It all began when a female plucked an apple.
Back in the spring of 1848, Maggie and Kate Fox were aged 14 and 11 respectively. They were two lovely girls who had a tendency to become bored and suffer from headaches, living with their parents in Hydesville, a small village in New York.
At that time, young women were encouraged to display characteristics such as composure and wisdom, so they would grow up to be not only serene, but also healthy: it was believed that extreme feelings could bring about hysterical episodes and damage the look of their skin.
Consequently, Maggie and Kate created games to amuse themselves in a tranquil manner, and indoors.
One evening, the siblings found that if they let an apple drop from a few feet away, or put a string around it and rolled it along the ground, the fruit created a peculiar sound. A sort of fleshy clunk. A strange noise in the darkness.
The type of obscure sound which made their mother wary. “A superstitious person,” Maggie described years afterwards. “She was a true believer. She had faith in these things.”
At night, Maggie and Kate would amuse themselves by playing with the apple, aimlessly perplexing their mother. When the game became too transparent, they started tapping on their bedposts and snapping their joints.
Although it was just a foolish pastime, their parents were increasingly worried by the peculiar noises and their daughters’ apparent interaction with the entity.
Eventually, the sisters started communicating with the spirit by asking questions and getting a certain number of raps for yes or no. People in the neighborhood began to visit the house to hear the spirit, shocked when it seemed to be aware of their personal information.
It then declared that it was the spirit of a peddler named Charles who had been killed and buried in the basement some time ago. Some men went down to search for proof, returning horrified and convinced after finding some bone and hair fragments.
A graph shown in an image provides evidence of the rising popularity of online shopping over the years. It is obvious that the number of purchases made through the internet has increased substantially from 2009 to 2018.
Furthermore, the percentage of people who prefer to shop online has also grown in that same time frame.
Four decades later, Maggie and Kate’s deceptions had accumulated an audience of eight million people.
They had grown to be famous—and both alcohol addicted. Questioning critics had taunted them, and the endurance of their fraudulence had taken a toll on their minds. From the start, why hadn’t anyone discovered their trickery?
The two had found the right victims; their mother who accepted the supernatural, and their neighbors, living in 19th century America, who were in between modern technology and age-old tales.
This crowd was keen to keep their ties with those who had passed away—and they wanted pleasure.
In the early days, people looked all around the house, trying to figure out where the strange sounds originated, but they came up empty-handed, not even locating an apple. This was no doubt made easier due to the girls’ remarkable intelligence.
The story of Eve in the book of Genesis depicts her walking through a stunning garden before encountering a sly serpent, who convinces her to indulge in an apple, which ultimately changes her life.
As time progressed, Eve and the snake fused together in people’s memories, and she is now the one seen as the deceptive one.
Women with snakes have been a part of many myths, with characters such as Circe, the Sirens, Salome, and Medusa. These women have been remembered in history with their names whispered on people’s lips.
People have always been captivated by tricksters. We love the idea of clever gods, from Anansi to Loki to Mercury, that challenge authority and make us laugh. On the ground, we can’t help but appreciate the skill of the magician, or the charm of the carnival worker who takes your money.
In a way, con artistry is a basic instinct; it takes advantage of our desire to trust in something and then takes it away. Despite the pain, we can still find beauty in it, often so much that when a stranger with an honest face deceives us, they will likely be depicted in a film.
The idea of a “con” is derived from the thing it undermines: confidence. This term, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “The mental attitude of trusting in or relying on a person or thing,” had a more negative connotation by 1600, with the definition of “Assurance based on insufficient or improper grounds.”
In 1849, a journalist invented the term confidence man to describe William Thompson, a person from NYC who would converse with a wealthy man whilst donning a nice suit.
Thompson would then ask to borrow the gentleman’s watch, uttering the phrase “Have you the confidence to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” This often resulted in the man handing over his watch, which Thompson would subsequently take and disappear.
Thompson was banking on the robustness of accepted behaviors–he predicted, rightly, that people tend to act in the way they believe is expected of them.
A businessperson would deem it impolite to confess not knowing someone, would consider it discourteous to abruptly end a conversation, and would be embarrassed to state they did not trust a colleague of similar stature with their possessions.
Thompson didn’t need a disguise to steal since he operated behind the veil of masculine control: important-looking files, a bulky wallet, a stylish hat, and casual mentions of classified business ventures.
The modus operandi of a con woman follows the same principles, yet she takes advantage of a different set of expectations.
Unlike Victor Lustig and Ferdinand Waldo Demara who tried to fraudulently sell the Eiffel Tower and join the navy as a surgeon respectively, she may not use such extreme measures.
