seemed to escape somewhat in the later years and the author questions if she was not running the show from the beginning. This excellent well-researched book is the story of their lives and it eventually becomes very sad indeed. The area they lived in was know for religious reform and people wanted to reach out to their departed loved ones. Both Mormonism and Seventh-Day Adventist were started in Upstate New York. This area was called “The Burnt-Over District” because of what is called the Second Great Awakening, a heated Protestant religious revival. The three sisters took advantage of people's loss and sorrow for money. People wanted to believe they could communicate with their loved ones especially after the Civil War. One of the saddest moments in the book was when you realize the cost that the fraud cost the entire family. Their father and mother never recovered their marriage and the sisters stopped speaking to each other towards the end of their lives. This book will give the reader a glimpse of a strange period in American history and the rise of the early 19th century movement of Spiritualism.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Interesting subject, utterly dull execution. I was so excited to read this and it took me over two months to slog through it. Far too many stories about people the Fox sisters encountered that didn't serve to enhance the narrative. Hopefully someone soon will write a better book on these fascinating women. Interesting subject, utterly dull execution. I was so excited to read this and it took me over two months to slog through it. Far too many stories about people the Fox sisters encountered that didn't serve to enhance the narrative. Hopefully someone soon will write a better book on these fascinating women.

  6. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Ibrahim ♥

    Such an excellent study of history of the America of that time period, the 1800s. It also goes to show that the realm of the spirit is real, and if anything the flesh just an outer shell and man is essentially a spiritual being. This is a book I enjoyed reading and I could read again and again for fun. My utmost respect and deepest appreciation for these two sisters, Kate and Maggie.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I was interested in this subject for quite a while before happening to notice this book on sale. As others have said, it's hard to get through at times, and I had to force myself to keep picking it up after a few dreary sittings. Of course I don't believe any spirits were contacting anyone, but for most of the book, we only have the testimony of family members and believers, as if the author is trying to convince us it was real. Only in the final chapter or two do we get descriptions of how the I was interested in this subject for quite a while before happening to notice this book on sale. As others have said, it's hard to get through at times, and I had to force myself to keep picking it up after a few dreary sittings. Of course I don't believe any spirits were contacting anyone, but for most of the book, we only have the testimony of family members and believers, as if the author is trying to convince us it was real. Only in the final chapter or two do we get descriptions of how the sisters clicked their toes and knees underneath their flouncy dresses, and bopped apples on strings in overhead wooden floors to make the noises. Also, there were no pictures or maps at all. I still don't know what to think, or if the Fox sisters were total frauds or not, and why they would perpetrate such a hoax starting at such a young age. If they truly were knowingly preying on the bereaved, shame on them. It's a confusing book and three stars is probably too many. Read it if you want, but don't expect answers.

  8. 5 out of 5

    George

    ENTERTAINING AND INFORMATIVE “In western New York, the time was always right for a new philosophy, theory, controversy, or utopia.”—page 45 Of course, it's bunkum. But, it's engagingly interesting, informative, table-knocking, spirit-rapping, toe-popping, entertaining bunkum—appropriate to the Halloween season. Coming from a most interesting time and place—close to the peak of the Second Great Awakening, in the heart of the Burned-over District of western New York state, and with an exciting cast ENTERTAINING AND INFORMATIVE “In western New York, the time was always right for a new philosophy, theory, controversy, or utopia.”—page 45 Of course, it's bunkum. But, it's engagingly interesting, informative, table-knocking, spirit-rapping, toe-popping, entertaining bunkum—appropriate to the Halloween season. Coming from a most interesting time and place—close to the peak of the Second Great Awakening, in the heart of the Burned-over District of western New York state, and with an exciting cast of ambience characters such as Frederick Douglass, P. T. Barnum, Jenny Lind, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Horace Greeley, to name a few—TALKING TO THE DEAD: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism, by Barbara Weisberg, documents the birth of Spiritualism in American; and is genuinely: "[An] engaging study... [A] lively tale of a little known slice of American history."—Publisher’s Weekly For instance: Did you know that the first-ever woman candidate for president of the United States was a Spiritualist? Victoria Woodhull (Equal Rights Party), 1872. (Google it.). Or, that her running mate was the very first African American to be nominated for Vice President? None other than Frederick Douglass, himself. I couldn't possibly have slept through enough history classes to have missed all of that, could I? And, yet, I didn't know any of it. Recommendation: A far better, more readable, enjoyable, and enlightening tale than I'd expected; TALKING TO THE DEAD should catch the fancy of most eclectic history buffs. It caught mine. (But, then, come to think of it, I enjoyed reading about The Great Molasses Flood of 1919, too; so perhaps my vote shouldn't count.) "Looking at the Fox Sisters' story is like peering through a kaleidoscope: the configuration is never fixed; it changes depending on the angle of the prism and the way the pieces seem to fall."—page 268 Adobe Digital [ePub] Edition, 327 pages

