There are at the end of this editorial some photographs of the Koon family.
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 at the dining room table and, curious about tales of wrappings and other phenomena from elsewhere, would try and see if they too could receive communication 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 manifestation would be kept private, in order to save them selves from ridicule.
However, in other cases when social standing was not a concern, spirit contact would be widely publicised and neighbours would be called in for free performances. This sometimes led to members of the home circle becoming professional mediums, as with the Fox sisters. Another family, about whom much less is known, was a well to do farmer in the Millfield Township of Athens County, a wild district of Ohio, his name, Jonathan Koons. Though they did not gain much material profit from their venture, the Koons 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 they had to go through to get there. Although 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 State line, (Now North West Virginia.) To reach it, one had to travel by stagecoach from Columbus, over rutted and often washed out roads. Then to reach the Koons cabin, they 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 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 ares in Athens County, called Mount Nebo, a hill that towers over the town that is now located nearby. Early in 1852, Jonathan Koons had come across newspaper descriptions of the Fox family wrappings and had at once made a personal investigation of the phenomenon. He attended several seances throughout Ohio and allegedly learned from the spirits that he was "the most powerful medium on earth", and that his children, from the seven month old baby upwards, had psychic gifts. When he returned home, he also discovered that Abigail and his eldest son, Nahum were also endowed with psychic abilities.
After holding a number of seances of his own, the Koons were ordered by the spirits 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 up the spirits instructions, constructed a log cabin that was 12 x 14 ft, had three shuttered windows, a single door and a 7 ft high ceiling. The room was then furnished with benches that would hold about twenty people. The spirits also requested that they equip the Spirit Room with a number of musical instruments: A tenor drum, a base drum, two fiddles, a guitar, an accordion, a trumpet, a tin horn, a tee bell, a triangle and a tambourine. Koons was not a wealthy man and could not afford all of the instruments, (plus he would find it hard to find them in this remote part of Ohio,) but managed to order some and borrow the rest from neighbours. After another seance, the spirits demanded two tables, a rack for the musical instruments, and wire with which to suspend a few small bowls and some images of dove's that were cut from sheets of copper.
After faithfully following all these instructions, The Koons began giving public seances. Koons, Abigail and Nahum appeared as mediums and in the darkened cabin; spirit began giving lengthy communication on various spiritual subjects, as well as concerts on musical instruments. Neighbours from all over he region began descending on the Spirit Room and Mount Nebo, attracted not only by the rumours about what was taking place, 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 were from various parts of Ohio, but there were representatives from other states too. The Koons, on the advice of the spirits, gave preference to those coming from far away. There was no admission or other charges to attend these seances, but those who stayed for the night at the Koons home, usually contributed some offering. Throughout this Koons was still working and maintaining his family farm. He was at times so exhausted that he fell asleep during the seances and so there is little reason to believe that the Spirit Room was ever a money making project.
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 became quickly obvious that the seances were not for spectators with fragile nerves. The exhibition was often loud and the spirit performances on the instruments were 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 programme usually followed a set routine. After the audience was seated, the lights were turned out and the doors and windows closed. The start of the seance was announced by the banging of the base drum, which one witness compared to the firing of a cannon in the close quarter. Then Koons, who sat at a table with his wife and son beside him, would start to play a lively tune on his fiddle. In moments all of the other instruments would have joined in, keeping perfect time although being played by unseen hands. What is more astounding, the reports all stated, 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 seance, 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 my wife's lap and then smacked him on the 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 recognise any of the tunes that the instruments played, but they were melodies of some sort not just noise. Charles Partridge stated, "that the instruments would start together and then stop abruptly, as if by some signal." Songs were sung in what appeared to be "something human voices" and sometimes accompanied the music. John Gage described them as "unearthly." All of the witnesses agreed that the words were 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. He was said to be the spirit form of the Welsh buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan who died in 1688. He also claimed to be known under the generic title Adam (Red Clay), antedating the theological Adam by thousands of years. They represented their leaders as the Ancient Angels. One of these ancient angels who instructed the circle was called "Oress." But generally they signed themselves in written communication as 'King' No1, No 2 and No 3, and sometimes servant of scholar of God. Foremost among them was 'King', and his daughter 'Katie' who became popular fixtures of the Koons seances, and later, with the famous "Davenport Brothers" also. (Katie King became most famous when attached to the medium Florence Cook).
The musical part of the evening was usually followed by the appearance of spirit hands that were either luminous themselves or illuminated by phosphorus sheets of paper that were prepared by the Koons. Visible to a little above the wrists, 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 a subject that I had handled in the dissecting room." Partridge who aslo held out a hand and asked spirits to take hold of it, said that it gavce a distictive grasp when it touched his hand but added that, "It did not feel like the hand of a living person."
These phantom hands also played a part in the last feat of the evening, when a luminous appendage would write messages on pieces of paper. All those who describe theri visit to the spirit room saw the hands write out messages and at incredible speeds. Many of the witnesses watched the hands from a very short distance, but one very 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. I wrote very slowly, so one witness asked if it would write faster. At this request, the pencil began scrawling so rapidly accross 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 Pearce of Philadephia who was then given a chance to examine the mysyterious hand. He reported that it was human in all respects, even to the fingernails, but was slightly cooler than his own. Pearce then took another sheet of paper and a spirit pencil and began tracing the outline of the spirit hand onto 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.
