Truth really is stranger than fiction.
I regularly work as an editor for HellBound Books, an up and coming small press publisher. A few days ago, I received a new editing assignment; a book called The Children of Hydesville by Jeff C. Stevenson. I have never met Jeff. I had not even heard of this author before, which is not so unusual in my line of work.
I immediately recognized the name Hydesville, where his story is set, and the memory of the Fox sisters’ house sprang to mind. It couldn’t be the same Hydesville. I mean, what are the odds? There must be a number of towns across America sharing the same name. Writers frequently write about fictitious towns, right? So, I started reading, which quickly resulted in a cold chill running down my spine. Right in the first paragraph he wrote: “The Fox sisters and their family, however, were very real, as is most—but not all—of what I’ve included in this story about what occurred in Hydesville in 1848.”
This goes way beyond a freakish coincidence. It borders on the paranormal. If anyone knows a word which describes such a weird turn of events, I would love to hear from you. If serendipity has a dark, twisted and disturbing relative, that is probably the word I am after.
Here is a little family history:
Before I was born, my parents lived in a tiny little cottage in the small town of Hydesville, on the outskirts of Newark in upstate New York. Directly across the street from their cottage stood a house with—to say the very least—an interesting past. In the mid-1800’s, a family with three sisters lived in the house, and even back then it had a reputation for being haunted. The family was often frightened by unexplained sounds. The three sisters began claiming to be mediums and were apparently responsible for the creation of Modern Spiritualism. Spiritualism is a religious practice based on supposed communication through a medium with the spirits of the dead. A medium is a person who uses their psychic or intuitive abilities to see the past, present, and future by tuning into the spirit energy surrounding them. In the late 1800s, the Fox sisters confessed to having orchestrated the weird happenings in Hydesville, but the Modern Spiritualism movement continued to grow nonetheless.
In April of 1916 the original Fox house was moved to Lily Dale, New York. On September 12, 1955 that house burned to the ground. In 1948, when the original cellar was dug up, some human hair and bones were found. Examination revealed that some of the bones were from a human skull. Later, an exact replica of the original Fox house would be built on the original stone foundation by a man named John.
All of this is documented.
According to my mother, who was newly married at nineteen years of age, John was a recluse. He was also rumored to be a Satanist. She talked of him traveling to another country to bring the body of his late wife back to the house, and having the grounds declared a cemetery so that he could have her buried in his backyard. She talked of visiting his house a few times, and of all the books on the occult she found there. One day, John showed up on her doorstep bearing a cookbook and a jar of honey. He told her to use the recipes in the book and to cook with the honey, or her child would be born with bad blood. My mother was taken aback. Although she was pregnant, she had told no one, not even my father. Still, she paid little mind to the ramblings of an old, very odd man and ignored his advice. I was born prematurely and with jaundice which required me have a complete blood transfusion shortly after birth.
So that was how I got my start in life.
The house burned beyond repair in 1983, and John was in the process of rebuilding when he passed on. The house stood—sorta—vacant. It was the talk of late night slumber parties where we would try to scare each other. We would each in turn tell stories about seeing flickering lights in the windows and hearing noises we couldn’t explain. When I was about fifteen, a friend and I got up the nerve to go into the house. I remember my heart beating out of my chest, as we giggled like we were insane. Everywhere around us, there were books strewn all over the floor. Books on the occult and Satanism. They were charred. I remember picking one up and how it had smudged my fingers with black soot. I remember how thick and heavy the atmosphere was. And I remember hearing noises from deeper inside the house. Noises that made my friend and I run frantically for the door, and not stop until we were far enough away where we felt safe. I remember looking back at the house and thinking that I saw flickering lights in the window.
Close to thirty years later, I have children of my own. From time to time, the Fox sisters’ house would come to mind, and I would wonder just exactly what it was I felt in that place, and what exactly I had heard and seen.
So what type of “coincidence” is required for Jeff C. Stevenson’s book to arrive on Xtina Marie’s desk?
There are at least 10,000 horror writers trying to land a publishing deal in any given year. The US has more than fifty book publishers that publish books in the horror genre. There are several editors who work for HellBound and yet this story managed to find its way to me.
Please visit the article The Fake Ghost Who Started a Real Religion in the magazine Petticoats and Pistols by Kathleen Rice Adams, September 16, 2015.