Wednesday, June 16, 2010
What About Kate?
In writing We Hear the Dead, it became necessary for me to focus on one of the two Fox sisters. Maggie was my obvious choice, because she was the morally conflicted sister who faced a mob at Corinthian Hall, a violent attack in Troy, and the one who was drawn into a star-crossed romance with a man above her station.
Many readers have wanted to know more about Kate, but unfortunately the timeline of the novel didn’t allow me to fully address her strange life. Although she was a central figure in the Hydesville incident and the early Rochester spirit circles, Kate was subsequently shipped off to school by her family and remained out of sight for a couple years. Horace Greeley took an interest in Kate’s schooling and housed the girl in his home while she attended a private school. This seems very generous, unless you know that Mrs. Greeley was mentally disturbed. Grief for her dead son had made her a morose, temperamental, and difficult companion. Horace Greeley installed Kate Fox in his home and then vanished to his private Manhattan apartment -- he rarely inhabited the same home as his wife. Kate attended school during the day and performed private séances for the unhappy Mrs. Greeley at night.
Kate was miserable. She wrote countless letters begging her family to bring her home. Unfortunately, Horace Greeley was too important an ally to cross, and Kate was left for months at a time in Mrs. Greeley’s less-than-tender care. It’s no wonder that when she finally escaped, the poor girl wallowed in the social activity which her fame allowed. Sadly, she developed a taste for alcohol – so much so that Elisha Kane remarked on it warningly in some of his letters to Maggie.
Did Kate really have “the second sight” as I suggest in We Hear the Dead? Obviously, I have no way of knowing. However, unlike Maggie, Kate never confessed to fraud and worked as a spirit medium for most of her life. Kate was subject to fits and migraines, and even before she started drinking alcohol, her family dosed her with a tonic that may have been laced with morphine (as many were at that time). This might explain some of her “visions.”
Kate’s work as a medium grew increasingly strange in her early twenties (beyond the timeline of We Hear the Dead). She performed a series of séances for a banker named Charles Livermore in which she supposedly produced a physical manifestation of his dead wife. In the pitch darkness of the room, the wife’s spirit held Livermore’s hand, stroked his face, placed her fingers in his mouth – and he reported fingering the ribbons on the bodice of her gown. (What was going on in that dark room??)
Kate married and had two sons, one of whom was diagnosed with epilepsy – lending credence to the idea that she had some mild form of epilepsy herself. During her marriage, her life stabilized for awhile, but after her husband died, she allowed her fondness for alcohol to take over. At one point, her sister Leah attempted to seize custody of her two sons, and only Maggie’s intervention prevented this from happening.
Kate Fox may have been the nineteenth century version of Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears. Which reminds me that there are 2 days left for you to enter the Teenage Celebrity contest and win a We Hear the Dead t-shirt!