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bernadette Loeffel-Atkins

    Whether they were real or a hoax, this book is a fascinating read. Spiritualism was popular during the 1800s and many famous people such as Mary Lincoln followed the movement. I was amazed to read how many followers they had.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tam May

    I'm not giving this a star rating because I only got about 1/3 of the way through. It's not that it's not a good book but that it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I picked up the book initially to learn about spiritualism because I have a character in a historical mystery novel that is a sort of spiritualist so I wanted to learn a bit about spiritualism in America. But from my reading of the book so far, it was mainly focused on the experiences of Kate and Maggie Fox which didn't quite fit w I'm not giving this a star rating because I only got about 1/3 of the way through. It's not that it's not a good book but that it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I picked up the book initially to learn about spiritualism because I have a character in a historical mystery novel that is a sort of spiritualist so I wanted to learn a bit about spiritualism in America. But from my reading of the book so far, it was mainly focused on the experiences of Kate and Maggie Fox which didn't quite fit what I was looking for. Maybe later on the book gets more into spiritualism in America in general. Also, I found myself very sensitive to the rather graphic descriptions of the spirit communications. I literally could not read the book after dark and had some creepy feelings there. I don't think it would bother most people but it did bother me. So I just couldn't go on with it. Not to say I wouldn't recommend it for anyone looking to read about the Fox sisters or spiritualism in America in the 19th century but it just wasn't for me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    I had read about the Fox sisters in other books, including Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon (which the author mentioned herein). What I really liked about this book is the way the author described the social, political, and religious environment of the times that provided a perfect growing medium for the spiritualist movement, for which the Fox girls were almost single-handedly responsible. The sisters were so young when they started duping people with their toe-join-snapping rap (they were the first “ I had read about the Fox sisters in other books, including Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon (which the author mentioned herein). What I really liked about this book is the way the author described the social, political, and religious environment of the times that provided a perfect growing medium for the spiritualist movement, for which the Fox girls were almost single-handedly responsible. The sisters were so young when they started duping people with their toe-join-snapping rap (they were the first “rappers.” LOL)! It’s incredible that as adolescents they could figure out how to maintain and grow a deception that passed the scrutiny of countless investigations and pulled in believers ranging from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Carl Jung. They gave rise to thousands of mediums across the country and the world, hundreds of thousands of believers in communicating with the dead, and societies as dedicated as any church. Their older sister, a schemer and spiritualist in her own right, had a hand in the misery of their adult lives while their mother sweetly enabled and their father largely ignored the entire family. They each died lonely and penniless. Both were prone to migraine headaches and alcoholism. Both were disappointed in love and taken advantage of by schemers. A sad tale!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joseph DeBrine

    ugh the tragedy of the fox sisters. you girls are misunderstood but i see you!!!!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Jellets

