When the Fox sisters claimed they could speak with ghosts by tapping, the joke triggered a nationwide craze for ghosts, psychics and seances. From 1848, many Americans believed in spiritualism, a movement that advocated that the spirits of the dead could interact with the living.
The enthusiasm led to countless scams and jokes. Despite his dubious scientific qualifications, spiritualism continued well into the 1920s. Here are just 10 of the strangest stories that the United States has taken in the heyday of time.
10 The Farmer and the Ghost Machine
Jonathan Koons, a farmer who lived in rural Ohio, was originally skeptical of spiritualism. By 1852, Koons had changed his mind, explaining that he and his nine children – including a baby who was less than a year old – were all media. The farmer decided to build a log cabin and was commissioned to build and maintain a "ghost machine" in the building.
Made with copper and zinc, Koons' device could supposedly summon ghosts to play guitar, drums and other instruments in the log cabin. The ghosts liked to play and sing in the dark room at night, and their show drew neighbors and visitors to New York.
According to messages left in the room, heavily written in a script Like Koons' handwriting, these invisible musicians were ancient creatures that preceded Adam and Eve.
Following the success of their ghost machine, Koons and his children set off to demonstrate their psychic gifts. Maybe they were hopeless without their machine (or the darkness of their log cabin), but the Koonses were exposed as fraudsters when it turned out that a disembodied hand was one of the children's hands during a seance. 
9 Possession and arrest of Mary Jane
In 1846, a maid named Mary Jane apparently suffered from being obsessed not only by one but two ghosts. The first spirit was a good girl; the other was an unappetizing sailor who said words that were believed to be unknown to any nineteenth-century woman.
This sharp-tongued ghost was pleased to torture poor Mary Jane, knocking her knees and wrists out of joint, laughing at her and joking with pain. The master of the girl, a surgeon named Dr. Larkin, had no idea how to treat her. Finally, an enemy of Dr. Larkin, pastor Reverend Horace James, arrested the authorities in Dedham, Massachusetts, for arresting Mary Jane for the crime of necromancy. 
Amazingly, James was allowed to serve as a witness and judge. Dr. Larkin was charged with sorcery, and Mary Jane was sentenced and imprisoned for two months.
The aftermath of Mary Jane's story is murky, but during Dr. Larkin fell out of favor, he still believed in ghosts. In fact, Dr. Larkin after the death of his wife, her spirit protect him from train accidents and other calamities.
8 The Chalice and Spoon Healer
Jesse Babcock Ferguson, the preacher of the South, was a popular Lecturer in Spiritualism. Conveniently, his teenage daughter, Virginia, happened to be a medium. Although Ferguson testified that Virginia was a child who "undoubtedly lacks what is usually referred to as talent," he reported that his incredibly average daughter was able to heal through the mind of an Indian doctor.
Virginia's penchant for healing suddenly appeared one day A slave boy injured his arm and shoulder. Somehow, Virginia came under the influence of the spirit.
She touched the boy's injuries and, with a cup and a spoon, cooked a dark liquid she gave to the boy and everyone else in the house, which, in Ferguson's words, was "invalid." Everyone drank this fluid over the next two weeks and it worked so well that only one of the subjects was sick.
The teenager repeated her trick with cup and spoon for her sick mother. After Virginia brought the two necessary tools, she made another liquid from the air. The medicine healed her mother easily, and Virginia volunteered to heal anyone who complained of illness. 
7 Thomas Paine's Ghost
Despite all the dark old and foreign souls who communicated with spiritualists, the spirits of famous American icons such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine also liked to engage. Countless messages were attributed to their spirits, and a Reverend named Charles Hammond even published a book he insisted was posthumously written by Paine. The author of the influential booklet Common Sense, Paine was an intrepid Deist in his day. He was such a critic of Christianity that the Quakers in his city would not bury him after his death.
Four decades later, in the early 1850s, Charles Hammond stated that Paine communicated with him through automatic writing. The result of her correspondence, Light from the Spirit World tells of Paine's supposed adventures in heaven.
On his journey through the seven celestial circles, Paine sees the spirits of his wife and mother and takes William with Penn as his mentor. At the end of the book, the skeptical Paine learns that spiritualism is the only truth and that skeptics as well as hardened Christians will doubt his message. Of course, Penn was right and Light from the Spirit World was critically apprehended. 
6 The Spirit Painters
In 1894, the Chicago media offered Elizabeth and May Bangs a new service for their patrons: ghost painting. The sisters contacted the ghost of the deceased loved one of a client and then had a portrait painted magically in the guise of the spirit. Although the painting scheme of the sisters was repeatedly exposed, it convinced for decades.
A satisfied banker named John Payne left a report on the process of the sisters he saw with two other witnesses. The sisters were able to paint a picture of his father, a man who died 14 years ago.
