First appeared in the Boston Globe.
Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America by Peter Washington (Schocken Books, NY, 1995, 480 pages $27.50)
1848 was a special year. In Europe, revolutions were breaking out. In the United States spirits were breaking through. In 1848, using the adolescent Fox sisters as vehicles, the Devil — referred to as Splitfoot by the girls — and the dead tapped out messages in Hydesville, New York. The news from beyond was good: death was change rather than cessation. Better yet, the dead lived on in an atmosphere free of fire and brimstone, Splitfoot having run out of hot stuff, or the will to use it, long ago.