Hydesville Park History
The hamlet of Hydesville provided the setting for the historical foundation of Modem Spiritualism. Communication between the seen and unseen began in this small village on March 31, 1848. Two young girls, Margaretta and Catherine Fox, ages fourteen and twelve respectively, residents of the hamlet since December of 1847, are credited as the major participants in the Advent of Modem American Spiritualism. (5:384)
Thirty-five miles east of Rochester, New York, is a small cozy village built predominantly over a vast gravel pit. The water sifting through the many layers of rocks provides the area with cold spring water, and the underground springs nourish acres and acres of fertile farm lands.
This small community, Hydesville, in Wayne County was founded in approximately 1790 by pioneers traveling from New England and Long Island. The land was fertile and enticed the pioneers to settle and commence farming. The building of the Erie Canal opened a free route of navigation by water. This, along with new villages, docks, and warehouse freight stations, brought trade and settlers to the area. (5:12)
It was in 1815 that Dr. Henry Hyde, one of the early pioneers, settled the hamlet that bears his name. On the comer crossroad. Dr. Hyde built a small framed story-and-a-half homestead, separated from the roadway by a wood rail fence. The village grew to include a cluster of modest frame dwellings, a Methodist church with a graveyard, a red brick school house just down the road from the cottage, a few shops, and many families of loving people. Most of these early settlers were related in one way or another. Thus, the hamlet of Hydesville was settled. (5:12)
Close by to the south, the sluggish Ganargua, or Mud Creek, as it was named, often flooded the lowlands. To the east and the north, large farming areas extended, blending with the horizon.
Between 1815 and 1847, many families lived in the cottage. From 1842 through 1843, the cottage housed the Bell family, who farmed the land belonging to Dr. Hyde. During the latter part of 1843, the Bells also had a housekeeper by the name of Lucretia Pulver.(5:13)
The Bell family had lived in the area for some time. During that period, a peddler traveled from town to town, home to home, selling wares to the women of the house. One day the peddler arrived at the cottage occupied by the Bells and was greeted as an old friend. He was carrying his peddler’s pack of laces, thread, wools, thimbles, needles, and many other interesting items. (5:13)
Mrs. Bell and Lucretia looked over the items very carefully, enjoying the in-house shopping, and as the afternoon passed on, Lucretia selected a length of flowered delaine (wool). The shopping was interrupted by Mrs. Bell, who called Lucretia to the outer room to inform her that her service was no longer needed. Mrs. Bell would take her home on her way to town. Lucretia, although unhappy, immediately gathered her meager belongings in preparation for the departure. She wanted the delaine very much, but having no money, asked the peddler to deliver it to her house the next day and receive payment from her father. The peddler agreed. (5:14)
Much to Lucretia’s surprise, the peddler never arrived. Even more surprising, Mrs. Bell arrived three days later and asked Lucretia to return to her service. On the ride back to the cottage, Mrs. Bell shared her joy about her new possessions with Lucretia. She also gave her some of the gifts and trinkets she had purchased from the peddler before his departure. Back at the cottage, Lucretia was subjected to what would be termed psychic phenomena. She heard raps at the foot of her bed. The phenomena frightened her, and her nights were spent in terror. At first, Mrs. Bell attempted to explain away the phenomena as dreams, but Lucretia insisted that the happenings she had experienced were real. (5:15)
The rapping noises began to disturb the Bells themselves, but they claimed that they were caused by rats and were not the product of dreams. The next day, Lucretia went to the cellar to get potatoes for the evening meal, and sank into a large area of loose dirt. Frightened, she screamed for help. Mrs. Bell insisted that rats were responsible for the loose dirt. Mr. Bell took immediate steps to have fill-dirt brought into the cellar to solidify the dirt floor. Shortly afterwards a variety of stones were stored in the cellar for later use in building a fence. (5:16)
