The spirit-rapping and medium humbugs⁠—​Their origin⁠—​How the thing is done⁠—​$500 reward.

The “spirit-rapping” humbug was started in Hydesville, New York, about seventeen years ago, by several daughters of a Mr. Fox, living in that place. These girls discovered that certain exercises of their anatomy would produce mysterious sounds⁠—mysterious to those who heard them, simply because the means of their production were not apparent. Reports of this wonder soon went abroad, and the Fox family were daily visited by people from different sections of the country⁠—all having a greed for the marvelous. Not long after the strange sounds were first heard, someone suggested that they were, perhaps, produced by spirits; and a request was made for a certain number of raps, if that suggestion was correct. The specified number were immediately heard. A plan was then proposed by means of which communications might be received from “the spirits.” An investigator would repeat the alphabet, writing down whatever letters were designated by the “raps.” Sentences were thus formed⁠—the orthography, however, being decidedly bad.

What purported to be the spirit of a murdered peddler, gave an account of his “taking off.” He said that his body was buried beneath that very house, in a corner of the cellar; that he had been killed by a former occupant of the premises. A peddler really had disappeared, somewhat mysteriously, from that part of the country some time before; and ready credence was given the statements thus spelled out through the “raps.” Digging to the depth of eight feet in the cellar did not disclose any “dead corpus,” or even the remains of one. Soon after that, the missing peddler reappeared in Hydesville, still “clothed with mortality,” and having a new assortment of wares to sell.

That the “raps” were produced by disembodied spirits many firmly believed. False communications were attributed to evil spirits. The answers to questions were as often wrong as right; and only right when the answer could be easily guessed, or inferred from the nature of the question itself.

The Fox family moved to Rochester, New York, soon after the rapping-humbug was started; and it was there that their first public effort was made. A committee was appointed to investigate the matter, most of whom reported adversely to the claims of the “mediums;” though all of them were puzzled to know how the thing was done. In Buffalo, where the Foxes subsequently let their spirits flow, a committee of doctors reported that these loosely-constructed girls produced the “raps” by snapping their toe and knee joints. That theory, though very much ridiculed by the spiritualists then and since, was correct, as further developments proved.

Mrs. Culver, a relative of the Fox girls, made a solemn deposition before a magistrate, to the effect that one of the girls had instructed her how to produce the “raps,” on condition that she (Mrs. C.) should not communicate a knowledge of the matter to anyone. Mrs. Culver was a good Christian woman, and she felt it her duty⁠—as the deception had been carried so far⁠—to expose the matter. She actually produced the “raps,” in presence of the magistrate, and explained the manner of making them.

Doctor Von Vleck⁠—to whom I referred in connection with my exposition of the Davenport imposture⁠—produces very loud “raps” before his audiences, and so modulates them that they will seem to be at any desired point in his vicinity; yet not a movement of his body betrays the fact that the sounds are caused by him.

The Fox family found that the rapping business would be made to pay; and so they continued it, with varying success, for a number of years, making New York city their place of residence and principal field of operation. I believe that none of them are now in the “spiritual line.” Margaret Fox, the youngest of the rappers, has for some time been a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

From the very commencement of spiritualism, there has been a constantly increasing demand for “spiritual” wonders, to meet which numerous “mediums” have been “developed.”

Many, who otherwise would not be in the least distinguished, have become “mediums” in order to obtain notoriety, if nothing more.

Communicating by “raps” was a slow process; so some of the mediums took to writing spasmodically; others talked in a “trance”⁠—all under the influence of spirits!

Mediumship has come to be a profession steadily pursued by quite a number of persons, who get their living by it.

There are various classes of “mediums,” the operations of each class being confined to a particular department of “spiritual” humbuggery.

Some call themselves “test mediums;” and, by insisting upon certain formulas, they succeed in astonishing, if they don’t convince most of them who visit them. It is by this class that the public is most likely to be deceived.

There is a person by the name of J. V. Mansfield, who has been called by spiritualists the “Great Spirit Postmaster,” his specialty being the answering of sealed letters addressed to spirits. The letters are returned⁠—some of them at least⁠—to the writers without appearing to have been opened, accompanied by answers purporting to be written through Mansfield by the spirits addressed. Such of these letters as are sealed with gum-arabic merely, can be steamed open, and the envelopes resealed and reglazed as they were before. If sealing-wax has been used, a sharp, thin blade will enable the medium to nicely cut off the seal by splitting the paper under it; and then, after a knowledge of the contents of the letter is arrived at, the seal can be replaced in its original position, and made fast with gum-arabic. Not more than one out of a hundred would be likely to observe that the seal had ever been tampered with. The investigator opens the envelope, when returned to him, at the end, preserving the sealed part intact, in order to show his friends that the letter was answered without being opened!

Another method of the medium is, to slit open the envelope at the end with a sharp knife, and afterward stick it together again with gum, rubbing the edge slightly as soon as the gum is dry. If the job is nicely done, a close observer would hardly perceive it.

Mr. Mansfield does not engage to answer all letters; those unanswered being too securely sealed for him to open without detection. To secure the services of the “Great Spirit-Postmaster,” a fee of five dollars must accompany your letter to the spirits; and the money is retained whether an answer is returned or not.

Rather high postage that!

Several years since, a gentleman living in Buffalo, N.Y., addressed some questions to one of his spirit-friends, and enclosed them, together with a single hair and a grain of sand, in an envelope, which he sealed so closely that no part of the contents could escape while being transmitted by mail. The questions were sent to Mr. Mansfield and answers requested through his “mediumship.” The envelope containing the questions was soon returned, with answers to the letter. The former did not appear to have been opened. Spreading a large sheet of blank paper on a table before him, the gentleman opened the envelope and placed its contents on the table. The hair and grain of sand were not there.

Time and again has Mansfield been convicted of imposture, yet he still prosecutes his nefarious business.

The “Spirit-Postmaster” fails to get answers to such questions as these:

“Where did you die?”


“Who attended you in your last illness?”

“What were your last words?”

“How many were present at your death?”

But if the questions are of such a nature as the following, answers are generally obtained:

“Are you happy?”

“Are you often near me?”

“And can you influence me?”

“Have you changed your religious notions since entering the spirit-world?”

It is to be observed that the questions which the “Spirit-Postmaster” can answer require no knowledge of facts about the applicant, while those which he cannot answer, do require it.

Address, for instance, your spirit-father without mentioning his name, and the name will not be given in connection with the reply purporting to come from him⁠—unless the medium knows your family.

I will write a series of questions addressed to one of my spirit-friends, enclose them in an envelope, and if Mr. Mansfield or any other professed medium will answer those questions pertinently in my presence, and without touching the envelope, I will give to such party five hundred dollars, and think I have got the worth of my money.