A con woman may rather attempt to persuade a man to propose, then break off the engagement and sue him. She may also pretend that her child is ill, stopping us on the street and interjecting her vision before leading us inside her shop to view her crystal ball.
It is likely that she is taking advantage of the set social standards about what a woman is capable of and profiting from it.
The Fox sisters leveraged an old-standing notion: that women, being emotional, intuitive, and often inward-looking, have a special connection to the supernatural realm.
This assumption has been taken advantage of by many over the years, including fraudulent psychics and wellness bloggers. Such a con artist, using spirituality as her intrigue, is particularly ambitious.
She is asking for a lot more than a traditional con artist with a request for a watch: she is looking for one’s belief.
The Fox siblings began their antics with an apple as a fun way to pass the time, but the unexpected attention they garnered soon resulted in a career.
Within a few weeks, Leah, understanding the monetary potential of the situation, moved her sisters to a house in Rochester and began charging for seances.
Soon after, all three had become renowned celebrities, residing in New York City and dedicating their time to communicating with the dead.
Whenever they weren’t in auditoriums in front of hundreds of people, Maggie and Kate would work for lengthy periods of time, with both individual and group meetings.
This movement was called Spiritualism, which is essentially the belief that the deceased can communicate with the living, commonly through mediums.
As the popularity of this concept grew, many other mediums emerged across the country, and their sessions were accompanied by similar tapping sounds.
At first glance, the seance room was a realm of femininity: intimate, exclusive, and illuminated by a gentle light and an ethereal atmosphere.
Participants sought contact with their deceased relatives or partners; issues in the outside world, such as the growing political divisions between the North and South, were largely ignored.
Nonetheless, the influx of men into the Fox sisters’ parlor was undeniable. Drawn to the sisters’ beauty, they were eager to be near them in the dark, to clasp hands around the table, and to anticipate a spiritual visitation–or a sly glance from Kate.
Maggie and Kate found their situation to be very difficult. Not only had their years of innocence vanished beneath the requirement to perform, but they were now suffering from thorough examinations from skeptics.
These inquiries were usually conducted by groups of men who were attempting to make sure the sisters weren’t using hidden devices to produce the noises they heard.
They were given particular outfits to put on, bound at their ankles, and had their hands and feet held to make sure they weren’t moving around.
To make matters worse, they were taken to another room, made to take off their clothing down to their undergarments and inspected by females while the men remained outside the door. Reports of this search were published in the next day’s newspaper.
The Fox sisters were not only met with disbelief, but with peculiar gazes from all. The believers were quick to point out their innocent beauty as a sign of their integrity, with one editor describing Maggie’s expression as “artless and innocent,” and the other talking about Kate’s “earnest simplicity” and her “pure spiritual face.”
This made the spirit world more accessible than before, and Barbara Weisberg notes in Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism that Maggie was neither a philosopher like Emanuel Swedenborg, nor a mystic like Andrew Jackson Davis. Instead, her puzzling, stimulating sounds were as accessible as she was.
If a woman is a con artist, it can be useful to make herself appear guileless and harmless.
The con man can make use of an extravagant suit and a friendly demeanor, while the con woman can plan her outfit to produce the desired effect, whether it is a ragged ensemble or a finely tailored one. Nothing is left to chance.
No one was more aware of the impact a chic outfit could have than Bebe Patten. She was known for wearing a heavenly-style getup consisting of white silk robes and a cross necklace. She wanted to stand out while delivering her sermons on stage.
- Thomas Patten, the husband of Bebe, did not appear to be a very divine figure when in front of an audience.
He humorously said that the C in his name stood for cash and was known for wearing cowboy boots, pistachio-colored suits and ties decorated with dollar signs.
In 1944, the two of them arrived in Oakland, California, with only three dollars between them; but within six years, they had managed to acquire a fortune worth more than a million dollars, several real-estate investments, a devoutly devoted religious congregation, and all sorts of accusations of fraud and embezzlement.
These charges, however, were only directed at C. Thomas, while Bebe remained untouched, her clothes unwrinkled, her hands uncontaminated, and her wallets full.
Bebe had grown up in an evangelical environment. During her younger years, she had assisted in revival campaigns, and she eventually graduated from a Pentecostal bible college located in Los Angeles.
She refused to have sexual relations with C. Thomas until they were married, and she would only marry him if he converted to Pentecostal Christianity (this is the narrative they relayed on stage).
It turned out that C. Thomas’s intense nature complemented Pentecostalism’s more theatrical elements.
