Today, the paranormal is very common. It seems like every television channel has their own paranormal show- even Animal Planet, and it’s a rare weekend when there isn’t a movie about the paranormal premiering. What a lot of people don’t realize is that before the current trend of science meeting the paranormal, there was an equally widespread interest in the unscientific paranormal, otherwise known as the Spiritualism Movement.

The Spiritualism Movement was started in the late 1800s by the Fox Sisters, Margaret, Leah, and Kate. They managed to convince their town, Hydesville, NY, and later on the United States, that they were communicating with spirits through raps and knocks. Although they later admitted that they were lying about communicating, they had inspired other individuals to make their own attempts at communing with spirits.

This led to the commonly held concept of the séance. A medium would sit at a table with other participants. The lights would be dimmed, everyone would hold hands, and the medium would communicate with the deceased. The presence of spirits would be represented by mysterious knocks, moving tables, and the presence of ectoplasm, a thick white material that would manifest from the mouths and noses of the medium.

While many of these mediums would prove to also be frauds, there were many famous supporters of the Spiritualism movement, such as escape artist Harry Houdini, author Arthur Conan Doyle, and the inventor Thomas Edison. Edison’s phonograph was initially invented as a method of communicating with the dead.

The Spiritualism Movement of the 20th century was a direct precursor to the increased interest in the paranormal that is currently happening. The Fox sisters were from Hydesville, NY, which is a small town between Syracuse and Rochester. One of the biggest paranormal movements in history was created right here in Central NY.

The Spiritualism Movement is still a large part of the Western New York community of Lily Dale.

Contributed by the NY Shadowchasers.