Athens, Ohio’s Forgotten Spiritualist History: by Travis Sanders

By Travis Sanders

The year is 1852, and Jonathan Koons, an atheist and farmer, living in the wilderness of the Appalachian foothills of Athens, Ohio, is attending a séance with local Spiritualists. Despite the fact that he was intent on defrauding the young maiden medium, what Jonathan witnessed that night would change his life forever.

Jonathan_and_Nahum_Koons_1857CROPPicture Credit: Mysterious Planchette

What exactly Koons saw I do not know- but he did convert to Spiritualism- and he did receive a message- that he too was a medium of extraordinary talent, and this his wife Abigail, as well as the oldest of his 9 children, Nahum Ward Koons, had a talent that Spirit would not ignore.

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Jonathan and his family lived in an area of Athens county known as Mt Nebo, which was considered by the Shawnee native so sacred that they would not hunt or camp there. Today the exact location of the Koons former residence is debated but people say its either a 3-way intersection on Peach Ridge or near the intersection of Mill Creek and Sand Ridge, Athens County. Could the spiritual energy the Shawnee believed in have contributed to the rapid growth of the Koons’ family’s rapid development?


Very quickly John and Nahum were producing phenomena, falling into trance states, and producing automatic writings and drawing which soon lead to control voices coming through Nahum’s séance trumpet. The main control identified himself as “King,” John King or Henry Morgan the renowned Welsh pirate of the 1600’s. Now for those of you who are familiar with physical mediumship’s past you may be familiar with Florence Cook, the young medium who quite famously materialized her control, or spirit guide, Katie King- daughter of the famed John King. References to both King and Katie have also been found in other accounts of physical mediumship- it seems they loved to communicate from the other side during the pioneering of potential mediumship feats of the time.


Now some accounts claim that King was a catchall name for several spirit communicators of which John King was a part of- other accounts also speak of Adam- a collective of Pre-Adamite (older than 6,000 years old/older than the creationist story) souls, under the direction of a high Angel named Oress. It was under this celestial influence that Nahum allegedly channeled a chart of the “spheres” of the angelic realm and the afterlife.

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The Koons’ reputation quickly grew and people from far and wide came to witness the phenomena that were happening in the Koons’ séances. So much so that under the direction of the Spirit voices Jonathan was guided to be a “spirit room” which was really a 16×12 cabin separate from his living quarters specifically where séances were to be held. In this room a machine was placed. This machine was diagramed by spirit- and built by Koons’ with the intention of assisting séance. It was able to produce sound as well as had elements of copper and zinc, which were said to aid the spirit energies.

1854 November 4 Cleveland Plain Dealer Koons Spiritual Machine

Now getting to the Koons’ residence was no easy task. One had to travel to Columbus, Ohio, take stagecoach to Athens- and then hike a 2-mile hike to the Koons’ on Mt Nebo. This however, did not detract people from all over the country from making this journey.

In the séance room, a large table was placed with pencils and paper, as well as many musical instruments and the element phosphorus. As the lights were extinguished, Jonathan Koons’ would begin to play violin, and as he did, instruments all around the room started to play in synch with him. Unearthly, beautiful choirs were said to join the instrumental. Those who heard them said people could not have made them. It was too beautiful, too perfect. As the music died down, and instruments landed from their levitation, King would begin to speak via trumpet and bring through philosophy on life both spiritual and physical. The Spirit people would also use the phosphorus to materialize illuminated hands that could touch, fly around the room, and write- as requested by sitters.


Approximately 3 miles from Koons’ residence, a man by the name of Tippie also began to hold séances with similar phenomena. Often in sources researched Koons and Tippie are mentioned together but little is said of John Tippie. Some sources make it seem as if he and Koons were friends, other sources made it seem as if there was an air of competition between them.

For many these séances were wonderful- but for the fundamentalist settlers of the area, this was the work of Satan. Koons family faced a lot of backlash including physical assults on the Koons children, and eventually the arson of the séance cabin. Both Koons and Tippie, tired of such condemnation, left Ohio. Tippie went to Colorado and Koons senttled in Illinois. After moving the spirit control, King, seemed to be absent, and eventually Koons mediumship faded, as did his star. Not much is known about the Koons post-séance life.

Modern American Spiritualism by Emma Hardinge Britten

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