The married couple journeyed around the South for some time, preaching as they went, but in Oakland they found the perfect place for them: people who were from the Bible Belt, and had come to Oakland to work in the shipyards and defense factories and had some money, but were seeking a sense of community.
This was described by Bernard Taper in The New Yorker in 1959.
The Pattens invested a large sum in promotional efforts and started having revivals the same way Gatsby organized parties. Their ads, which were featured in all the local papers, promised “Green Palms! Choir Girls in White! Music! Miracles! Blessings! Healings!”
The revivals would begin with prayer and song, conducted by Bebe, however, the Pattens’ main focus was on the fundraising. C. Thomas was a great showman with no qualms about his techniques, which were both strong and successful.
He would tell the crowd that God had whispered a certain amount to him, for example, three thousand dollars, and that he and Bebe must gather it that night. He would then implore two people to donate one thousand dollars each.
If the wallets were not opening that night, C. Thomas would call out names and ask those individuals to donate two hundred dollars.
As he fluctuated between yelling and asking, Bebe would remain on the stage behind him, awaiting her sermon, with her eyes cast downwards–the epitome of a dedicated wife.
The Patterns frequently raised thousands of dollars in a single night from their congregants, who often sacrificed their own financial stability in the process.
The money was supposedly for a radio station (which never received a Federal Communications Commission license), an orphanage (which was purchased but never housed children), a rest home for “broken-down” ministers (which was not endorsed by legitimate churches).
Bebe herself (who earned around four thousand dollars a month for personal spending), and a “super-auditorium” with escalators to bring elderly members of the congregation to the altar where they could give more money.
The couple also promised to build a flaming torch on the roof of the auditorium, visible for miles, as a symbol of God’s power.
One of the choir girls even sent a telegram to her mother saying, “COME HOME QUICK. DAD’S GONE CRAZY AND IS GIVING ALL HIS MONEY TO THE PATTERNS.”
The poster-boy for deceit, C. Thomas, was a captivating, self-assured, and oddly likable individual despite his scrupulousness.
His tendency to shout out bizarre phrases, such as “You fossil faces and stony hearts, you better melt before the Lord if you know what’s good for you!”, was counterbalanced by Bebe’s appearance of holiness, wearing a crucifix instead of a tie with money symbols.
Despite the five counts of grand larceny that got him put in jail, no charges were ever put against his accomplice.
Bebe’s presence was a crucial factor in the success of C. Thomas’s charade. If it were not for her air of holiness, he would have been nothing more than a loud and ostentatious showman.
With Bebe in the spotlight, exuding her aura of ascension and spiritual transformation, C. Thomas was able to convince the congregation of his legitimacy.
He would even use her as a bargaining tool, threatening to cancel her sermon if the congregation did not donate enough money.
Behind her husband in the courtroom sat a woman who was not the real Bebe. Bebe the fraudster was known for her silver fox furs and had even asked Greta Garbo’s costume designer to tailor her a slinky white satin dress.
As C. Thomas faced his charges, she delivered a vicious sermon that anyone who doubted her and her husband would be punished – all while carrying a pink rose taken from a former follower’s coffin, who was supposedly “praying in Hell” at the time.
She continued to pray aloud that someone involved in the trial would die, saying “Lord, strike down one to show us Your support – anyone will do.” (Bebe was a fan of using props in her performances.)
In the court, the prosecution disregarded Bebe’s golden cross. Cecil Mosbacher, the assistant district attorney, declared “It was Bebe who evoked sympathy and established the circumstances they had to work with.”
He continued, “The two of them worked in tandem to deceive the public.” However, Bebe, seeming innocent and devout, never had to confront any charges.
It can be amusing to hear stories of grand thefts and scams, but it’s not so funny when someone is taken advantage of.
Such was the case with the Pattens’ cleaning lady, who wept as she recounted in court how she had given all of her $2,800 savings to C. Thomas after he publicly branded her as “the meanest woman in Oakland” in front of the entire congregation.
Taking someone’s money is one thing, but to use their quest for truth as a means of purchasing luxuries is another entirely.
An image showing a laptop, a cup of coffee and several books can be seen here. It symbolizes studying, learning and gathering knowledge, which is the basis of success.
The laptop is indicative of the modern methods used to study while the books illustrate traditional methods.
The cup of coffee symbolizes the hard work, determination and energy required to achieve success.
Charles Livermore, a thirty-one-year-old widower, was advised by a doctor to attend seances to help him cope with his grief over the passing of his wife Estelle. The Fox sisters took advantage of his vulnerable state and held private sessions with him for a period of time.