The strange phenomena continued. At her wits’ end, Lucretia asked to leave the house. Around that time, Mrs. Bell’s health appeared to be deteriorating. In fact, she stated to Lucretia’s mother, Mrs. Pulver, “I am tired of living.” A short time later, Lucretia returned to her home and the Bells departed the cottage. They were not seen or heard from again. (5:16)
The tenants of the house from 1843 to 1846 were the Weekman family, consisting of father, mother, and two children. With them lived a housekeeper, a young girl named Jane. For a full year the cottage was peaceful; then the rapping began again. Mr. Weekman continually sought the reason for the raps and, unable to find it, he became frustrated. He even made a complete check outside the cottage and found nothing. The mystery prevailed. Then one of the young daughters felt a cold hand touch her while drifting off to sleep, which caused much concern. On several nights, the phenomena brought the children into their parents’ room seeking peace and protection. To add to the mystery, Jane reported seeing the materialized form of a young sandy-haired man in grey trousers and a black jacket. Jane was the only one able to see this. She was told it was only a dream and was forbidden to speak of it in the house. Time passed, and the Weekman family, too, left the cottage. (5:17) It remained vacant until December of 1847, when the new dwellers, John and Margaret Fox and their daughters, Catherine and Margaretta, settled in. (2:5)
The Fox Family
The Fox Family Background
John Fox and Margaret Smith began their life together in 1812 in Rockland County, New York. Mr. Fox’s blacksmith business provided financial stability and enough money for the construction of their own home in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He was a good provider, industrious and honest, but like all people he had his faults: His extreme weakness was alcohol.
However, John and Margaret shared a common bond in their faith as devout Methodists. Margaret Smith Fox differed from her husband in being an adventurous soul, though she usually displayed a calm dignity of being. She was also noted for her unimpeachable character. (5:18)
The Fox’s first child, Emily, was bom in 1813 and passed on in infancy. The following year, Ann Leah joined the family. Subsequently, Maria, Elizabeth, and David were bom, at two-year intervals. (5:19)
Eventually, Margaret Fox separated from her husband, unable to tolerate his alcoholism any longer. (5:19) At age fourteen, Leah married an older man with the surname of Fish. After the birth of a daughter, the father deserted, and Leah turned to music as a means of livelihood. (15:31)
Little is recorded of the Fox family for a period of about fourteen years thereafter. The next recorded event was the reunion of Mrs. Fox with her reformed and sober husband. In 1834 Margaretta Fox was bom, followed in 1836 by the birth of Catherine Fox. (5:19)
John and Margaret Fox decided they also would settle where their family lived. First they went to Rochester and lived with Leah for a brief period. Then, in search of a rural environment, the family moved on to Hydesville, where, on the land adjoining an old uncle’s property, John Fox commenced building a new home for his family. On December 11, 1847, the Fox family temporarily moved into a cottage next to the smithy where Mr. Fox had his business. (5:20)
The Fox Family at the Hydesville Cottage
It was a long winter, and the family looked forward to spring so they could resume construction of their own home. Manifestations of an unknown origin commenced. During this time, raps were heard in the cottage. Mrs. Fox sought to explain away the noises but they continued, became stronger, and additional phenomena took place. Furniture was moved, the touch of a cold hand was felt, and footsteps walking through the hallway and down the staircase to the cellar were heard. Mrs. Fox said, “I am certain this house is haunted, and some unhappy presence is here. I feel it.” (5:21)
Mrs. Fox believed the raps to be a knocking in the east bedroom. The children were frightened time and time again, and often slept in their parents’ room. On one particular night the Foxes lit a candle as soon as the noises started, and searched the entire house. Not a person was in sight! Once again, they settled in for the night until the bedstead was jarred. The phenomena continued to increase daily, but all their investigations did not provide the first clue as to the real cause.
