The History of Ghost Hunting – a timeline of the 1800s

A look into what ghost hunting looked like throughout the 1800s and Victorian era.

ghost hunting history spiritualist movement WilliamHope

Early 1900’s photo by William Hope


By: Michelle McKay | UPDATED April 28, 2019 (originally published Nov 8, 2013)


This is a brief timeline of a few ghost investigators and their test subjects in the 1800’s. This time period includes The Spiritualist Movement which was a period of time very similar to the paranormal craze we are seeing again today.

The Spiritualist Movement is generally agreed to have started in the 1840’s and began winding down in the 1920’s. Although Spiritualism hasn’t really gone anywhere, it still exists today.

The Spiritualist Movement was a time when table tipping, live seances on stage, and the infamous Ouija board (a type of talking board, spirit board) was made popular, as well as the spiritoscope. It was a time when just about everybody and their mother-in-law were claiming to be psychic to make a quick buck (just as today).

In fact, so many people were getting ripped off by “fake psychics” (charlatans) that the scientific community created an entirely new science they called parapsychology which focused on testing psychics for fraud.

For a quick visual lesson on the Spiritualist Movement, take a wee look through my Pinterest page on the Spiritualist Movement here.

Also see my article on the timeline of the 1900’s history of ghost hunting here.


Ghost Hunting Timeline of the 1800s


The Georgian era began in 1714 and ended in 1837.

After much research (in April 2019), I traced the term ‘ghost hunter’ back to the year 1809 where it is mentioned in a fictional romance book titled Osrick: Or, Modern Horrors by Richard Sickelmore on page 75.

The Bell Witch poltergeist, of the Georgian era, in Adams, Tennessee began in 1817. Although the activity is said to have ended in 1828, some claim that some of the activity still continues today. Others say the Bell Witch never happened and was completely fabricated.

According to Wikipedia, the entire Bell Witch incident comes from just two sources. The first source is from the book History of Tennessee by the Goodspeed Brothers, published in 1886, sixty years after the Bell Witch incident, where an entire paragraph is written about the events in the section on the history of Robertson County (it can be read here).

The second source is from the book An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch (and here) by Martin Van Buren Ingram in 1894, seventy-five years after the incident.

To date, no other source of the Bell Witch written before 1886 has been found. Which is very strange considering it is said that the Bell Witch was infamous during its time. One would think there would be newspaper records of the incident from the 1820s but none can be found.

Also in 1817, an unknown scientist investigated the reported ghostly going-ons at the Tower of London.

Marie Laveau, a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo, gains the title “Voodoo Queen” of New Orleans in the 1830s. She was born in 1801.

Michael Banim published his fictional novel The Ghost-Hunter and His Family in 1833 — thank you to Tim Prasil for this information. The usage of the term “ghost hunter” in the title of a book has so far been traced back to this book. However, the term was used even earlier in a book published in 1809 (see 1809).

Major Edward Moor investigated the Great Bealings House in 1834.

The Georgian era ends and the Victorian era begins.

Dr. Edward Drury (a physician) of Sunderland, England investigated a reportedly haunted house in 1840 at Willington Mill, near Newcastle which was owned by Joseph Proctor (a Quaker). Drury was called a “ghost detector” in the January 1860 edition of The Spiritual Magazine.

The Fox Sisters, who lived in what was then Hydesville, NY, (now called Lily Dale) have been often credited for ushering in the beginning of The Spiritualist Movement.

Some argue that The Spiritualist Movement started before the Fox sisters (see the book Spiritualism: A Popular History From 1847 by Joseph McCabe, page 10, published in 1920).

Kate (Catherine) Fox and Maggie (Margaret) Fox were mediums who took their show on the road. The third sister, Leah Fox, operated as their manager. Their career ended in 1888 when Maggie admitted to hoaxing. Later, Maggie withdrew her “confession” saying that she lied when she said they hoaxed it.

Whether Maggie did any hoaxing is anyone’s guess. However, many people witnessed the phenomena at the Fox house even when Maggie was nowhere around.

