Exhibits in the Haunted
Museum are based on the work of Troy Taylor from his
book, Ghosts by Gaslight!
Click on the Cover for More About the Book!
He was said to be
the spirit form of the Welsh buccaneer Henry Morgan, who died in 1688. King,
and his daughter Katie (who became most famous when attached to medium
Florence Cook) became popular fixtures at the
Koons' sťances and later, with the famous
Brothers as well.
During the heyday of
Spiritualism, "home circles" were all the rage among those who were fascinated
by the mysterious workings of the spirit world. In these small, close-knit
groups of family and friends, members would gather around the dining room
table and, curious about tales of rappings from elsewhere, would try and see
if they too could receive communications from the spirits. Quite often they
did --- they might hear a soft tap, followed by louder ones and soon deafening
noises that could be heard all over the house. Questions would be asked, codes
devised and soon information would be flowing from the other side. In many
cases, especially with socially prominent families, such manifestations would
be kept private, in order to save themselves from ridicule.
However, in other cases, when
social standing was not a concern, spirit contacts would be widely publicized
and neighbors would be called in for free performances. This sometimes led to
members of the home circle becoming professional mediums, as if had with the
Fox Sisters. Another family, about whom much
less is known, was the Koons family of Athens County, Ohio. Though they did
not gain much material profit from their venture, the Spirit Room in Athens
County became, for a short time in the 1850's, a Spiritualist destination that
attracted hundreds of believers from all over the country.
What was nearly as amazing as
the fact that so many people came to Athens County was the ordeal that they
had to go through to get there. Although still somewhat remote today, it was a
virtual wilderness in the 1850's. It was located in a rough and hilly area not
far from the Virginia (now West Virginia) line. To reach it, one had to travel
by stagecoach from Columbus over rutted and often washed out roads. Then, to
reach the Koons' cabin, visitors still had to walk another two miles along a
wooded trail. However, few pilgrims regretted their journey and felt
completely rewarded by the manifestations that awaited them.
Jonathan Koons, the head of
the family, and his wife Abigail had nine children. They were self-educated
farmers but well versed in politics and the philosophy of the times. They
settled and farmed an area in Athens County, called Mt. Nebo, a hill that
towers over the town that is now located nearby. Early in 1852, Koons had come
across newspaper descriptions of the Fox Family rappings and had at once made
a personal investigation of the growing phenomenon. He attended several
sťances throughout Ohio and allegedly learned from the spirits that he was a
gift medium. When he returned home, he also discovered that Abigail and his
oldest son, Nahum, were also endowed with psychic abilities.
After holding a number of
sťances of their own, the Koons' were ordered by spirits to build what was
dubbed their "Spirit Room". They were given the exact specifications on how to
build it, the size, the furnishings and the equipment to use. The Koons'
immediately went to work and following the spirit's instructions, constructed
a log cabin that was 12 x 14 feet, had three shuttered windows, a single door
and a seven foot-high ceiling. The room was then furnished with benches that
would hold about 20 people. The spirits also requested that they equip the
Spirit Room with a number of musical instruments: a tenor drum, a bass drum,
two fiddles, a guitar, an accordion, a trumpet, a tin horn, a tea bell, a
triangle and a tambourine. Koons was not a wealthy man and could not afford
all of the instruments (plus, he had trouble finding them in this remote part
of Ohio) but managed to order some and borrow the rest from neighbors.
After another sťance, the spirits then demanded two tables, a rack for the
musical instruments, and wire with which to suspend a few small bells and some
images of doves that were cut from sheets of copper.
After faithfully following all
of these instructions, the Koons' began giving public sťances. Koons, Abigail
and Nahum acted as mediums and in the darkened cabin, the spirits began giving
lengthy communications on various spiritual subjects, as well as concerts on
the musical instruments. Neighbors from all over the region began descending
on the Spirit Room and Mt. Nebo, attracted by not only the rumors about what
was taking place there but also because the racket made by the spirits could
be heard for a mile in any direction.