On alternate days, Kate visited the broken-hearted husband. Initially, she declared that Estelle was speaking through her and wrote the loving words of the spirit for Charles.
At their 24th gathering, Charles was astonished to watch a translucent female figure manifest in the darkened chamber.
By their 43rd session, a gauzy material ascended from the floor and solidified into the shape of a woman, who slowly advanced towards him until he could recognize Estelle.
Charles gleefully detailed their meetings in his journal, saying that the spirit was exactly like his beloved and narrating how he caressed her hair, clasped her hand, and kissed her shining lips.
Could it have been Kate, disguised in a phosphorescent painted fabric, playing the part of Estelle? Was there an accomplice?
Mediums had a variety of methods of producing a ghostly figure, such as having a woman cloaked in a see-through cloth emerge from behind a curtain, or even making a figure from paper mache and bedding.
Charles, desperate for answers and easily manipulated, didn’t think to turn on the lights, tug at Estelle’s garments, or demand concrete proof of her presence.
Charles was not the only one who was open to Spiritualism, but it was full of con artists much like a cake with raisins in it. This led to the creation of an industry that was meant to prove the mediums were fakes.
Even the great Houdini became part of the anti-Spiritualism movement and wrote a book that exposed many famous mediums. As more liars were found out, the process of debunking became almost comical.
At a scene conducted by Elsie, a person in the dark room was supposedly a spirit, but when the lights were switched on, it was Elsie herself, dancing underneath a sheet.
In reply, the mediums hired bodyguards, known as sluggers, to physically stop anyone who tried to turn on the lights, take away their sheets, or do anything that would disrupt their “magic-making”.
The whole thing was more or less amusing–except for the victims who had faith in it. “If this was nothing more than an innocuous illusion, one could simply laugh at it and let it vanish,” commented a writer in 1853.
“Saddeningly, however, it has already caused considerable harm.” After all, genuine trust is not funny in the least. It is delicate. And taking advantage of someone’s vulnerability is like a shark sensing blood in the water, so much harm can occur before it is discovered.
In the 1990s, Jasmuheen, an Australian woman, was noticed by the worldwide media as it seemed she was creating a cult, even though she denied it. She did not have adherents but just backers. Jasmuheen did not ingest or drink.
She was a breatharian, someone who relies on “cosmic micro food” in the air, and if one acquired her book, Living on Light: The Source of Nourishment for the New Millennium, and followed her 21-day fast, they would be able to experience improved health, energy, sex, and lower grocery costs.
The initial media response to Jasmuheen was one of amused skepticism. She had made outlandish claims such as that eating was “outdated” and that she only had “rabbit-type droppings every three weeks.”
Furthermore, her website boasted that a group of warriors known as the Knights of Camelot were utilizing themselves as guinea pigs to prove that humans could live without food.
When a journalist visited her mansion, however, it was found that her refrigerator was stocked with food, her shelves were full of vitamins and supplements, and her cutting board showed signs of regular use. Jasmuheen simply said that these were all for her husband.
Her devotees, numbering in the thousands globally, didn’t realize her teachings were a joke. Although the average person would have thought Jasmuheen was crazy, her words were incredibly powerful to those seeking spiritual purification.
If one looked past the medical absurdity of her words, they could understand her message: here was a chance to be liberated from the difficulties of life in a human body. Here was a way to become better, to reach a “personal paradise,” as Jasmuheen would say.
All one had to do was align with the universe and say goodbye to the snacks and beverages that were staples in the human diet.
The consequences of Jasmuheen’s fasting method soon became apparent with the death of Timo Degen, a 31 year old kindergarten teacher from Munich, in 1997. He had survived 12 days of the fast, until he fell into a coma and died.
The following year, Lani Morris, a 53 year old Australian woman, attempted the fast, and after vomiting black liquid, she succumbed to dehydration, pneumonia, kidney failure and severe stroke.
In 1999, the body of Verity Linn was found in a lonely part of the Scottish Highlands, half naked and curled in a fetal position. Beside her possessions was a diary and a copy of Jasmuheen’s book, which stated her wish to be “spiritually cleansed” before the turn of the century.
This drew a lot of attention to Jasmuheen with one article describing her as “Blonde, thin and dangerous.” The press requested that she demonstrate her claim to abstaining from food, and she readily consented to be examined.
The Australian television program 60 Minutes proposed to confine her in a hotel room, filming her continuously for seven days with a physician present to observe her progress.
Jasmuheen clarified to a reporter prior to the test that it was not about hunger nor about abstaining from eating. Instead, she said, it was about syncing energies with a spiritual power that powers every single breath.
