5 Groups Who Claim to Talk to the Dead

A woodcut of table rapping as practiced in the first half of the 19th century under the influence of the Fox sisters. © Bettmann/Corbis

Historians consider sisters Leah, Margaret and Kate Fox the founders of modern spiritualism. The girls grew up in an upstate New York hamlet called Hydesville in the mid-1800s. During the winter of 1847-48, Maggie, 15, and Katy, 11, played a prank on their mother convincing her that the house was haunted and that they could talk to the ghost responsible [source: History.net].

Rumors of the haunting quickly spread through the countryside. Visitors made pilgrimages to the Fox's house to talk to dead family members. Eventually, the sisters became famous mediums, especially after oldest sister Leah became their manager. Decades later, in 1888, Maggie admitted that she and her sisters were charlatans. She tried to recant a year later, but the damage was done [source: History.net].

Skeptics, and there are many, say spiritualism is nothing more than snake oil, doled out in drips to people who thirst for some response from beyond the grave. The James Randi Educational Foundation is so convinced the spiritualists and mediums are phony that it has offered to pay $1 million to anyone who can produce evidence of paranormal abilities under a controlled situation, a payout unclaimed as of publication. Still, many people seek the help of mediums in order to find closure when a loved one has passed.