Belief in the paranormal is not something that’s limited to modern times. It began long ago with our ancestors telling spooky stories for entertainment. The Victorians, especially, were practically obsessed with ghosts and things that go bump in the night.
Spiritualism – the belief that the dead can interact with the living through a medium – was especially popular after the American Civil War. Mary Todd Lincoln was a big believer in spiritualism, hosting séances in the White House. Queen Victoria also was a practitioner, supposedly also communicating with the living after her own death.
Séances started off as modest affairs. A group would sit in a circle, holding hands in the near darkness waiting to hear ghostly knocking or scratching sounds. Eventually, séances became more elaborate with spirits that “appeared” out of cabinets to interact with the attendees.
In the latter part of the 19th century, many mediums were exposed as frauds. However, their impact remained.