Digital Highlights: Among the Rappers

Dedication from “The Rappers.”

Table-rapping, table-turning, spirit writing, and other forms of communication with “another world” were common and popular forms of spiritualistic activity in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Some consider that the rapping done by the Fox sisters in the late 1840s as the beginning of the spiritualist movement in the United States. The girls later admitted that their “spirit communication” was fraudulent but by that time — the 1880s — the admission had little effect: the movement was an independent thing.

In 1854, not long after the Fox girls started their rapping in Hydesville, New York, a self-professed “Searcher after truth” published The Rappers, or, The mysteries, fallacies, and absurdities of spirit-rapping, table-tipping, and entrancement. The author — or authors — aver they have taken their visits among spiritualists seriously: “As the table tipped, or the raps came, he has described it, and as the alphabet or entranced medium spoke, he has given it word for word. If the whole appears absurd on the face of it,… it is not the author’s fault…” (preface)

The Rappers is a fast, amusing read, featuring chapters on “The Evil Spirits,” “Oliver Blodge, Murderer,” and “Family Raps” among others. The author adopts a tone of disbelieving but generous interest, retelling story after story of mediums attended, tables turned, and raps heard. He — or they — also recount the anecdotes of those who have been convinced by attendance, such as the elderly gentleman met on a visit to “Mrs. C,” who feels he has been put in touch with deceased members of his family.

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