    I asked these spirit figures if I was seeing them or if I was seeing what was in my own brain. They answered, "both." - Ellen Garrett, twentieth-century medium Since one of my last reads was Richard Matheson’s Hell House (where mental and physical mediums were leading characters), it seemed like a really good time to dive into Barbara Weisberg’s Talking to the Dead, a biography of two of America’s most famous psychic mediums Kate and Maggie Fox. The two girls, who began manifesting “spirit raps” I asked these spirit figures if I was seeing them or if I was seeing what was in my own brain. They answered, "both." - Ellen Garrett, twentieth-century medium Since one of my last reads was Richard Matheson’s Hell House (where mental and physical mediums were leading characters), it seemed like a really good time to dive into Barbara Weisberg’s Talking to the Dead, a biography of two of America’s most famous psychic mediums Kate and Maggie Fox. The two girls, who began manifesting “spirit raps” at age eleven and fourteen in their upstate New York home, captivated the country with their séances, otherworldly communications, and temptingly scandalous behavior. In addition to spurring the American Spiritualist movement, the two girls (and older sister Leah) pretty much bewitched the public in the 1800s – which either adored or abhorred the girls –think Civil War-era Lindsay Lohans. In tracing of the girls’ rise to prominence, Weisburg’s account is painstakingly detailed; the book offering both a well-researched account of the growth of the Spiritualist movement alongside a compelling biography of the lives of the Fox sisters and their close relations. And while the account is as detailed as can be expected, the major negative is that much of the Fox sisters’ original correspondence has been lost and there’s only a few rare moments where the wit and character of the girls is recorded firsthand. Where Weisberg is able to quote the Fox sisters directly, the reader can easily feel the pull of their spell. Maggie’s repartee and ill-fated romance with the Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane, for example, is both charming and tragic. In fact, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between the lives of the Fox sisters and many a modern young starlet. The girls alluring beauty and psychic powers were a killer combination -- bringing them fame and the attention of a number of (mostly male) patrons. But notoriety, entrée into the social elite, and a tempting glimpse into a lavish, upper crust lifestyle came with many of the same thorns that flaw the modern Hollywood rose – exploitation, paparazzi, alcohol, and drugs -- as the girls’ reputations were both enhanced and soiled – and interminably linked – to their “tainted” profession. It’s the old sexist adage that while everyone may want to party with bad girls, no one wants to bring them home to momma. The other major theme is certainly the question of whether the Fox sisters actually did speak with the dead or they were some of the best hucksters of their generation? With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to not assume a degree of chicanery – if not outright fraud – existed. However, even if the girls were blatant con-women, like Weisburg I still can’t help but admire them and sympathize with how it all turned out. Three waifs from an unassuming home rising to national prominence on the basis of their own smarts and self-promotion at a time when most women were relegated to housekeeping – there is certainly gumption and intelligence aplenty as the sisters threw their weight against the walls of a very sexist society to claw out their own place. Unfortunately, like most Hollywood stories, the ending is (at best) bittersweet. Despite their talents, the girls are not inured to loss and weep just as gloomily for passed loves as those who sought the girls' psychic assistance. As Maggie laments to a New York Herald reporter, “Why I have explored the unknown as far as human will can. I have gone to the dead so that I might get from them some little token. Nothing came of it – nothing, nothing.” The pain is profound. The girl who speaks to the dead … hears only silence.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Still probably the best biography of the Fox Sisters out there. This scrupulously researched book presents a sceptical but deeply sympathetic view of these two controversial figures. While the girls have been variously painted as stone cold frauds by some and martyrs to a cause by others, Weisberg's book is refreshing in that it treats its subjects simply as people. This book paints a vivid picture of the early spiritualist movement, with its roots in the women's movement, abolition and non-confo Still probably the best biography of the Fox Sisters out there. This scrupulously researched book presents a sceptical but deeply sympathetic view of these two controversial figures. While the girls have been variously painted as stone cold frauds by some and martyrs to a cause by others, Weisberg's book is refreshing in that it treats its subjects simply as people. This book paints a vivid picture of the early spiritualist movement, with its roots in the women's movement, abolition and non-conformist religion. It explores the various seductions of the séance room - the promise of power, of financial independence and perhaps a glimmer of certainty in the turbulent times of the American Civil War. It also goes into the dark side of spiritualism, particularly in the case of the sensitive, affectionate Kate Fox, who lived much of her life being treated as a cipher or a conduit to the afterlife by those who claimed to love her. Similarly Maggie suffered because of the 'spirit-rappings', at the hands of explorer Elisha Kent Kane and his family. Kane dangled her at arm's length for several years, protesting that her habit of sitting in dark rooms holding hands with strangers was not fit behaviour for a woman he wished to marry. While he constantly exhorted her to give up the séances and was increasingly reckless about her reputation, he often ducked the matter of marriage citing the difference in their social class. Neither did he address the question of how Maggie was supposed to provide for herself while she was waiting for him to make up his mind. Forty years after the initial spirit-rappings at Hydesville, Maggie and Kate confessed to a hoax, although they later recanted this confession, perhaps when they realised there wasn't nearly as much money in telling the truth as there was in telling people what they wanted to hear. Sadly they were both in terminal decline by this point; like many former child-celebrities they ended up alcoholics. Kate died in 1892 after a final drinking binge. Maggie followed her sister eight months later. At the time of her death she was penniless. This is a warm and well-written introduction to the world of these fascinating sisters and the uncertain, exciting time in which they lived. Were they frauds? Were they genuine? Which was the truth? Their confession or their recantation? The waters have been muddied over the years (even the girls dates of birth are a matter of argument) but in leaving aside the controversy and concentrating on her subjects as individual personalities, I believe Ms. Weisberg has gone some way to shine more light on the Fox Sisters than has been in a long time.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    I don't consider myself a hard-and-fast sceptic, but that's the role I played reading this. In the afterword, author Barbara Weisberg admits she wants spirit communication to exist, and the book shows it. Hoping to leave room for the possibility Kate and Maggie Fox were indeed mediums, Weisberg performed mental acrobatics that instead set off my bullshit detector. Perhaps the most frustrating example I found is in the final chapter, which mentions a 1904 newspaper article about physical evidence I don't consider myself a hard-and-fast sceptic, but that's the role I played reading this. In the afterword, author Barbara Weisberg admits she wants spirit communication to exist, and the book shows it. Hoping to leave room for the possibility Kate and Maggie Fox were indeed mediums, Weisberg performed mental acrobatics that instead set off my bullshit detector. Perhaps the most frustrating example I found is in the final chapter, which mentions a 1904 newspaper article about physical evidence supporting Kate and Maggie's first spirit communications. However, if you bother to read the endnote, you'll learn this find was discredited five years later. Considering the vast majority of endnotes are brief citations or recommended further reading rather than additional details of the story, Weisberg essentially buried the information. The beginning of the book was especially weak. The narrative was hard to follow, and I struggled to stay interested. Also, as the early parts of the Fox sisters lives contain the most gaps in information, Weisberg had the most opportunity to fill those gaps by suggesting that it could have been ghosts. Talking to the Dead turned something of a corner for me with the first attempts to discredit the sisters, and the passages in which mediums are debunked are probably my favorite in the book (maybe I'm more of a skeptic than I'd like to be). I also enjoyed Weisberg's ability to bring in the social and historical context that created Kate and Maggie. The discussions of gender, class, the changes in social mores, and the political movements of the day painted a rich picture, and helped humanize the sisters. It was interesting to think of mediumship as one of the few public outlets in which a woman could appear and speak her mind, even if her views would have to be filtered through "the spirits." Still, overall the book was uneven, and suffered from Weisberg's clear prejudice. But I mean, really, when I picked this up I was mostly looking for a bit of fun, and I'll admit it was that.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

