Category: Spinsters

The Fake Ghost Who Started a Real Religion

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Once upon a time in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York, there lived two sisters who loved to scare family and friends with their vivid imaginations. One day in late March 1848, the girls told a neighbor about spooky happenings in their bedroom. Eager to disprove the girls’ claims that the ghost of a murdered traveling salesman inhabited their home — a tale with which they’d already terrified their mother — the neighbor accompanied fourteen-year-old Maggie Fox and her eleven-year-old sister Kate into their bedroom … where the neighbor, too, was dutifully terrified by the apparently sentient wall-rapping in response to the girls’ questions.

The old fox cottageThus began a religion known as Modern Spiritualism, which is still practiced today.

After having their worst fears seemingly confirmed, the Fox family abandoned the farmhouse, sending Maggie and Kate to live with their older sister, Leah Fox Fish, in Rochester, New York. That may not have been the wisest decision. Rochester was a hotbed of religious activity. Mormonism and the movement that later became Seventh Day Adventism both saw their genesis in the Rochester area.

Upon hearing the tale of the murdered salesman and the unearthly sounds, a group of Rochester residents examined the Fox homestead and found strands of hair and bits of bone in the basement. At a subsequent community meeting, the girls were put to the test: Could they communicate with the dead in Rochester, too?

fox-sisters

The Fox sisters: Left to right: Leah (1814–90), Kate (1838–92), and Maggie (1836–93)

The girls proved they could by summoning raps on the floor. In addition, Leah seemed to communicate with one community leader’s deceased daughter. All three Foxes were escorted into a private room after the demonstration, where they disrobed and were examined for any hints of duplicity. None were found.

Word of the sisters’ uncommon abilities reached Andrew Jackson Davis, later to become known as “John the Baptist of Modern Spiritualism.” Davis claimed to have received a Divine message on the very day the Fox sisters first channeled spirits on the family farm. In response to the dreary Calvinist teachings of the day, people could not wait to adopt a new spiritualism that taught each individual was the master of his own salvation. The spirits of those who had passed on were there to guide them to their ultimate fate, as they, in turn, would guide those who came after them.

The Fox Sisters embarked on a tour of New England and the Midwest, demonstrating their abilities to notables including newspaperman Horace Greeley, author James Fennimore Cooper, and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. Many accused the girls of perpetrating a hoax, but a growing number of people, convinced by the knocking and apparent communication with dead relatives, embraced the Spiritualist movement.

In 1857, Maggie married explorer Elisha Kent Kane, a man thirteen years her senior who, though he reportedly loved her to distraction, insisted she was a fraud. He died an untimely death shortly after the wedding. Maggie began drinking heavily and abandoned Spiritualism to honor his memory. Kate married a devout Spiritualist leader and continued to develop her skills as a medium, including the use of blank cards upon which messages from the Beyond seemed to appear magically. Among the hazy apparitions she allegedly summoned was Benjamin Franklin’s.

tablelev

The Fox sisters demonstrate their ability to levitate a table (1850).

By the end of the Civil War, more than two million believers had converted to Spiritualism; by 1880, adherents grew to more than eight million.

In 1888, Maggie received $1,500 to tell her story in front of a large audience at the New York Academy of Music. By then doing her best to live a life of sobriety, Maggie confessed to the hoax that started the mass hysteria.

“My sister Katie and myself were very young children when this horrible deception began,” the New York World reported. “At night when we went to bed, we used to tie an apple on a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound.”

The sisters soon discovered they could manipulate their knuckles, toes, and other joints to make a variety of unusual sounds. Maggie demonstrated by removing her shoe, placing her foot on a small stool, and producing “rapping” noises

“A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them,” Maggie said. “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.”

Spiritualists quickly split on the matter, one camp saying Maggie was a true medium who had been consumed by spirits intent on deceiving humanity, and the other claiming she had sold out her religion because, as a poor widow, she needed the money.

Fox1

The Fox sisters conduct a seance in New York (ca. 1855)

Leah, a popular medium in New York City, disowned her younger sister. Kate hit the bottle with increasing frequency and enthusiasm. The sisters never reconciled, even after Maggie recanted her confession a scant year after she embarrassed the family.