Maria B. Hayden (born about 1823 in Horton, Nova Scotia) moved from Boston to the UK with her husband in 1852, when she was 21 years old. According to “She was the first American medium to visit England after the beginnings of modern Spiritualism in the United States, and subsequently had a great influence on the development of the Spiritualist movement.”

Michael Faraday (yes, that Faraday) conducted experiments with table-turning in 1853. Click here for more info.

The book titled “Footfalls of the Boundary of Another World” written by psychical researcher Robert Dale Owen (a strong believer in Spiritualism) was published in 1859 and is 528 pages. I have one of the original copies of this antique book, over 155 years old, very interesting indeed!

The book details Owen’s investigations into the Fox sisters. He visited the Fox house and interviewed the family members and neighbours. The book also has plenty of other interesting information in regards to the paranormal and parapsychology of the day.

Sir William Crookes (a chemist and physicist) conducted his first paranormal investigation by testing the medium, Kate Fox (one of the famous ‘Fox Sisters’ of the Spiritualist Movement, see 1848). Crookes went on in later years to investigate the mediums Florence Cook and Daniel Dunglas Home.

The Ghost Club was officially founded in 1862 in London, England, but has its roots in a discussion group at Cambridge University in 1855. Members of The Ghost Club included Charles Dickens, Siegfried Sassoon, Harry Price, Donald Campbell, Peter Cushing, Peter Underwood, Maurice Grosse, Sir Shane Leslie and Eric Maple. It is still in existence today.

Sir William Crookes began testing the medium, Daniel Douglas Home, which lasted two years. Daniel was also popular for his reported ability to levitate. It is said he “floated” out a window then “floated” back in through another window on the third floor of Lord Adare’s home in 1868 in London, England. Other reports of his levitation demonstrations exist.

Sir William Crookes began testing the medium Florence Cook.

Harry Price was born on Jan 17, 1881.

On June 16, 1881, Marie Laveau (Voodoo Queen) dies in New Orleans at the age of 80.

The Society for Psychical Research was founded in London in 1882 by Henry Sidgwick, Frederic Myers, and Edmund Gurney. Henry Sidgwick was the first President of The Society for Psychical Research. Members have included William Barrett, Lord Rayleigh, Arthur Balfour, and Gerald Balfour. It is still in existence today. Their website states that they are “the first organisation established to examine allegedly paranormal phenomena using scientific principles”.

The American Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1884. Members have included Sigmund Freud, Carl G. Jung, and Alexander Graham Bell. It is still in existence today.

The patent for the Ouija board (a type of spirit board) was filed on May 28, 1890, and the patent was issued on Feb 10, 1891.

The book Revelations of a Spirit Medium which exposed the tricks used by fake psychics was written in 1891 by an anonymous author named “A Medium”. This book was later reprinted and edited by Harry Price and Eric J. Dingwall in 1922. This was also one of the books that inspired magician Harry Houdini to take up the duty of exposing fake psychics in the early 1920s.

William Thomas Stead, a pioneer of investigative journalism, wrote the book Real Ghost Stories published in 1891. Eerily, the next year in 1892 he wrote a fictional story about a ship that collided with an iceberg — twenty years later Stead died aboard the infamous Titanic. But his wasn’t the only “prediction” of the Titanic (see 1898).

The eerie fictional novel titled Futility about a ship called Titan that struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland without enough life preservers which was said to be unsinkable was published in 1898 — 14 years before the Titanic sank after colliding with an iceberg. The novel was later said to be a prediction of the Titanic.

William James is said by some to be the “Father of American psychology” and was one of the founders of the American Society for Psychical Research (see 1884). He wrote the book, The Will to Believe, And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, published in 1912, two years after his death. The book includes one of his essays titled, What Psychical Research Has Accomplished, which is said to have been published in the 1890s.


Michelle McKay is a Canadian paranormal investigator of 30+ years. Former TV host: Destination America, Discovery, A&E. Founder of Her great-uncle, Henry McKay, was a pioneer UFO investigator and the first director of MUFON Canada. 


Further Suggested Reading Online:
Society for Psychical Research:
The Ghost Club:
American Society for Psychical Research:


Copyright © 2014 Michelle McKay. All Rights Reserved.