Reports of these wonders travelled out accross America. Hundreds of people came to Mount Nebo, claiming that it was a place of spiritual significance and a sacred site to the Shawnee Indian. According to some sources, a Physical Society Christened Mount 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 cemetaries and local legend.
As for the Koons, their spirit room continuesd to operate and attract visitors until the end 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 that came searching for the spirits of Mount Nebo. The Tippie's who had ten children, also boasted musical performances by the spirits, but visitors were reportedly dissapointed that no spectral hands appeared. Both families later moved out of the area. The Tippies moved to Colorado and the Koons to Illinois. After this, Jonathan Koons announced that spirit John King had departed and his tinhorn was now silent. Koons contributed letters to the Spiritual Telegraph for a time and then lapsed into silence himself. Eventually, he and his family lapsed from the annals of Spiritualism altogether.
With regards to the spirit room. 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 avowed spiritualists, who visited the spirit room only to confirm their beliefs, made all of the reports, the general agreement of the seperate accounts seemed to offer evidence pointing towards the fact thatn 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, because they did not charge for their seances. 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? We do know, that at the hands of their neighbours, the Koons family did not fare well. Their house was attacked by mobs, fire was set to their crops and barnes, and their children were beaten.
The Koons apparently gave up their mediumship performances and moved to Illinois. In an obituary on Nahum Koons, it was discovered that he had died in 1921 at the age of 84 in Franklin County, Illinois. He and his family had accompanied his father and mother to Franklin County, where they lived for about ten years before moving to Perry County, near to DuQuoin. Nahum then moved to Perry County, Missouri until 1880, when he again returned to Illinois and the farm that he and his father had purchased after leaving Ohio. He also lived in Oaklahoma 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 26th October, leaving no clue as to why he had abandoned what was apparently an amazing career as a medium.
Students of spiritualist history are sure to recognise though that the Koons were groundbreakers as far as manifestations go. Many of the happenings at their seances, were also reported at later seances, 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 seances, including those of DD Home. The hands that materialised during his sitting resembled in every respect the hands that were seen and felt in the Koons Spirit Room. In some cases these manifestations were exposed as being fraudulent, but not in all cases. And for the most part, the ones that were fraudulent, the method used to make the insrument fly and the hands appear were beyond the means and skills of the Koons family.
The case of the Spirit Room , like so many other aspects of Spiritualism, remains unsolved.
Nandor Fodor - Encyclopeadia of Psychic Science
I have recently had the good fortune to have some communication with the Great, Great, Great Grandson of Johnathan Koons, his name is Alan Taylor who resides in the Hood River, Oregon, USA. The attached pictures, which Alan has kindly sent to me and are published here with his kind permission, are of his Great, Great Grandfather Alvis Taylor, his wife Quinilla Koons, daughter of Johnathan Koons, and the very fiddle that was used in the Spirit Room in Mount Nebo, Athens County. The fiddle itself belonged to Johnathan Koons and is no longer usable. It would be described as just an ordinary fiddle of the day, but it holds a place of pride in Alans' home and is mounted on the wall of his living room.
Alan's Grandfather described Johnathan Koons as a man with long flowing grey hair that went down his back who would drive around in his horse drawn buggy. He was easily able to play a tune on the fiddle that someone might whistle for him. His family moved to Ewing in Benton County, Illinois in the 1860's. It was here that his daughter Quinilla (1842 -1918) met and married Alvis Taylor, (1840 - 1921). Great, Great Grandfather of Alan.
Johnathon Koons Fiddle, used during his seances.
Alvis and Quintilla Taylor Koons
The following photo's have just been sent to me by another relative of the Koon's family, this time from Carol Foster. Carol is the Great, Great, Great Grandaughter of Jonathan Koons, and the Great, Great Grandaughter of Nahum and Abigail Koons. Carol informs me also that apart from his magical seances, Johnathan Koons was alos an inventor and a composer, who wrote the Civil War era tunes "Turkey in the Straw" and "Old Jeb Koons".
Here is some history given by Carol on the photographs listed below:
One of the pictures is captioned "GB Koons & Polina 1900". George Bates Koons (my Great, Great, Grandfather) was the first child of Nahum (pronounced "Nim") and Anna Bates. Nahum was the first child of Jonathan and Abigail Tuck Bishop. My personal belief is that the gift of mediumship came from Abigail, a direct decendant of the Bishops of the Salem Witch Trials. Abigail died in 1864 in Franklin County, Illinois; Jonathan lived until 1893. The family continued holding private sittings for the next two generations (Nahum and George Bates Koons).
George Bates Koons moved his family to Indian territory in 1902 when he drew a number in the Oklahoma Land Lottery that entitled him to 160 acres in the Kiowa and Comanche Reservation. He died in 1926. His wife Polina, who lived until age 94, was also an accomplished fiddle player and medium. My mother remembers attending sittings with her Grandmother.
Thank you for keeping the memories alive.
Johnathan Koons Jonathon Koons and Wife Abigail Johnathan Koons and Son Nahum
Nahum and Anna - 1885 Nahum and Anna
Nahum and Anne GB Koons & Polima -1900 Nahum Koons - 1915
Thank you to both Alan Taylor and Carol Foster for sharing these wonderful historic family pictures and history.