Talking to the Dead

In 1848, in a small village in New York state, the Fox family was awakened night after night to the sounds of raps and knocks, seemingly connected to the two youngest Fox children, fourteen-year-old Maggie and eleven-year-old Kate. The nocturnal noises, purportedly communications from the spirit world, eventually led the Fox sisters, and the rest of their family, on a forty-year, world-wide journey, a journey fraught with controversy that connected the Foxes with some of the most famous people of their day, including famed Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane and newspaper magnate Horace Greeley.

As a result of their seemingly uncanny ability to communicate with the dead, Maggie and Kate were highly-sought after as mediums. In séances, they produced not only the knocks and raps of their childhood, but also a wide variety of other spiritual communication including automatic writing and apparitions to a public at once both skeptical and desperate to believe.

In Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism Barbara Weisberg tells the story of Maggie and Kate Fox and the birth of Spiritualism with deftness, drawing on a wide array of both primary and secondary sources. Although many have labeled the girls as frauds, Weisberg carefully avoids passing judgment, preferring to offer copious descriptive detail about their lives and times. Through lively narrative, and careful analysis, Weisberg metaphorically plays the role of medium herself, bringing Maggie and Kate Fox back from the dead.