Leah, embittered by her sister’s betrayal, died in 1890. Kate died two years later while on a drinking binge. Maggie followed eight months later, in March 1893. Later that year, the diverse Spiritualist groups came together to found the National Spiritualist Association, the forerunner of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, which exists today.

Postscript: In 1904, a group of children discovered what appeared to be a skeleton among the ruins of the abandoned and crumbling Fox homestead. A doctor who examined the bones estimated they had been in the basement for about fifty years. Although the find lent some credence to the Fox sisters’ tale about the murdered salesman, the media and society at large continued to scoff at Spiritualists.

Five years later, another doctor examined the bones and pronounced them a clear attempt to defraud. The alleged skeleton was composed of bits and pieces from several bodies, including those belonging to chickens and other animals.

The Fox homestead burned to the ground in September 1955. A marker now stands on the spot where Modern Spiritualism was born:

Upon this site stood the Hydesville Cottage
The home of the Fox Sisters
Through whose mediumship communication
with the Spirit World was established
March 31, 1848
THERE IS NO DEATH
THERE ARE NO DEAD

 

The dearly departed who refuse to depart cause problems for the hero and heroine in “Family Tradition,” one of two related stories that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts. The book releases Friday, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon.com.

 

RBSH_3D_200x300_shadowEveryone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.

The Worst Outlaw in the West
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family’s honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan’s long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family’s bank from her brother’s reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy…if either can find a map.

Family Tradition
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?

Have you ever encountered a ghost? Tell us about it in the comments! I’ll give an E-BOOK of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of today’s commenters.

 

Suzanne Ferrell – Why I Love Mail-Order Bride Stories


Years ago, okay decades ago, when I started reading romances I fell in love with the mail-order bride books. Mind you I had just finished reading a series of Dame Barbara Cartland’s books where the young virgin married the dashing rake because he needed a wife and she needed protection. So a shift to the American historical where a woman needs a marriage and the farmer/miner/lumberjack needed a wife was a natural progression for me.

Being a lover of American history I knew these women weren’t going into a life of privilege and ease like Ms. Cartland’s heroines. No, these heroines were going to an unknown, unsettled world to bring civilization not only to their environments, but quite often to the men they’d wed. Just looking at old photos from the late 1800’s homesteaders shows the harsh reality these women must have faced. That alone should tell you what kind of women they were.

Courageous. That’s the first word that comes to mind. Someone who was willing to leave the world they knew in the East to travel west to a land almost as foreign as another country had to have guts. 

Hopeful. Many women who became mail-order brides were looking for something different than the lives they were living. Whether they were widows or spinsters these women left all they’d ever known in hopes that their new lives and potential mates would fulfill their needs for a home and family of their own.

Determined. To work side-by-side with the stranger they married to carve out a life would take determination, as well as physical and emotional strength. They would have to face natural disasters, renegades and wild animals in order to protect their families and homesteads.

When I started writing Cantrell’s Bride and it became apparent my heroine was in an American version of a marriage-of-convenience I had to determine how she ended up there and what caused her to be a mail-order bride. My heroine would need to be strong, determined and hopeful.

“Laura Melborne is a spinster librarian in Washington D.C. who witnesses the murder of a senator. In order to escape the murderer, she becomes a mail-order bride to Nathan Cantrell, a Colorado farmer with a strangely silent child. Laura must use all her courage, determination and hope to forge a life with Nathan even as the murderer closes in on her.”

EXCERPT FROM CANTRELL’S BRIDE
Copyright Suzanne Ferrell, 2012
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.

     Nathan studied the young woman seated on the wagon seat.
     Damn. What had Neil been thinking?
    
