Disturbances described by parapsychologists as poltergeists produce all sorts of physical phenomena such as noises, fires, and movement of objects without the physical effort of any living human. They are all low level spirits. In other words, they are mischievous, sometimes malicious and not always very bright. They tend to follow a living person (called a poltergeist agent) rather than haunting a location like a ghost. Wherever the poltergeist agent goes, the haunting follows him or her to the new location, and this proved to be the case with the Fox sisters. The sisters were on the verge of nervous breakdown, so, in order to protect them, the family decided that the two girls should be evacuated from the house, and they were sent to live with relatives in different cities. The raps followed them, breaking out at both locations, indicating that both girls were poltergeist agents. Of course, to the skeptics, it was proof that the girls themselves were producing the noises mischievously.
The peddler’s spirit followed Katie, the “stronger” of the two poltergeist agents, but new spirits joined the party in both locations. The visitors who came to view the disturbances now began hearing from their loved ones who had recently died. Word spread, and the girls, now joined by their sister Leah, were booked into Corinthian Hall in the bustling city of Rochester New York to an overflow crowd of 400. Some in the audience came primarily to expose fraud, and some even to prove that the girls were witches. The Rochester Daily Democrat had prepared a scathing review, but had to spike it when the events went smoothly for the spirits.
Kate did not attend the first night, but Maggie and Leah were subjected to test after test, producing raps and answering questions. After the (rather successful) exhibition, committees were appointed to further examine the claims. The examinations were conducted the next morning November 15, 1849 without informing the girls beforehand, at the Sons of Temperance Hall, and again in the afternoon at a private home where the sisters had been staying while in town.
The girls were thoroughly examined for fraud. They were each placed on a table to allow the committee members to observe, touch and hold their feet, arms and legs. A doctor used a stethoscope to determine if the noises emanated from the girls’ lungs. Some of the examinations were done in a separate room. The girls were tied up, stripped (by committees of women), made to stand on pillows, had their feet, hands, legs and arms held and were generally abused, and still the raps were clear and distinct. Their clothes were examined, their bodies probed, and the raps still emanated from the walls and ceilings. No one was able to find any cheating.
A second exhibition held at the Sons of Temperance Hall produced the same results (This time, Kate was in attendance) with even more zealous men and women testing every conceivable avenue for fraud.
“All agreed that the sounds were heard, but they entirely failed to discover any means by which it could be done.”
A third exhibition was scheduled to be held in the spring of 1850 in Corinthian hall to further test the girls. After the second committee had made its report, one member of the third committee swore he would eat his favorite beaver fur hat and another man threatened to hurl himself over the Genesee Falls if they could not outwit the girls. But when the third committee finally made its report, it stated that:
“Despite all precautions, the sounds had been heard and the various questions asked of the spirits had been answered, generally correctly.”
After three days of the strictest scrutiny, the girls had won a remarkable victory. No word was forthcoming on the disposition of the beaver fur hat or the fate of the man who had threatened to hurl himself over the Genesee Falls.
After the second Corinthian Hall demonstration, the girls gave demonstrations in Albany, and then in Troy, New York, all with angry skeptics out to debunk them. The skeptics tried, but failed. By June of 1850, the girls were living and giving demonstrations at Barnum’s Hotel in New York City on Broadway. Note that at this point, if any deception had been found in Albany or Troy, there would never have been any further demonstrations because the newspapers of the day were as rabidly skeptical of paranormal phenomena as any of the angry skeptics attending the original performances. News of deception would have spread faster than news of the girls’ successes and the entire affair would have ended as soon as it had begun.
The fact that the disturbances followed the girls when they left the rented Fox residence is used as justification by modern debunkers to insist that the disturbances were the mischievous work of the sisters themselves rather than the work of spirits. Few of them ever bothered to read the history of the Corinthian Hall, Albany, Troy or Broadway demonstrations, all of which fairly well exonerated the girls from charges of fraud.