    No, I'm sorry. I can't take any more. I've read about two thirds of this book, and it just doesn't get any easier. What could have been a rather interesting read is bogged down in asides, tangents, unnecessarily detailed biographies of historical figures of the time, etc. Boy, did I get sick of Horace Greeley! He broods over the text like some bizarre Svengali figure. All this quite apart from the fact that the authoress repeatedly claims that the Fox sisters "invented" seances, which they did n No, I'm sorry. I can't take any more. I've read about two thirds of this book, and it just doesn't get any easier. What could have been a rather interesting read is bogged down in asides, tangents, unnecessarily detailed biographies of historical figures of the time, etc. Boy, did I get sick of Horace Greeley! He broods over the text like some bizarre Svengali figure. All this quite apart from the fact that the authoress repeatedly claims that the Fox sisters "invented" seances, which they did not. If they did, where did all of the pre-existing spiritualistic periodicals and other mediums (contemporaries and older) in the US spring from? Let alone that Weisberg repeatedly refers to similar practices as far back as 18th century France--and as anyone who has any real knowledge of European history knows, "spirit communication" was well known long before that. I concede that the Ouija board is a patent American invention, but spiritualism, by whatever name you choose to call it, is not. I see from GR that most of Weisbergs' books seem to be aimed at children. Perhaps that explains the poor editing that sapped the text of its vitality and had me skim-reading before I'd reached the halfway point. I may return to this book at a later date, but I rather doubt it. So many books, so little time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    H. Anne Stoj