On March 31, 1848, the family retired early because they were totally exhausted. A short time later, the phenomena began again. A search made by Mr. Fox produced no solution. Mrs. Fox gives this account: “The children in the other room heard the rapping and tried to make similar sounds by snapping their fingers. My youngest child (Cathie) said: ‘Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do,’ clapping her hands. The sound imitated following her with the same number of raps. When she stopped, the sound ceased for a short time, then Margaretta said, in sport, ‘Now do just as I do—count one, two, three, four,’ striking one hand against the other at the same time, and the raps came as before. She then said, ‘Oh, look. Mother! It can see as well as hear.'” (2:6)
The family was very excited about the happenings and began to discuss what the cause might be. One of the children suggested that since the next day was April Fool’s Day, perhaps someone was trying to fool them. Mrs. Fox decided to put the phenomena to a test. She asked the “noise” to rap the different ages of her children. Instantly, she heard the correct ages of her children in succession, including the age of Emily, who had passed on in infancy.
Mrs. Fox then proceeded to ask questions. Mrs. Fox: “Is this a human being that answers my questions so correctly?” There was no response. She then asked, “Is it a spirit? If it is, make two raps.” The response was an immediate two raps. Mrs. Fox then stated, “If it is an injured spirit, make two raps.” An affirmative response quickly came, causing the house to tremble. This answer prompted the following questions, which were answered in the affirmative: “Were you injured in this house?” “Is the person living who injured you?” Additional information was sought and recorded through calling out the letters of the alphabet one by one and waiting for a yes or no response from the spirit. The spirit was that of a thirty-one year old father of five children. He had been murdered in the house, and his remains had been buried in the cellar. (2:6)
The Fox family was no stranger to mediumship, since in Mrs. Fox’s family several individuals had evinced the power of second sight, especially her maternal grandmother and sister, who frequently perceived coming events. (1:2)
Mrs. Fox then asked, “Will you continue to rap if I call in my neighbors that they may hear it too?” Again the raps were in the affirmative and Mr. Fox went to seek the Redfields. Once the neighbors arrived and grasped the reality of what was taking place, the questioning recommenced. It was revealed that the peddler had been murdered in the house about five years before, on a Tuesday at midnight. His body had been taken to the cellar by way of the buttery and stairway, and buried the next night ten feet below the surface of the cellar. The peddler stated that he had been murdered for the sum of $500. (2:7-8)
On Saturday, April 1, the decision was made to dig below the cellar. However, it had rained heavily and the house was built on low ground, so they were not surprised to find water at three feet. They had to stop digging for the time being. The Fox family remained in the cottage for a time, then moved into the home of their only son, David, and his family. In late July of 1848, the water level lowered, and the digging recommenced. This time, they found pieces of crockery, traces of charcoal and quicklime, and some human hair and bones. Examination by a medical man skilled in anatomy revealed that some of the bones were from a human skull. (5:41)
The cottage remained uninhabited except for the spirit of the murdered peddler, Charles B. Rosna. Life went on in Arcadia at David’s home where the Fox family and David’s family continued to be disturbed—doors were opened, the touch of cold hands felt, the beds shaken violently, bedclothes dragged from the bed. At times it felt as if an earthquake were taking place. Other phenomena included the sound of a death struggle, a thud as if something were falling, the dragging of a helpless body across the room and down the stairs, digging in the ground, and the nailing of boards. (14:21-24)
Through all this, it became apparent to the Fox Family that the invisible power was more prevalent in the presence of the girls, particularly Kate, the youngest daughter. It was decided that Kate would return to Rochester with Lean, to perhaps reduce the phenomena, if not stop them completely. (14:32) However, as soon as Kate and Leah left the house, the phenomena started again in the presence of Margaretta.
First Public Meeting for Modern Spiritualism
The phenomena continued at Leah Fox Fish’s home in Rochester as well, and people in the community became very aware of the rappings. When Margaret Fox heard of the occurrences and the resultant problems, she took Margaretta and hastened to Leah’s side.