He’d assumed from the list of requirements he’d given Neil his brother would send him an older woman like the governess they’d had growing up. Older, strict, unappealing. Certainly not this round-faced miss with the warm brown hair pulled back in a serviceable knot, flushed pink cheeks and excitement in her eyes.
     Dammit, Neil. 
     His brother knew he wasn’t in need of a wife for his own physical desire and he certainly wasn’t ever falling for the foolishness others called love again. No, he’d learned his lesson the first time. Women—especially young, beautiful women—couldn’t be trusted.
     Nathan ground his thin cigar under his boot toe before stepping forward to offer a hand to the woman. She hesitated, a look of fear darkening the excitement he’d seen in her eyes. For a moment he thought she’d refuse him. Then something in her changed. Whatever frightened her—him or the new town—she shoved it aside, took a deep breath, sat a little straighter and put her hand in his.
     “I’m Laura, Mr. Cantrell.” She gave him a determined look as he helped her down from the wagon.
     Standing on the ground she came only to the top of his shoulders and had to tilt her head back to look up at him. For a brief moment he was caught in the clear appraisal of her deep emerald eyes. A hint of roses, reminiscent of his mother’s garden, wafted up to him.
     A movement to his right caught his attention. He glanced around and stiffened. The townsfolk had stepped out of their businesses to watch.
     Anger flared inside him. It wasn’t idle curiosity that brought them out like rats searching for food. They wanted to make his business fodder for their gossip mill once more.
     Damn. He hated their scrutiny, had his fill of it while Kirsten lived and then again when he’d brought Rachel home. He needed to get out of here. He’d be damned if he’d discuss this situation with his new wife on the streets of Doverton.
     Grasping his bride’s elbow, he half hauled, half led her to his wagon.
     “Mr. Cantrell.” Her prim voice stopped him before he actually tossed her up onto the seat. “I think I can manage this myself, if you wish to get my belongings.”
     “Your belongings?” He released her and glanced back at Zeke’s wagon where the old coot had unloaded two boxes.
     “Yer wife done brought a few things with her, Nathan.” A large carpetbag landed beside Laura’s wooden boxes. Zeke leaned against the wagon’s tailgate, grinning like an idiot.
     Nathan glanced around the street. Everyone stood watching him to see if he’d accept Laura as his wife or send her packing. Getting a complete stranger to marry him in order to have someone to care for Rachel was a mistake. He never should’ve listened to Micah’s crazy scheme.
     With a look up at his wife, he saw her staring ahead, her back ramrod straight and her lower lip caught between her teeth. She knew everyone was watching them. Her quiet dignity doused his indignation.
     Muttering an oath, Nathan hefted up the first of the boxes. What the hell does she have in here? Bricks? He nodded at Zeke. “Don’t just stand there, help me get it all loaded.”
     The wiry mule skinner lifted the carpetbag and set it in the wagon. He walked around to the side where Laura sat. Nathan shoved a heavy crate onto the wagon as Zeke doffed his worn raccoon hat and offered his hand to Laura.
     “Ma’am, it sure was a pleasure makin’ yer acquaintance. You ever need anythin’ at all, you just give old Zeke here a holler.”
     Without hesitation, Laura took his hand and shook it once. “You were a delight to travel with, Mr. Zeke. Your stories made the time pass quickly. Thank you for bringing me safely here.” She settled a very sincere and tender smile on the old man. The smile lit up her eyes, softened her features and transformed her face into beauty that struck Nathan so hard he nearly dropped the box he was lifting onto the wagon.
     “Yer most welcome, ma’am.” The mule skinner’s weathered skin turned a deep red under his beard and he actually scuffed his boot in the dirt as if he were a smitten pup.
     Recovered from his reaction to her smile, Nathan rolled his eyes and settled in the seat beside the woman. She had the old man blushing – great. He’d married another flirt. He flicked the reins and set the horses into motion. His new wife grabbed hold of the seat to keep from falling out. Zeke jumped out of the way.
     Heading west out of town, Nathan stewed for the better part of the five-mile trip. No way was he keeping another flirt for a wife. His gut instincts told him she was nothing but trouble. But then, weren’t all women?
     He glanced at the woman beside him. She sat stiffly, looking off to the side. The only clue the town’s rudeness had upset her was the way she clutched at the wagon seat with one hand and fingered a locket hanging on a chain against her coat.
     She sure was a quiet one. Totally unlike Kirsten.