    An interesting look at the Spiritualist movement during the 19th century. The sisters, Leah, Maggie, and Kate, remain mysterious to me as they both validated their powers of mediumship for ages as doctors and others tried to debunk them, but also recanted their "powers" only to claim them again. The story of their life struck me as a sad one. I have to admit that I was puzzled by Leah and couldn't help but wonder if she didn't use her sisters, whether their gifts were actual or not, for her own An interesting look at the Spiritualist movement during the 19th century. The sisters, Leah, Maggie, and Kate, remain mysterious to me as they both validated their powers of mediumship for ages as doctors and others tried to debunk them, but also recanted their "powers" only to claim them again. The story of their life struck me as a sad one. I have to admit that I was puzzled by Leah and couldn't help but wonder if she didn't use her sisters, whether their gifts were actual or not, for her own personal gain. Regardless of that, it's worth a look to see, rather skeletally, how women's rights, abolition, and spiritualism met in various fashions. For that, the sisters are amazing when one considers the role of women in the Victorian age. Aside from the cover photograph and another illustration, there was nothing in regard to images. It would've been wonderful to see the sisters at various ages of their lives or products of their seances, even the people they knew. I did get a little lost as to those that actually knew them as toward the end life-long friends emerged that I either didn't remember from earlier or hadn't been mentioned at all.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ceri

    Incredibly detailed well researched chronicle of the rise of the spiritualist movement, particularly within the historical context of the social upheavals of America in the second half of the 19th century, which was fascinating to me- being British I don't know much about this area of history. I wish in all this detail I could have got to know Kate and Maggie better, I suppose an author can only work with what sources exist and she freely admits that writers from the time tended to mix the girls Incredibly detailed well researched chronicle of the rise of the spiritualist movement, particularly within the historical context of the social upheavals of America in the second half of the 19th century, which was fascinating to me- being British I don't know much about this area of history. I wish in all this detail I could have got to know Kate and Maggie better, I suppose an author can only work with what sources exist and she freely admits that writers from the time tended to mix the girls up or refer to them as a dual entity but by the end of the book they sadly remain almost as enigmatic as when I started, far more attention was paid to elder sister Leah as a personality. Although, for the record, I vote for the authors option 4 explanation in the afterword: Kate may have been for real (or at least believed she was) Maggie was just playing along.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Fascinating book and very well written. The author placed the Fox sisters' story in its historical context rather than just making it a story of the paranormal. Using letters, newspaper accounts, personal reminiscences etc., she presented the details of the Fox's lives and deeds. In the end, she did what Maggie Fox advocated: she left "others to judge for themselves." Next I'll have to explore the Grimke sisters and the Peabody sisters. Fascinating book and very well written. The author placed the Fox sisters' story in its historical context rather than just making it a story of the paranormal. Using letters, newspaper accounts, personal reminiscences etc., she presented the details of the Fox's lives and deeds. In the end, she did what Maggie Fox advocated: she left "others to judge for themselves." Next I'll have to explore the Grimke sisters and the Peabody sisters.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lisa James

    Interesting biography of a time when hype was king, & 2 sisters get caught up in a brand new movement....

  21. 5 out of 5

    jay walker

    I cannot get through this. Interesting topic but it’s written like a dry, boring book report. Really disappointing since the story has so much potential!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tammy Jorgenson

    Interesting..... but not enough to finish to the end....