It was not long before
visitors from other parts of the country began to arrive as well. Charles
Partridge, a well known New York publisher, later wrote that he found at
least 50 people gathered for the first performance that he attended. Many of
them were from various parts of Ohio, but there were representatives from
other states too. Koons, on the advice of the spirits, gave preference to
those coming from far away. There were no admissions or other charges to
attend the sťances but those who stayed the night at the Koons' home usually
contributed some offering. Throughout this, Koons was still working and
maintaining his family's farm. He was at times so exhausted that he fell
asleep during the sťances and so there is little reason to believe that the
Spirit Room was ever a money-making project.
And while it may not have made
money, it certainly attracted attention. Published accounts soon began to
appear in journals and Spiritualist newspapers and from these reports, it
becomes quickly obvious that the sťances were not for spectators with fragile
nerves. The exhibition was often loud and the spirit's performances on the
musical instruments was usually ear-shattering. All of the reports (whether we
choose to believe them or not) agree that in the total darkness of the crowded
room, it would have been impossible for the Koons' themselves to provide the
deafening and boisterous entertainment.
The program usually followed a
set routine. After the audience was seated, the lights were turned out and the
door and windows closed. The start of the sťance was usually announced by the
banging of the bass drum, which one witness compared to the firing of a cannon
in the close quarters. Then Koons, who sat at a table with his wife and son
beside him, would start to plat a lively tune on his fiddle. In moments, all
of other instruments would join in, keeping perfect time although played
with unseen hands. What is more astounding, the reports all stated, was that
the instruments did not remain stationary but would circle the room, playing
wildly as they danced above the heads of the spectators.
During one sťance, Dr. G. Swan
of Cincinnati wrote later of a flying tambourine: " One moment I would feel it
on my head or brushing my hair and the next moment, it would be on the other
side of the room." The triangle was also carried about the room and played in
the same manner. Another witness, John Gage of Illinois, reported that the
triangle dashed about over the heads of the visitors and was "occasionally
thrust almost in my face, so that I was afraid that it would hit me." On
one of its flights, the triangle dropped into his wife's lap and then smacked
him up side of the head. Both agreed that it weighed close to 20 pounds.
According to another witness,
the floating instruments would play in unison and were so loud that it made
the "whole house roar so as to almost deafen us." No one seemed to recognize
any of the tunes that the instruments played, but they were melodies of some
sort and not just noise. Charles Partridge stated that the instruments would
start together and then stop abruptly, "as if by some signal." The music was
sometimes accompanied by songs that were sung in what seemed to be
"something like human voices". John Gage described them as "unearthly". The
words, all of the witnesses agreed, were apparently not in English.
Throughout all of this though,
the "master of ceremonies" was not Jonathan Koons, but rather a spectral voice
that came through the tin horn. He called himself John King and he proclaimed
that he was the leader of the spirits present, which numbered 165 in all.
musical part of the evening was usually followed by the appearance of spirit
hands that were either luminous themselves or illuminated by phosphorized
sheets of paper that were prepared by the Koons'. Visible to a little above
the wrist, the hands felt like real flesh and according to witnesses were
sometimes either hot or cold. Dr. Swan, who requested that a hand be placed in
his own, reported that "it felt precisely like the hands of the subjects that
I have handled in the dissecting room." Partridge, who also held out a hand
and asked the spirits to take hold of it, said that it gave a distinctive
grasp when it touched his hand but added that "it did not feel like the hand
of a living person."
phantom hands also played a part in the last feat of the evening, when the
luminous appendages would write messages on pieces of paper. All those who
described their visit to the Spirit Room saw the hands write out messages and
at incredible speeds. Many of the witnesses watched the hands from a short
distance but one fascinated spectator pressed so close to watch that the hand
playfully poked his nose with the end of a pencil! Six witnesses from
four different states testified that they watched the armless hand write with
a pencil. It wrote very slowly and so one witness asked it to write faster. At
this request, the pencil began scrawling so rapidly across the paper that "we
could hardly see it go." In five minutes, it had filled the page, which it
passed to one of the witnesses, a Mr. Pierce of Philadelphia, who was then
given an opportunity to examine the mysterious hand. He reported that it was
human in all respects, even to the fingernails, but was slightly cooler than
his own. Pierce then took another sheet of paper and the spirit's pencil and
began tracing an outline of the hand on the paper as far as the wrist but
"found nothing any further than that point." The hand then shook hands with
him and immediately vanished.