The rappings became more pronounced. Isaac and Amy Post, friends who lived in Rochester, were consulted about the manifestations. Mr. Post suggested they try to use the alphabet as was done in Hydesville, and this attempt was successful. The first message received was, “Dear Friends, you must proclaim these truths to the world. This is the dawning of a new era; you must not try to conceal it any longer. When you do your duty, God will protect you and the good spirit will watch over you.” (5:47)
Following the instruction was not an easy task. The sisters continued their demonstrations, although they were mocked and accused of trickery, fraud, joint cracking, and ventriloquism. Despite the hardships, the sisters made the decision to continue the work the Spirit World had outlined for them. (5:47-49)
Following the spirit’s orders, in laying the foundation of Modem Spiritualism before the world they organized the first public meeting for the movement in Corinthian Hall in Rochester. On November 14, 1849, Mr. Eliab W. Capron lectured on the rapping phenomena. Leah and Margaretta carried on the demonstrations, with Catherine in Auburn at the Capron home. (5:57-59)
A committee was appointed to investigate the phenomena. There were threatening cries from the audience and accusations by the investigators. The girls were stripped of their clothing in an attempt to prove they were cracking their joints. It was Amy and Isaac Post who came to their rescue. They took the girls to their own home, offering the protection the Fox sisters so badly needed. (5:66)
The trials and tribulations of the family continued. The Rochester Democrat, a local newspaper, published a lengthy article stating, “The humbug is about to end.” (5:59) Soon the sisters became known as The Rochester Rappers.
Regardless of all the problems the Fox family faced. Modern Spiritualism had been born, and its spreading roots were being firmly embedded in many homes and many towns. The New York Circle was formed in the summer of 1851. It was the first organized movement established for the propagation of the facts and truths of Spiritualism. (5:140)
Just five months later, after public meetings in Albany, New York, the demonstrations and the phenomena became accepted in some areas. Leah, Maggie, and Kate were in constant demand and Leah took up managing their appearances. Thus, the sisters and their mother, who traveled with them in most instances, departed from the family circle to follow their calling while John Fox was left to settle the new house in Hydesville. The girls and Mrs. Fox began their travels by going from Rochester to Albany, Buffalo, and New York City; then on to Cleveland, Ohio, and Philadelphia. The sisters were fulfilling ‘the direction they had received from the Spirit World by traveling to various cities and demonstrating the phenomena of Spiritualism. (15:115-116,145)
The Fox Sisters
Leah became the spokeswoman and secretary for the sisters, making arrangements for their appearances. In the prime of womanhood, Leah had no apprehension about stage appearances. She tried unsuccessfully to share her enthusiasm with her younger sisters. (5:57)
A man named Calvin Brown had been traveling with them as protector and friend. Mrs. Fox had always related to him as her foster son and Leah had related to him as a brother. As time passed, Calvin became very sick, and nearing death, requested Leah’s hand in marriage. In 1851, Leah married Calvin, but it was a short union, for on May 4, 1853, Calvin passed to the Spirit World. (5:136,137)
Leah continued to be the stabilizing factor among the sisters. She continued to arrange meetings, private circles, and private readings. She worked long and hard to follow the task the spirit had given, even though there were very trying times. For instance, when her sister Maggie had an affair that might have taken her away from Spiritualism, Leah approached Maggie’s lover. Dr. Elisha Kane, to discuss his wish that Maggie give up the demonstrations. The argument ended with Leah telling Dr. Kane never to step foot in her home again. She then had a terrible disagreement with her sister over the matter. (4:168-170) It became clear after this incident that Leah and Catherine would have to continue the work without Maggie, and they gave many years to the task.