     From the moment they’d met, Kirsten chatted and flirted with him until she had him married to her and her hands on his money. He’d done anything she wanted, loved her with all his heart and given her every dime he had. It was never enough.
     Now he knew better than to trust a woman with anything – even one that appeared different from his she-bitch first wife.
     The team turned the bend in the road just below his farm.
     “Is that your home?”
     Instinctively Nathan bristled. He’d heard those exact words before. His farm might not resemble a Southern plantation, but it was all his and he was damn proud of it. He turned to inform the woman at his side just that.
     The words died on his lips.
     Instead of sneering with a look of disdain as Kirsten had when she’d first seen his farm, Laura’s face softened with the same smile she’d given Zeke. Again it struck him how much it transformed her looks. It wasn’t a flirty smile. No, it appeared to come from her heart. Focused on his home, she seemed to drink in the sight before her – just like he had the first time he rode into the valley nestled between several mountain peaks.
     He stopped the team for a moment to admire the picture his home presented. The sight never failed to please him. The road led down between pastures fenced by logs to the white clapboard house.
     Now in the middle of winter, it nearly blended into the snow except for the dark roof and windows. Other dark shapes dotted the landscape the landscape. The chicken coop, outhouse and lower barn spread out in a crescent shape within walking distance of the house. In the upper fields stood a second barn for housing grain and cattle throughout the winter.
     Behind the house, far enough to prevent flooding from the spring runoff, the creek cut a meandering path through the evergreens farther down the valley to join other creeks that fed into the South Platte River.
     “It’s lovely,” Laura whispered.
     Her awed appreciation at his home eased some of the tension humming through him. Nathan started the team up the narrow lane to the house. He drove around back and stopped the wagon next to the porch. While he hopped off his side, Laura scrambled to lower herself down before he could help her.
     For some reason, it bothered him that she wouldn’t want his help. It couldn’t be that he’d enjoyed her nearness when he helped her from Zeke’s wagon.
     “Come on inside and warm up.” he held open the kitchen door and allowed her to pass into the house first. The scent of roses again. How did she smell like roses in the middle of winter? Nathan followed her inside, going to the wood-burning stove. He stoked up the fire then stood and studied her under that hooded gaze of his. Finally he stalked to the door. “It should get warm enough for you to take off your coat in a few minutes. I need to see to the animals, then I’ll be back to talk.”
     Laura caught the tobacco scent from the cigar as he passed. A shiver of awareness ran over her body, followed by a moment of apprehension. Never in her life had she been this alone with a man. Given his surly greeting, she wondered if she’d jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
     As the door closed behind him her shoulders slumped. Things weren’t going as well as she’d hoped. On the cross-country trip, she’d prayed Mr. Cantrell would accept her, if not with open arms, then at least with gratitude for her help. What if the trip had been for naught?
     After setting her carpetbag on the table, she moved around the stark kitchen. The windows were bare, the walls painted white. No decorations of any kind hung anywhere. Opening the cupboards, she found chaos among the dishes and cookware, as if someone had just thrown them inside and slammed the doors shut. A layer of dust covered most of the shelves. She glance down at the floor. It had been swept recently, but she doubted it had seen the use of a mop in some time.
     Through the window she watched her husband drive the team of horses and wagon between the barn’s wide doors. He closed the doors and disappeared behind them. She might a well look about the rest of the downstairs.
     The hallway led to the front parlor. Here a small settee and two wingback chairs sat beneath dust-covered sheets. Two end tables that hadn’t seen dusting in years flanked the chairs. The mantle clock’s hands stood in idle disuse. Otherwise the windows had no curtains and the room was as empty as the kitchen.
     Shaking her head, Laura closed the door and returned to the kitchen. Were the bedrooms as bleak? She didn’t dare go upstairs to find out until she’d been invited.
     The kitchen had warmed considerably so she removed her coat and both the sweaters she’d needed for warmth during the wagon trip over the pass. She laid them on the back of a ladder-back kitchen chair and sat at the table to consider her situation.
     Mr. Cantrell might not want her as his wife, but he certainly needed her, even if he didn’t know it yet.

