One hundred and sixty-two years ago today, in the hamlet of Hydesville in upstate New York, there was a small commotion surrounding the house of Mr. John D. Fox.

Mr. Fox roused his neighbors, banging on their doors around 8 o’clock in the evening, and asked them to come witness the events taking place in his home. His daughters Maggie and Kate, aged approximately eleven and fourteen, were communicating with a ghost.

Neighbors were skeptical. This was, after all March 31, and many of them assumed that somebody was pulling an early April Fool’s Day prank. However, when they arrived at the house and heard the strange rapping sounds emanating from thin air – when they searched the house from top to bottom and could find no source for the noise – when they heard this mysterious ghost knock yes or no for questions – they began to believe. Gradually the neighbors convinced themselves that some poor man had been murdered and buried in the cellar of the house, and they quickly identified a suspect: a Mr. John Bell, who had rented the house some years earlier and whom, it can be assumed, they didn’t much like.

Forty years later, Maggie Fox, the elder of the two daughters present, wrote: “No one suspected us of any trick because we were such young children.” This was not entirely true. The neighbors did suspect the girls at first, but when they were unable to determine any method by which the girls could produce the rapping sound, they quickly absolved them of blame. It was, of course, inconceivable that the girls might be clever enough to fool them! Soon the whole event (which really had been an April Fool’s Day prank) snowballed into a local phenomenon. People came from miles around to hear the spirit rap out his story – and the girls were trapped in their lie. “When so many people came to see us children,” Maggie wrote, “we were ourselves frightened, and for self-preservation forced to keep it up.”

This was the situation when Maggie’s adult sister, Leah Fish, shrewdly realized that people would pay money for the chance to communicate with spirits … and thereby hangs the rest of the tale …

We Hear the Dead, the story of Maggie Fox – a ghost story, a massive hoax, and a star-crossed romance – is due for release on May 1.