Happiness came to Leah again on November 2, 1858. She and Daniel Underhill were married at the home of Horace Greeley in New York City. Feeling that Leah had done her part on behalf of Spiritualism, her husband requested that she step back from center stage. Leah agreed, and lived a life of luxury, happiness, and great activity, yet completely removed from public service. (5:249-250)
For a time, Margaretta served faithfully with Leah. The calling to proclaim the truths of the phenomena soon necessitated their traveling separately, with Mrs. Fox accompanying Margaretta. It was in October of 1851 that a new era began in Margaretta’s life. At one of her seances, in Philadelphia, she met and shortly thereafter fell in love with Dr. Elisha Kane, the Arctic explorer. In 1853, they became engaged and Margaretta promised Dr. Kane she would never “rap” again. (5:145-188)
Prior to Kane’s departure for an Arctic exploration, he made arrangements for Maggie to be schooled. She parted from her family and stopped the public demonstrations. Saddened by Kane’s departure, Maggie became quiet and pale, but composed. However, after settling in and beginning her schooling, she appeared happy for a time. (5:196-197,205)
The next three years brought one episode after another. Maggie was alone and extremely unhappy. She missed Kane, her Mother, and Kate, as well as the sittings and people clamoring for her attention. She became despondent and very ill, developing brain fever. Maggie was brought back to New York City to be nursed back to health. Finally, in October of 1855, Kane returned. Happiness was once more hers, only to be marred again. Kane’s family resented his affiliation with Margaretta, and Kane’s family eventually asked Maggie to sign a statement for public release stating there was no engagement of marriage between them. Sadly, she complied. (5:216-217) The news story was carried, and for a time they parted. They were briefly reunited prior to Kane’s departure for London and Havana on October 11, 1856. On February 17, 1857, as Maggie was preparing to depart for Havana to meet Kane, Kate brought in a newspaper bearing the headline “Dr. Kane Dies in Havana.” (5:231) Kane’s death was nearly fatal to Maggie. She suffered delirium and hysteria.
Her family showered her with kindness and all alienation was dissolved. John Fox left his beloved Hydesville to come to his daughter’s side and was a great comfort to her. His compassion and persuasion drew her back into the family. Sympathetically he listened to Maggie’s tale of grief. Her father accepted everything, except her intention to embrace Catholicism. This bothered him greatly, but he did not relate his feelings to her. John, Margaret, and Kate stood by as sponsors when Maggie adopted Catholicism. (5:144-245,248)
Another of Maggie’s desires was to live alone. Katie visited frequently and remained close to her. Shortly after moving, Maggie succumbed to the effects of alcohol.(4:249,262) She struggled through years of grief, alcohol, and emptiness, but eventually the struggle was over and Maggie enjoyed periods of accomplishment. She made some tours, visited England, held some circles, and served those who came, but unfortunately she had become unimportant to the public. (5:367-368)
Over the years, Kate had been dedicated to service. Her closeness and sympathy for Maggie also led her to alcoholism. Alcohol was a release from her exhausting work as well as from the weight of Maggie’s burden. After several months in a sanitarium, she once again began séances at the home of Dr. Taylor. (5:282,303,401) These are recorded in The Fox-Taylor Records, (13) which note the remarkable mediumship of Kate.
On October 7,1871, Kate left for London. She was welcomed there and, as had been predicted, was a great success in England. She traveled in circles of society that connected her to many important people, including an attorney who was to become her husband. She married Henry Jencken on December 14, 1872, (5:338,347) and he insisted that she maintain her private practice of mediumship. Time did permit Kate to become the mother of two sons, one a gifted baby boy, who at less than six months of age manifested automatic writing in Greek. This spread the baby’s fame throughout Europe and America. (51) Kate, Henry, and their children led a full and happy life until Henry’s passing in 1881. (5:360)
Kate, who was totally dependent upon her husband, became distraught when he died. It took four years to settle his affairs, and once this was accomplished, she packed her belongings and brought her sons back to New York. The next ten years of her life were spent standing by Maggie, being a mother to her sons, holding private séances, and struggling with bouts of alcoholism. Through all of this, she maintained a reputation as an excellent medium. (5:368,371-372)
After a year of not communicating with anyone, she finally wrote to her friend Sarah Taylor. Sarah responded to Kate, only to find her worn out by the effects of alcohol, and at death’s door. It was just a few months later, on July 2, 1892 that Sarah Taylor received a telegram from Kate’s eldest son: “Mother is dead.” (5:372,415)
The Peddler and the Cottage
If a person dies, shall they live again? Throughout recorded history, humanity has sought to know the answer to this age-old question. The question has been dramatically answered by the spirit of a man who died a physical death at the hands of another human being, yet continued to live in the spirit realm. The record bears his message. The manifestation of this entity, a peddler, has been documented for all time, and demonstrates the truth of the continuity of life.