 

So that’s my reasons for loving mail-order bride books. Strong heroines in a fish-out-of-water sort of story. Do you like these kinds of stories? If so, what draws you to them?

Suzanne is giving away on $10 Amazon gift card — so the winner can get a copy of CANTRELL’S BRIDE for themselves.

Spinsters of Yesteryear–And Book Giveaway!

 

 Being an old maid is like death by drowning, a really delightful sensation after you cease to struggle.

– Edna  Ferber

 

In 1861 fifty ladies of the first Church of Milford in New York formed a society of old maids. It cost five dollars to join the group and members had to vow never to marry. The interest earned from the money paid for the annual dinner, with the principal going to the woman who remained unmarried the longest. 

 

According to an article in the New York Times thirty years later in 1891 all but fifteen of the original fifty had married.  By then the prize money had risen to a thousand dollars.  I’ve not been able to find the winner’s name—and I sincerely hope there wasn’t one— but the best part of being a writer is where real life fails, inspiration takes over.  That’s how the idea for my new series The Brides of Last Chance Ranch was born. The first book Dawn Comes Early will be out in March.

 

My heroine Kate is a disgraced dime novelist who has the chance to inherit a cattle ranch in Arizona territory.  However, she must first sign a legal document forbidding her to marry—ever! 

 

Before I could write the book I wanted to find out why anyone—and especially a group of church women—would choose not to marry?  In the 1800s such a decision would be considered unnatural and even shameful.

 

There would be more spinsters marrying if other women didn’t marry so much!

 

I wasn’t able to track down information on the Milford church ladies but I did learn some interesting facts.  In the 1800s a woman was considered a spinster if she was still unmarried at age 25 and in some cases, younger.  The word spinster literally means one who spins.  In Dutch households no woman was fit to wed until she had spun table and bed linens. Thus  the task of spinning was relegated to unmarried women. 

 

 So why were there so many Victorian Spinsters? 

  

  • Some women balked at the idea of losing ownership of assets. When a woman wed land, money–everything, even patents–had to be put in her husband’s name.  (Elias Howe credited his wife with inventing the sewing machine but of course the patent was in his name.)   

 

  • Some professions such as teaching required a woman to remain single. During the early 1900s British telephone operators were not allowed to marry. And we’ve all heard stories of the spinster librarian deemed to love only her books.

 

  • College educated women had a difficult time finding men with similar educations.  In Dawn Comes Early Kate Tenney is a college educated woman and Luke Adams a “simple blacksmith.”  It makes for an interesting conflict as he doesn’t even know what she’s talking about half the time.

 

  • Many women lost fiancés or beaus during the Civil War. More than 62,000 men died and this created a generation of southern women doomed to spinsterhood.  

 

  •  Women entering the paid workforce in the 1860s became more independent.  No longer did a woman have to marry for financial security. There was little possibility of combining motherhood with a career and a woman who couldn’t be a mother was considered to be no woman at all.

 

  • The war on suffragettes:  Newspapers were filled with disparaging remarks about the Spinster Suffragette.  “Her clothes and physical appearance emphasize that she is a failed woman and wannabe man. The lady wants to vote because she couldn’t get a date.”

  

  • Family responsibilities sometimes prevented marriage. Some women (usually the oldest daughter) were so burdened with caring for parents or siblings there was no time for a private life.

 

  •  The Glorified Spinster:  This movement was called a new model for the Old Maid which allowed women to pursue independence through voluntary (gasp!) spinsterhood.

 

 

So why would a beautiful young woman like Kate Tenney agree to sign a document forbidding marriage?  You’ll have to read the book for that answer.  Right now if you want a chance to win a copy of Dawn Comes Early  tell us about your favorite spinster.  Mine is Rosie in African Queen.   

 

 www.margaretbrownley.com

 

Click Cover to Order

 

 

Updated: February 17, 2012 — 6:57 am
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