He declared that “abstaining from food means starving oneself” and without missing a beat, she remarked “it depends on what you’ve gone through”.
Revealing a con artist can be gratifying, but the result is usually uninspiring. Spiritual cons function best when undetected – such as in darkness with lit candles, or a setting conducive to a feeling of being taken away.
But when exposed to the harsh, realistic light of day, there is no mystery – just a mundane reality. The Wizard of Oz was right when he implored us to not look at the man standing behind the curtain.
On 60 Minutes, Jasmuheen’s vague notions were put to the test of modern medicine. As the days went on, it became evident that her assertions of feeling great were not supported by the facts: her heart rate increased, her blood pressure went down, she had lost around thirteen pounds, and her speech was slurred.
The doctor warned that if she persisted, she could suffer from kidney failure. Consequently, the crew stopped recording for fear of her dying on the show. Soon after, Jasmuheen released a statement that said:
“Different people have different perceptions of reality, and without our aspirations and visions, humankind is without hope.”
Despite ongoing attempts to discredit their claims, the Fox sisters had managed to stay out of trouble for many years. Yet at some point, something changed and Maggie and Kate revealed themselves, even though they had long tried to avoid any public humiliation.
When the two sisters hit their fifties, they had had enough of Spiritualism. Despite their popularity, job success, and a horde of devoted adherents, life had not been benevolent to either of them.
Both were widows and alcoholics, outraged at their oppressive sister Leah for her insistence on thrusting them into the public eye–and weighed down with remorse. Before each seance, Maggie would grumble, “You are sending me to the depths of Hell.”
At the New York Academy of Music in the autumn of 1888, Maggie stood before the crowd, with Kate in attendance. She declared: “I feel I must do this, for it is my sacred duty—a holy mission. My goal is to see an end to the practice.
After I reveal the truth, Spiritualism will be destroyed. I was the first to step forward and I have the right to expose it.”
It shows that the majority of Americans are either neutral or uncertain about the state of America’s culture. Only a small portion of respondents expressed satisfaction with the current state of American culture.
During her presentation, she mentioned the “apple trick” and how her mom fell for it. Furthermore, she mentioned that when her and her friend Kate discovered the sound could be made even more eerie by cracking their toes, they knew they had to involve the neighbors.
Maggie exclaimed in wonderment, “Once the complexity of it is understood, it’s incredible how effortless it is!
The rappings are simply due to a superior mastery of the leg muscles beneath the knee, which control the tendons of the foot and enable the toe and ankle bones to move in ways that are not usually known.
This level of control can only be achieved when a youngster is trained from a young age and continually taught to exercise the muscles that stiffen as one matures.”
Maggie, raising her skirts and removing her shoes, invited three medical professionals to join her on stage and grasp her large toes.
According to The New York Herald, the entire audience was aware they were watching the individual who essentially developed Spiritualism, its pioneer, spiritual leader, and demonstrator. During her motionless stance, clear knocks were audible in numerous places, including the flies, backstage, and gallery.
Reporters remarked on the absurdity of the situation, labeling it “ludicrous.” The image of three men reaching toward a woman’s foot had a definite suggestiveness to it.
Despite this, the solemnity of the event was clear; a woman who had endured attempts at exploitation for years had stepped up and was now exposing her own foot.
Bebe Patten was able to avoid such distress. After the death of C. Thomas in 1958, Patten worked to restore her name and moved forward.
Her obituary paid homage to her “76 years of Christian ministry as evangelist, pastor, teacher, broadcaster, editor, and founder and leader of institutions”, without a mention of C. Thomas.
There is a photo of an elderly Patten, holding an open Bible with a cross around her neck, surrounded by a bouquet of red roses, with the light illuminating her hair from above.
The reporter from 60 Minutes asked Jasmuheen if it was hard to decide if she believed the nonsensical words she was saying or if she was simply presenting them as a fraud.
In response, she questioned if it was best for the audience to make the decision.
The con artist is confident that her audience won’t blow her cover. They are already too involved in the situation. Each one is an ideal target, full of conflicting views, inquiries, and misgivings.
Just by turning up, they have already revealed what the con woman needs – she only needs to wait for the gullible person to come to her.
Maggie Fox, the con artist, was not immune to belief. A month before she began to criticize Spiritualism on stage, she told a reporter that she had attempted to have faith in the realm of spirits.
“I have pushed my will as far as it will go in exploring the unknown,” she said. “I have attempted to get something from the dead. Nothing came of it–nothing, nothing.”
The con woman appears to be nothing more than an attractive and daring facade. She appears to be pure and untroubled by any morality, but that is an illusion. There is more to her than meets the eye.
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