Hydesville Day

Hydesville Day is celebrated on 31 March each year and is the official day for the international recognition of Spiritualism. The name comes from the small community of Hydesville in Wayne County in the state of New York and was founded in 1790. In 1848 two sisters living there first experienced strange rapping sounds, which were thought to be communications “from the other side”.

The Fox sisters, Kate aged 11 and Margaret aged 14, appear to have made a connection with the spirit of a man apparently murdered in their home some years earlier. They soon became known in the neighbourhood for their apparent dialogue with the dead, requiring their mother to write a supporting statement confirming her own observations.

This communication, along with other manifestations, seeing or hearing spirits, visions, emotional or physical reactions, other noises and more, now make up the core components of ‘spiritual channelling’.

The mid 1800s saw the emergence of Spiritualism as a popular movement and has attracted controversy ever since. It’s more a movement than an organised religion and covers a wide range of beliefs. The practice of communication with spirits, typically during a séance, spread rapidly. The first Spiritualist church in the UK opened in Keighley, Yorkshire, in 1853.

The Fox sisters quickly became world famous, going on tour with public séances across the US. They gaining critics but also followers who craved their ‘spiritual counselling’. However, in 1888, Margaret confessed the rapping sounds were created by her double-jointed big toe. Both she and Kate had begun it, Margaret said, “As a prank on their superstitious mother”. Ardent spiritualists condemned her confession as a lie, told probably for money and possibly under the influence of alcohol.

The New York Herald reported on 22 October, 1888: “There stood a black-robed, sharp-faced widow, working her big toe and solemnly declaring that it was in this way she created the excitement that has driven so many persons to suicide or insanity. One moment it was ludicrous, the next it was weird.”

At this time, Spiritualism gained one of its most celebrated devotees: Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1893 and experimented with table-tipping and ‘automatic writing’ as possible methods of communicating with spirits.

Hydesville Day is marked online by churches and organisations globally, including the Spiritualists’ National Union in the UK.

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