Signed Confession of Margaret Fox Kane, October 1888
I do this because I consider it my duty, a sacred thing, a holy mission, to expose it (Spiritualism). I want to see the day when it is entirely done away with. After I expose it I hope Spiritualism will be given a death blow. I was the first in the field and I have a right to expose it.
My sister Katie and I were very young children when this horrible deception began. I was only eight, just a year and a half older than she. We were very mischievous children and sought merely to terrify our dear mother, who was a very good woman and very easily frightened.
When we went to bed at night we used to tie an apple a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound. Mother listened to this for a time. She would not understand it and did not suspect us as being capable of a trick because we were so young.
At last she could stand it no longer and she called the neighbors in and told them about it. It was this that set us to discover a means of making the raps more effectually. I think, when I reflect about it, that it was a most wonderful discovery, a very wonderful thing that children should make such a discovery, and all through a desire to do mischief only.
Our oldest sister was twenty-three years of age when I was born. She was in Rochester when these tricks first began but came to Hydesville, the little village in central New York where we were born and lived.
All the neighbors around, as I have said, were called in to witness these manifestations. There were so many people coming to the house that we were not able to make use of the apple trick except when we were in bed and the room was dark. Even then we could hardly do it, so the only way was to rap on the bedstead.
And that is the way we began. First, as a mere trick to frighten mother, and then, when so many people came to see us children, we were ourselves frightened, and for self-preservation forced to keep it up. No one suspected us of any trick because we were such young children. We were led on by my sister purposely and by mother unintentionally. We often heard her say:
'Is this a disembodied spirit that has taken possession of my dear children?'
That encouraged our fun and we went on. All the neighbors thought there was something and they wanted to find out what it was. They were convinced that someone had been murdered in the house. They asked the spirits through us about it and we would rap one for the spirit answer 'yes’ not three as we did afterwards. The murder, they concluded, must have been committed in the house. They went over the whole surrounding country trying to get the names of people who had formerly lived in the house. Finally they found a man by the name of Bell, and they said that this poor innocent man had committed a murder in the house and that the noises came from the spirit of the murdered person. Poor Bell was shunned and looked upon by the whole community as a murderer.
Mrs. Underhill, my eldest sister, took Katie and me to Rochester. There it was that we discovered a new way to make the raps. My sister Katie was the first to observe that by swishing her fingers she could produce certain noises with her knuckles and joints, and that the same effect could be made with the toes. Finding that we could make raps with our feet—first with one foot and then with both—we practised until we could do this easily when the room was dark.
Like most perplexing things when made clear, it is astonishing how easily it is done. The rappings are simply the result of a perfect control of the muscles of the leg below the knee, which govern the tendons of the foot and allow action of the toe and ankle bones that is not commonly known. Such perfect control is only possible when a child is taken at an early age and carefully and continually taught to practice the muscles which grow stiff in later years. A child at twelve is almost too old. With control of the muscles of the foot, the toes may be brought down to the floor without any movement that is perceptible to the eye. The whole foot, in fact, can be made to give rappings by the use only of the muscles below the knee. This, then, is the simple explanation of the whole method of the knocks and raps.
In Rochester Mrs. Underhill gave exhibitions. We had crowds coming to see us and she made as much as a hundred to a hundred and fifty dollars a night. She pocketed this. Parties came in from all parts to see us. Many as soon as they heard a little rap were convinced. To all questions we answered by raps. We knew when to rap yes’ or no' according to certain signs which Mrs. Underhill gave us during the seance.
A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them. It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out:
'I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.'
Of course that was pure imagination.
Katie and I were led around like lambs. We went to New York from Rochester and then all over the United States. We drew immense crowds. I remember particularly Cincinnati. We stopped at the Burnett House. The rooms were jammed from morning till night and we were called upon by those old wretches to show our rappings when we should have been out at play in the fresh air.
Nobody has ever suspected anything from the start in 1848 until the present day as to any trickery in our methods. There has never been a detection. But as the world grew wise and science began to investigate we began to adapt our experiments to our audiences. Our seances were held in a room. There was a centre-table in the middle and we all stood around it.
As far as Spirits were concerned neither my sister nor I thought about it. I know that there is no such thing as the departed returning to this life. Many people have said to me that such a thing was possible and seemed to believe so firmly in it that I tried to see, and I have tried in every form and know that it cannot be done.
After I married, Dr. Kane would not let me refer to my old life—he wanted me to forget it. But when I was poor, after his death, I was driven to it again, and I wish to say clearly that I owe all my misfortune to that woman, my sister. I have asked her time and again:
'Now that you are rich why don't you save your soul?'
But at my words she would fly into a passion. She wanted to establish a new religion and she told me that she received messages from spirits. She knew that we were tricking people but she tried to make us believe spirits existed. She told us that before we were born spirits came into her room and told her that we were destined for great things.
Yes, I am going to expose Spiritualism from its very foundation. I have had the idea in my head for many a year but I have never come to a determination before. I have thought of it day and night. I loathe the thing I have been. I used to say to those who wanted me to give a seance:
'You are driving me into Hell’
Then the next day I would drown my remorse in wine. I was too honest to remain a 'medium’. That's why I gave up my exhibitions. I have seen so much miserable deception! Every morning of my life I have it before me. When I wake up I brood over it. That is why I am willing to state that Spiritualism is a fraud of the worst description. I have had a life of sorrow, I have been poor and ill, but I consider it my duty, a sacred thing, a holy mission to expose it. I want to see the day when it is entirely done away with. After my sister Katie and I expose it I hope Spiritualism will be given a death blow.
I do not want it understood that the Catholic Church has advised me to make these public exposures and confession. It is my own idea. My own mission. I would have done it long ago if I could have had the necessary money and courage to do it. I could not find anyone to help me—I was too timid to ask.
I am now very poor. I intend, however, to expose Spiritualism because I think it is my sacred duty. If I cannot do it who can? I who have been the beginning of it? At least I hope to reduce the ranks of the eight million Spiritualists in the country. I go into it as into a holy war. I am waiting anxiously and fearlessly for the moment when I can show the world, by personal demonstration, that all Spiritualism is a fraud and a deception. It is a branch of legerdemain, but it has to be closely studied to gain perfection. None but a child at an early age, would have ever attained the and wrought such widespread evil as I have.
I trust that this Statement, coming solemnly from me, the first and the most successful in this deception, will break the rapid growth of Spiritualism and prove that it is all a fraud, hypocrisy and delusion.
(Signed) "Margaret Fox Kane."