Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism
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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About the Author
Barbara Weisberg has also written about the Fox sisters for American Heritage magazine. Formerly a freelance producer whose work has appeared on cable, network, and public television, she lives with her stepchildren and husband, writer and producer David Black, in New York City.
"[P]rovides admirable social context for the girls' misadventures as mediums....also conveys a vivid sense of their personalities."--Los Angeles Times
"Weisberg illustrates that this seemingly simple account of fakery and gullibility is in fact mesmerizingly complex . . . ."--Washington Post Book World
"Weisberg has given us a story of enduring human emotions."----Edmund Blair Bolles, author of The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
"Engrossing and poignant...a fascinating read, both for scholars and the general reading public."--Patricia Cline Cohen, author of The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York.
"Barbara Weisberg raises the specter of two winsome adolescent sisters who convinced America they were Talking to the Dead."--Vanity Fair
"Weisberg writes with clarity and intelligence...This book tells us a lot about our own relationship with death and dying."----Alec Baldwin
"Part history, part biography, part weird tale...a fascinating story of the birth of Spiritualism."----FATE Magazine, June 2004
"Weisberg captures the essence of that era in this gracefully written scholarly biography."--Library Journal
"Talking to the Dead takes you on a thrilling ride....you are sure to be mesmerized."----Molly Peacock, editor, The Private I: Privacy in a Public World and author of Cornucopia: New and Selected Poems 1980 - 2001
"A wide-ranging account....Well-grounded social history."--Kirkus Reviews
"Why the country...was receptive to this spiritual and moral movement is another fascinating question raised by this provocative book."--Boston Globe
"[An] engaging study...[a] lively tale of a little-known slice of American history."--Publishers Weekly
"Weisberg...seamlessly tells the Foxes' story within the context of geographic and religious influences as well as national events"--Publishers Weekly
"Fascinating...an excellent history of spiritualism in America."--Stuart Woods, author of Reckless Abandon and other novels
"The reach of this story is extraordinary. A fabulous read."--Richard Dreyfuss
"Whether you are a sucker for the supernatural or a rabid non-believer, this book is compelling...."----Michael Lutin, Vanity Fair Planetarium Astrologer
"A fascinating exploration of the mysteries of mortality and faith..... A most readable and instructive story."----Frederic Morton, author of A Perfect Splendor - Vienna 1888/9 and The Rothschilds
"Weisberg goes beyond stereotypes...A revealing look at the history of spiritualism and its place in nineteenth-century culture.--Booklist
"...vividly brings alive one of America's most fascinating historical eras. This book is a fine read and an excellent reference."----Christine Wicker, author of Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead