In December of 1881 Gertie developed diphtheria. She was ill for a few weeks and then died, despite her father’s skill and her mother’s loving care. Caroline Hilligoss was devastated by her daughter’s death. She could find no comfort in family or religious faith. One possible avenue she thought might help was spiritualism. She urged her husband to investigate.
One month after Gertie’s death, Dr. Hilligoss and Charley went to Terre Haute. They took rooms at a boarding house and were careful not to advertise their presence there. During a short stay they consulted with several mediums. In the first séance, Dr. Hilligoss saw the materialization of his mother, who came and sat beside him. She assured him that Gertie was with her and that she was well. She introduced the doctor to a sister he had never known he had, the product of a miscarriage his mother had had before he was born. (He later confirmed the fact of the miscarriage with his father.) Later his daughter materialized as well and she had a talk with her brother. The medium told Hilligoss that his wife and Charley were both mediums and that they would be given instruction.
Hilligoss and his son attended several séances and he returned to Madison County a changed man. He wrote a long letter detailing his experiences which was published on the front page of the Anderson Herald. Spiritualism energized the family. By the end of the year they were operating a séance parlor in Lapel. Both George and Caroline Hilligoss became officers in the Indiana Spiritualists Association.
Charley Hilligoss graduated from the Lapel district school and began his studies at Purdue University. He planned to be a writer. One day during a walk with friends along the Wabash he injured his ankle in some way. By the next day he was in great pain and his father went to Lafayette to bring him home. The diagnosis was bone erysipelas.