Laona, New York, 1843, a small village outside of Fredonia. Animal Magnetism or also called Mesmerism—today we would call that hypnotism. Mesmerism was a new method of healing. A Dr. Moran from Vermont came to Laona to demonstrate Mesmerism…Dr. Moran healed a William Johnson who later was able to heal Jeremiah Carter, who also was able to go into a trance condition, identify objects [psychometry] and perform healing.
Weekly demonstrations were given…crowds came from all over Chautauqua County and beyond. Laona became one of the “stops” for what was then called “Iterant speakers “[traveling lectures]…Andrew Jackson Davis, Mary Davis, Dr. James Peebles, Elizabeth Lowe, William Denton, Warren Chase, and John Murray Spear were some of the most out standing and well known speakers who appeared there.
Simply stated, Spiritualism is a religion where the adherent’s converse with the so-called dead. Spiritualism is not a virus or a mental disorder—as some books contend. Spiritualism was a movement that formed around the belief that spirits of departed mortals had begun to communicate with the living, and that the living could converse in a systematic way with the land of the dead.
Hydesville, New York, 35 miles East of Newark…The Fox Sisters, Kate and Maggie, young teenagers, on March 31, 1848 began a “first contact” with a spirit, who it was discovered thru a system of raps was murdered in 1843. This man was a traveling peddler who was murdered for the money he had been earning on his rounds of the countryside. It was further discovered the name of the murderer was a man named Bell. The Bell family buried the peddler in the basement, and then moved away. The second family who occupied the house was named Weekman and they only stayed in the house for a year before raps started disturbing them and a spirit of a man appeared and touched one of them. Out they moved. Along came the Fox family who needed a place to stay while their house was being built. Little did they know the house was haunted, and they would also launch a religious movement that would continue into the 21st Century.
That day of first contact with the spirit Charles B. Rosna on March 31st 1848 is called the beginning of Modern Spiritualism because it was the end of old superstitions and the beginning of knowing and investigation. Corinthian Hall Rochester November 14, 1849 was the first public demonstration for the Fox Sisters. After the Fox sisters came forward acknowledging their ability to communicate with spirits other people were bold enough to also admit to spirit contact. [A skeleton of a man was found in 1904 when a basement wall collapsed in the Fox Cottage]
Why did so many religious movements have their beginnings in Western New York? Was it the isolation, solitude and the vast areas of the frontier west of New England, New York City and Boston? The proximity of the Great Lakes and Large bodies of water can cause more powerful thought vibrations or more powerful weather patterns—alone with your thoughts? New York was said to be the gateway to the west and the fertile land attracted many settlers. The majority of settlers were of the younger generation, an age group of people in there twenties—open to new ideas, disturbed by orthodox tradition and they had a solid Yankee heritage and moral intensity. They were more sensitive to religious influences. The adolescent mind readily lent itself to religious excitement. Everyone awaited the millennium, and each movement had it’s own way or methods with various interpretations of a “Bible.” The older and more established generation stayed behind content with what they had and where they were.
During the 1850s, a surprising number of Americans believed that the deceased could be contacted through trance mediums and séances. Many of the progressive leaders of the anti-slavery, women’s rights, temperance, prison reform and labor reform movements were involved in spiritualism and used it as a conduit for social and political reform. To them, spiritualism was a scientific alternative to religious systems that they believed relied on speculation and dogma.
Anyone who attended a séance or spiritualist gathering, and then was either convinced or impressed and talked about that phenomenon –especially an orthodox religious person of authority was x-communicated and that person would then say they were a Spiritualist. Spiritualism grew by leaps and bounds especially with the on set of the Civil War and the disruption of civil authority and on going so called “radical” movements.
Western New York State was ripe for a new religious movement and the newspapers of the era took that as an advantage to market papers. There was no shortage of controversial discussions and spiritualism sold papers with the printing of spirit manifestations, rapping, materialization, spirit writing, slate writing, de-materialization and apports.
For every honest medium there were at least two fraudulent mediums, people who were only showmen “out for the money.” Some of the best scientists of the day investigated the true phenomena and some phenomena could not be explained away.