Payne described the session as taking place during the day when the sisters put the canvas on a frame near a window. Each sister held one side of the frame and there were no brushes or other tools near her.
While the sisters closed their eyes, an image slowly appeared on the canvas in the course of an hour. The image materialized itself and evolved from the shadow to a complete piece. Payne claimed the sisters had never seen a photo of his father and praised their work as "the best picture of my father we ever had". 
5 The hieroglyphic beets
Among the spiritualists, the spirits were generally considered charitable. However, not every interaction was positive, as the Minister of Connecticut, dr. Austin Phelps, and his family could confirm. From March 1850 and one and a half years her house was besieged by poltergeists.
In addition to the usual tropics, such as mysterious rappings, flying furniture, and broken windows, the Phelpses were entertained by even stranger experiences. Turnips with hieroglyphics grew out of their carpet, a big potato materialized out of thin air, and the eldest son was blown up and had his pants torn to pieces. There were also figures in the house, like a group of 11 women kneeling and reading Bibles.
The household name soon attracted Andrew Jackson Davis, a well-known psychic of the day. Davis attributed the black in the house to the stream of Phelpses' eldest son, believing that the spirits were responsible for the other gimmicks. 
And the hieroglyphic beets?
It turned out that of course this was an attempt by a sophisticated herd of angels to make contact with humans.
4 The Lord Sisters
Annie and Jennie Lord were sisters from Maine who repeatedly emphasized their lack of musical talent. The sisters considered them so sick and fragile that they could not play any instruments. Fortunately, they were gifted media and could instead order ghosts to play music.
For their spiritual concert, the lords collected instruments in a room and turned off the light. One nurse acted as a medium and sat quietly in one chair while the other moved away from her.
When the show started, a symphony of various instruments could be heard in the dark room. Everything was heard, from guitars to drums and accordions. Everyone was playing pretty well. Sometimes only a single instrument was played. In other cases, the ghosts used several instruments. 
Besides these concerts, the sisters of the Lord also specialized in ghost communication. From an 1876 advertisement in the journal Spiritualist Banner of Light Jennie promised distant readers that she could contact her "ghost friends" as long as they mailed her a dollar, three stamps, and a lock of hair.
3 The New Engine
John Murray Spear had a divine mission. After turning his back on organized religion, Spear became involved in spirituality and began receiving messages from an elite team of ghosts whom he described as an "electrifier." To help humanity, the electricians ordered Spear to build a special electric motor that could power the entire world with unlimited energy.
Spear called the machine "The New Motor," and it was supposed to be a living, human-like mechanism that should be a Messiah. In 1853, after nearly a year of construction, Spear and his supporters completed the engine. To celebrate his conception, Spear organized an imitated birth ritual with a female medium serving as a Mary figure. But the masses could not appreciate Spear's generous efforts to save her. In a fit of rage, a mob destroyed the engine, a result that led Spear to conclude that humanity was not ready for salvation. Leonora Piper
Leonora Piper had her first contact with the spirit world when she was eight. Supposedly, she had a vision of her aunt's death. In the 1880s, Piper had established itself as a trance medium.
When she fell into a trance, Piper was ruled by Phinuit, the mind of a Frenchman who spoke in a raw male voice. Phinuit would say he is a doctor, but it is not surprising that no one can prove he ever exists.
In 1892, a new spirit seized Piper, claiming to be an American named George Pellew. Piper's imitating Pellew during her trance functioned so well that it deceived the deceased man's friends.
On the other hand, Pellew's relatives were not so gullible. As skepticism increased, Piper switched gears and said another ghost had supplanted Pellew's.
Until 1911 Piper gave up the middle game altogether. She died many years later in 1950. During her long career, Piper was sometimes taken as evidence that spiritualism was legitimate. 
For example, the Psychological Research Society studied Piper for more than two decades. Even William James, the "father of American psychology," showed interest, though in the end he was not convinced of his abilities.
1 The Spirit Photographer
When ghosts could talk, paint and play music Then it was not hard to believe they could be photographed. The practice of spirits photography was realized by William Mumler, a Boston engraver who made the first image of its kind in 1862, and turned out to be a profitable business.
Typically, Mumler's pictures showed a living human being with the "spirit" of a loved one. By modern standards, the images are obviously fake, and yet they must have appeared unbelievable at that time.
When a woman named Emma Hardinge Britten took a ghost photo of Mumler, she could not recognize the ghostly figure that formed behind her. As a big fan of Beethoven, Mumler convinced Britten that the spirit was Beethoven himself.
Mumler had his doubts, and although he eventually came into legal trouble, he was never convicted of fraud. In fact, Mumler had many followers. His photo of Mary Todd Lincoln and the "spirit" of Abraham Lincoln remains one of the best-known alleged images of a spirit. 
Tristan Shaw is an American writer who likes folklore, film and history. You can follow him on Twitter .