The Invisible Noisemaker
BY: Barbara Weisberg
In late March 1848 two young sisters excitedly waylaid a neighbor, eager to tell her about the strange sounds they had been hearing at home nearly every night around bedtime. The noises, the girls confided to Mary Redfield, seemed to have no explanation. Their father had failed to discover the source of the raps and knocks. Their mother was exhausted from worry and lack of sleep.
Ghosts, Mary Redfield thought wryly. As she later told a newspaper reporter, what she really suspected was a childish prank.
She didn't know the girls well. Along with their parents, they had just moved to Hydesville, a quiet community of farms and fields in western New York State, the previous December. Margaretta, nicknamed Maggie but sometimes called Margaret, like her mother, was a pretty, saucy fourteen-year- old. Eleven-year-old Catherine, called Cathie or Kate, was black haired and pale, more delicate in appearance than her sister. The two children were outgoing, polite, and friendly, and they were almost always together.
A few nights later, on March 31 at about 8 P.M., Mary and her husband, Charles, heard a sharp knock-a human one-on their own front door. John Fox, the girls' father, was standing in the snow with a bizarre story to tell. Raps had broken out in his house more loudly than ever, and his wife, Margaret, had determined that they were caused by the spirit of a murdered man whose remains lay buried in the cellar.
Would the Redfields come immediately? Margaret urgently wanted their opinion.
Charles Redfield declined, but Mary agreed to go, teasing John that she would "have a spree with it, if it was a ghost." Humor, however, wasn't one of dour John's strengths. He grimly led Mary to the house, a nondescript frame structure on a neatly fenced plot, and headed straight to the bedroom that he and Margaret shared with the girls. Margaret Fox, a comfortably plump, generally cheery woman, though now highly agitated, met Mary at the door.
Glancing inside the room, which was lit by a single candle, Mary recognized in an instant the seriousness of the situation. Kate and Maggie were huddled on their bed, clinging to each other in terror.