As soon as the press discovered that gentleman adventurer Elisha Kane was courting the spirit medium Maggie Fox, newspapers scrambled to print the story, reporting sightings of them together, repeating gossip, and even following Dr. Kane on the street in the hopes of catching them together.
This 19th century version of paparazzi-type journalism attracted some criticism from high-minded people. Horace Greeley (who happened to be a friend of the Fox family) even wrote an editorial denouncing it, saying: “What right has the public to know anything about an ‘engagement’ or non-engagement between these two people? Whether they have been, are, may be, are not, or will not be ‘engaged’ can be nobody’s business but their own.”
Were they engaged? Well, if Facebook had existed in the 1850’s, Maggie would have posted her status as “In a Relationship,” while Kane would undoubtedly have said “It’s Complicated.”
Both families opposed the match. Maggie’s family knew that Elisha was well above her station, and they expected him to break her heart and ruin her reputation. In addition, Elisha was outspoken in his contempt for spiritualism, and his intrusion into their life threatened to disrupt the family business. “The only thing that gives me fear,” Kane wrote, “is this confounded thing being found out!” Meanwhile, the aristocratic Kane family was appalled that their eldest son had taken up with a spirit rapper. Their biggest fear was that he might actually marry her, and they raged against him for his low taste and lack of discretion.
With all the world against them, it’s a wonder that Maggie and Elisha had any enjoyment from their relationship at all. Yet, their surviving letters paint a picture of two young people passionately in love – teasing, flirting, sometimes arguing – and yet hopelessly attracted in spite of their relative unsuitability. “Am I not correct when I say you are an enigma past finding out?” Maggie wrote to Kane. “You know I am!” Their love affair presented each of them with a personal dilemma, forcing them to choose between family loyalties and romantic attraction – and between their respective careers and love.