  23. 5 out of 5

    David Carniglia

    Tells a good story of a spiritualist family in mid-19th century New York state. As other commentators mention, there's a lot of background: the Great Awakening religious movement, industrialization/ scientific inventions, abolitionism, women's rights, and, of course, the Civil War. Much of that fits in to the story of the Fox sisters, particularly the conflict between spiritualism and religion (although, paradoxically, both tendencies gathered momentum at the same time. The same is true, and more Tells a good story of a spiritualist family in mid-19th century New York state. As other commentators mention, there's a lot of background: the Great Awakening religious movement, industrialization/ scientific inventions, abolitionism, women's rights, and, of course, the Civil War. Much of that fits in to the story of the Fox sisters, particularly the conflict between spiritualism and religion (although, paradoxically, both tendencies gathered momentum at the same time. The same is true, and more directly, with the spiritualism/science interface. Strangely, there was some crossover between the two seemingly irreconcilable arenas. Science was seen as at least as anti-religious and spurious as spiritualism: both were perceived as impinging on religious territory. Interestingly, as the author shows, many scientists moved into the spiritualist camp, either for a curious visit, or to stay

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Anyone who has ever played around with a Ouija board or wanted to communicate with spirits could appreciate the rise of Spiritualism in the 1800's. The Industrial Revolution and advances in science made people believe that it could be possible to communicate with their departed loved ones. With the authority of religion suffering damaging blows, people had a another shot at immortality by haunting the living. Sadly, this willingness to believe allowed for a proliferation of phony mediums who too Anyone who has ever played around with a Ouija board or wanted to communicate with spirits could appreciate the rise of Spiritualism in the 1800's. The Industrial Revolution and advances in science made people believe that it could be possible to communicate with their departed loved ones. With the authority of religion suffering damaging blows, people had a another shot at immortality by haunting the living. Sadly, this willingness to believe allowed for a proliferation of phony mediums who took advantage of people's grief. This book was slow at times, but all in all was an interesting read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dana Kaplan

    Yet another view of the fascinating 19th century of US history. While many admirable women were involved in the big movements of the era (emancipation, women suffrage, prohibition) a large contingent were helping us commune with the dearly departed, some honestly, others fraudulently. Not surprisingly, this movement arose in the “burned-over district” of upstate New York. Burned-over as swept by religious fervor—including Mormonism, 7th day Adventists, Shakers, the Oneida colony. Something in th Yet another view of the fascinating 19th century of US history. While many admirable women were involved in the big movements of the era (emancipation, women suffrage, prohibition) a large contingent were helping us commune with the dearly departed, some honestly, others fraudulently. Not surprisingly, this movement arose in the “burned-over district” of upstate New York. Burned-over as swept by religious fervor—including Mormonism, 7th day Adventists, Shakers, the Oneida colony. Something in the water?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    I was totally enraptured by this book. Despite whether you believe in ghosts or not, the book will definitely make you question our unwavering belief in what we see or hear as real. The lives of the Fox sisters is fascinating and also so sad because of all the trials they were put through. The author treats then all with a lot of respect and looks into their psyche and tries to look at everything from so many angles. Truly a fascinating bit of history.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jen Garuti

    This book was so good! Their life would make a fascinating spooky movie. I had no idea. Before this book I'd maybe read a paragraph about them in my US history book and a few anecdotes here and there. But there is so much more to their story. This book was so good! Their life would make a fascinating spooky movie. I had no idea. Before this book I'd maybe read a paragraph about them in my US history book and a few anecdotes here and there. But there is so much more to their story.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ione DeOllos

    This book presents a fascinating look at the rise of spiritualism. Unfortunately the book presents pages of tedium inbetween these looks into this history. The various early investigations of the sisters become, except for the names, repetitious.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Megan Hex

    Rather dry in parts, especially nearer the beginning. The sisters and their spirits were much more interesting later in life with adult drama!

  30. 4 out of 5

    nisie draws

    An interesting biography that presented a history of the sisters without passing judgement on them or Spiritualism

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