of these wonders traveled out across America and hundreds came to Mt. Nebo,
claiming that it was a place of spiritual significance and a sacred site to
the Shawnee Indians. According to some sources, a psychical society
christened Mt. Nebo as "one of the most haunted spots in the world".
Despite the fact that the Koons' have long since vanished from the memory of
those in Athens County today, the reputation of this being a haunted place has
remained behind in tales of ghostly cemeteries and local legends.
the Koons', their Spirit Room continued to operate and attract visitors until
the end of 1858. By this time, they were competing with another Spirit Room
that had been started by the Tippie family, who lived three miles across the
valley from the Koons'. It was never as popular but it managed to draw some of
the visitors who came searching for the spirits of Mt. Nebo. The Tippie's, who
had 10 children, also boasted musical performances by the spirits but visitors
were reportedly disappointed that no spectral hands appeared. Both families
later moved out of the area with the Tippie's to Colorado and the Koons' to
Illinois. After this, Jonathan Koons announced that spirit John King had
departed and his tin horn was now silent. Koons contributed letters to the
Spiritual Telegraph for a time and then lapsed into silence himself.
Eventually, he and his family disappeared from the annals of Spiritualism
really happened at the Koons' Spirit Room in Athens County? Could such wonders
have really occurred? It is human nature for us to seek an explanation but in
this case, does one exist? It is almost automatic for us to say that the whole
thing must have been a hoax -- but then how do we explain the independent
accounts of strange happenings? Even if all of the reports were made by avowed
Spiritualists, who visited the Spirit Room only to confirm their beliefs, the
general agreement of the separate accounts seems to offer evidence pointing
toward the fact that the Koons' were not putting on a fraudulent performance.
What could they have had to gain from it? Only notoriety, for it was not
money, as they did not charge for their sťances. And if it was fame they were
seeking, then why vanish without a trace after only six years as mediums? And
what happened to them after they left Athens County?
Koons' apparently gave up their medium performances and moved to Illinois. In
an obituary for Nahum Koons, which was discovered by Sherry Pierce and passed
on to me, I learned that he died in 1921 at the age of 84 in Franklin County,
Illinois. He and his family had accompanied his father and month to Franklin
County, where they lived for about ten years before moving to Perry County,
near DuQuoin. Nahum them moved to Perry County, Missouri until 1880, when he
again returned to Illinois and the farm that he and his father purchased after
leaving Ohio. He also lived in Oklahoma and Arkansas for a time, after the
death of his wife in 1899. He remained a Spiritualist throughout his life,
which was described by those who knew him as "exemplary". He passed away
in his sleep on October 26 -- leaving no clue as to why he had abandoned what
was apparently an amazing career as a medium.
of Spiritualist history are sure to recognize through that the Koons' were
ground breakers as far as manifestations go. Many of the happenings at their
sťances were also reported at later sťances, under the control of entirely
unrelated mediums. The mobile musical instruments were part of the attractions
offered by the Davenport brothers and the spectral hands were seen at many
sťances, including those of D.D. Home. The hands
that materialized during his sittings resembled in every respect the hands
that were seen and felt in the Spirit Room. In some cases, these
manifestations were exposed as being fraudulent but not in all cases. And for
the most part, in the ones that were fraudulent, the methods used to make the
instruments fly and the hands appear were beyond the means and the skill of
the Koons family.
of the "Spirit Room" -- like some of the other aspects of Spiritualism --
Copyright 2003 - 2008 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
Return to the Haunted Museum Section of the Website