The Progressive Thinker printed an article by Ben F. Hayden in which he claims a “special place” in the history of Spiritualism for Charles B. Rosna. Hayden said,
His name should be nailed to the masthead of every paper published in the interest of the cause he represents. I would that his name and accomplished mission were engraved in golden letters upon the title page of every booklet and pamphlet issued for the Spiritual Press. It should adorn the walls of every Spiritualist church, and be framed as a motto, and hung in every Spiritualist home throughout the world. (1:53)
Spiritualism indeed owes a wondrous debt of gratitude to this man, Charles B. Rosna. Because of Rosna’s communication from the World of Spirit to the Fox family on the Earth Plane, communication with the Spirit World over the years has brought light to a darkened world. It has brought hope to those in despair, joy to many a saddened heart, comfort to the mourner, removal of the fear of death, and has given proof that what is destroyed in the physical survives in spirit.
The message from Charles B. Rosna, a murdered peddler, demonstrated not only the continuity of life but also a purpose in life hereafter. He proved, beyond a doubt, the words of Jesus, the Wayshower, who said, “Because I live, so shall ye live also!”
The peddler’s pack, a replica of the Fox Cottage, and the Fox family Bible are on display at the Museum at Lily Dale, New York.
The Hydesville Cottage was first constructed in 1815 by Dr. Hyde, the ownership later passing to his son. Subsequent occupants were the Bell, Weekman, and Fox families. In April of 1916, Mr. Benjamin Franklin Bartlett of Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, had the cottage moved to Lily Dale, New York. The cottage, known as the Fox Cottage, was located in the Dale, facing the Forest Temple. Miss Flo Cottrell, a rapping medium, was placed in charge of the cottage. (3:26) On September 12, 1955, the cottage burned to the ground. Surrounded by a beautiful Memorial Meditation Garden, a stone marker now stands in its place in memory of the Fox sisters and the cottage.
At the original site of the cottage, at 1510 Hydesville Road, in the hamlet of Hydesville, Wayne County, New York, an exact replica of the cottage was constructed on the original stone foundation through the efforts of Mr. John Drummond. A monument donated by Mercy E. Cadwallader of Chicago, Illinois once stood in the front yard. For ten years the monument was stored at the Newark Granite Works prior to being moved to the Mississippi Valley Spiritualist Spiritualist Camp in Clinton, Iowa in 1996 for temporary storage.
The monument states:
The Birthplace of MODERN SPIRITUALISM
Upon this site stood the Hydesville Cottage
The home of the Fox Sisters
Through whose mediumship communication with the Spirit World was established
March 31, 1848
THERE IS NO DEATH THERE ARE NO DEAD
Placed here by M. E. Cadwallader
December 5, 1927
The cottage again burned beyond repair in mid-1983. At the time, Mr. Drummond, then age eighty-four, was determined to rebuild the cottage, but he passed to spirit before completion.
At the 1990 Convention of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches it was announced that the NSAC was in the process of procuring the property on which the original Fox Family Cottage stood. Plans called for placing on this property an obelisk memorializing the Fox family and Charles B. Rosna. Once the obelisk is placed on the property, the Fox Family Memorial, it was suggested the property be given to the National Park Service for preservation and protection. (9:29) Through the efforts of the Rev. Cosie Alien and the NSAC Board , finally in December, 1999, through legal steps taken, the NSAC became the owners of the Hydesville property.
Please Note: References used on this page are listed alphabetically and numbered. For example, in the text, (2:27) indicates reference number 2, page 27.
1. Cadwallader, Mercy E., “Hydesville in History,” Chicago: The Progressive Thinker Publishing House, 1917.
2. _____, “The Origin of Modem Spiritualism,” Arlington, VA: SAM Inc., 1979. Reprint.
3. Hersey, Merle W. Compiler & Editor, “75th Anniversary of the Lily Dale Assembly,” Lily Dale, NY, 1954.
4. National Spiritualist Association of Churches, “Constitution and By-Laws,” Cassadaga, FL: National Spiritualist Association of Churches, n.d.
5. Pond, Mariam Buckner, The Unwilling Martyrs-The Story of the Fox Family, London: Spiritualist Press, Ltd., 1947.