Those who have studied the spiritualist movement of the mid to late 1800s will likely know that the entire phenomenon began with the claims made by the Fox sisters who said they were in communication with a real life deceased man who could communicate with them through a series of knocks and bangs. And though their claims were later said to be a hoax by none other than the sisters themselves, the legend of the murdered peddler who inadvertently founded the spiritualist movement would become a rarely repeated aspect of the history of spirituality and what would later branch into Ghost hunting and parts of the New Age movement.
It all began in Hydesville, New York when a young man rang the doorbell of Mr. and Mrs. Bell holding a large suitcase in one hand and a box of wares in the other, opened to show a set of silverware gleaming in the midday sun. He waited dutifully hoping for an easy sale of his items as Mr. Bell answered the door. As the Victorian door opened, Mr. Bell looked down to the open box of wares, then back up at the young man holding the box smiling with an entrepreneurial ambition and what appeared to be a fortune in goods. After he introduced himself, a thought went through Mr. Bell’s mind – a thought that would eventually eat away at his soul and drive both he and his wife to murder this young man and cover up the incident altogether. Mr. Bell opened the door and invited the youth inside.
The details of the murder itself are often a source of controversy in the story. Some say the man was murdered by a kitchen knife that the maid had purchased from the peddler and never received after being dismissed. But when the man did end up losing his life, it was said to be at the hands of the mysterious Bell family that shortly thereafter moved out and was replaced by the Fox family, which would eventually begin experiencing unusual incidents. Lucretia would particularly witness unusual phenomena and even at one point witnessed a full apparition appearing in the kitchen. After remembering that several of the peddler’s wares had appeared in the kitchen after his mysterious disappearance, a grim connection was made. Could the Bells have actually murdered the peddler in cold blood?
A cursory search of the basement revealed a mound of dirt. After a considerable amount of digging, eventually neighbors uncovered what appeared to be a human skull. After no small amount of speculation, eventually the skull fragment was identified as belonging to a human. With enough evidence to suggest something unusual had taken place there, eventually the Fox family enlisted the help of a neighbor who attempted to communicate with the spirit. In time the now famous Fox Sisters would come forward and say they too could communicate with the dead peddler, and told his grim story. From these interactions, the spiritualist movement was born. But later, the Fox sisters would claim it had all been a hoax. And so begins the dubious but still highly interesting first step of what would eventually become a very serious and important inquiry into the field of ghost hunting.