In 1913, Pearl Curran was a St. Louis housewife with no interest in the occult, other than a little dabbling with a Ouija board (not uncommon at the time). She played piano, never read much and had little education. She briefly thought of becoming an actress but gave that up when she married John Curran.
Her marriage was an uneventful as her childhood had been. The Curran’s were not rich, but they did make a comfortable living. Pearl had a maid to take care of the household chores and she and her husband enjoyed going to restaurants and to the theater. They were a social couple and enjoyed meeting friends and playing cards with neighbors in the evening. They seldom read anything, outside of the daily newspaper and some of the periodicals of the day and never really had an opportunity to associate with well-educated writers or poets. They were happy though and content in their middle-class home with their close friends and acquaintances.
In the afternoons, while their husbands were at work, Pearl would often have tea with her mother and with a friend who lived nearby, a neighbor named Mrs. Hutchings. She believed that Ouija boards were a boring and silly pastime having seen the pointer spell out nothing but gibberish. Then, to the ladies surprise, the message on the board seemed to make sense. "Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth is my name," it spelled out.
According to the spirit who called herself Patience Worth, she had lived in Dorsetshire, England in either 1649 or 1694 (the pointer included both dates) but even that information was difficult to obtain. Patience spoke in an archaic fashion, using words like "thee" and "thou" and sometimes refusing to answer their questions directly. When Mrs. Hutchings pushed for more information, the spirit first replied by saying "About me ye would know much. Yesterday is dead. Let thy mind rest as to the past." Eventually though, the ladies would learn that Patience claimed to come to America, where she was murdered by Indians.
The initial contact with Patience Worth came through the Ouija board when Pearl and Mrs. Hutchings controlled it. But it was soon evident that Pearl was mainly responsible for the contact, for no matter who sat with her, the messages from Patience would come.
Pearl was fascinated with the messages that they were receiving and began devoting more and more time to the Ouija board. Eventually though, the messages began coming so fast that no one could write them down and Pearl suddenly realized that she didn’t need the board anymore. The sentences were forming in her mind at the same time they were being spelled out on the board. She began to "dictate" the replies and messages from Patience to anyone who would write them. She would first employ a secretary, but later Pearl would record the words herself, using first a pencil and then a typewriter.
For the next 25 years, Patience Worth dictated a total of about 400,000 words. Her works were vast and consisted of not only her personal messages, but creative writings as well. She passed along nearly 5,000 poems, a play, many short works and several novels that were published to critical acclaim.
People came from all over and the Curran’s, always gracious and unpretentious, welcomed visitors who wanted to witness the automatic writings sessions where Pearl received information from Patience Worth. Authorities in the field of psychic investigation came, as well as people from all over the country who had begun to read and admire the writings attributed to Patience. The Curran’s never charged any admission to the house and all of the writing sessions were conducted with openness and candor. There were no trappings of Spiritualism here with darkened rooms and candles. Pearl would usually just sit in a brightly lit room with her notebook or typewriter and when the messages began to come to her, she would begin to write. The stories were filled with ancient languages, words and objects that had not been in use for hundreds of years and more. Things that there is no way that Pearl could have known about.
Pearl explained that as the words flowed into her head, she would feel a pressure and then scenes and images would appear to her. She would see the details of each scene. If two characters were talking along a road, she would see the roadway, the grass on either side of it and perhaps the landscape in the distance. If they spoke a foreign language, she would hear them speaking but above them, she would hear the voice of Patience as she interpreted the speech and indicated what part of the dialogue she wanted in the story. She would sometimes even see herself in the scenes, standing as an onlooker or moving between the characters. The experience was so sharp and so vivid that she became familiar with things that she could have never known about living in St. Louis. These items included lamps, jugs and cooking utensils used long ago in distant countries, types of clothing and jewelry word by people in other times and the sounds and smells of places that she had never even heard of before.
On once occasion, Pearl was shown a small yellow bird sitting on a hedge. Patience wished to include it in a poem, but Pearl had no idea what type of bird it was. Finally, Patience became frustrated and said, "He who knoweth the hedgerows knoweth the yellow-hammer." Pearl and her husband later consulted an old encyclopedia and saw that the yellow-hammer in her vision was not a type seen in America, but only in England.
In spite of the visions and odd experiences though, Pearl never went into a trance during the writing sessions, as a Spiritualist medium would have done. She understood the writing as it came and yet while calling out the words to the stenographer, she would smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and eat. She seemed always to be aware of her surroundings, no matter what else might be going on with her.
As time passed, Patience became tolerant but condescending of her host’s abilities. Patience often scorned Pearl, but never failed to show her kindness. She simply seemed to think that her human counterpart was slightly stupid and that only by perseverance was she able to make herself known, especially when Pearl failed to grasp the spellings and meanings of certain words. But they plodded on together, continuing to amass a great body of work until about 1922.
In this year, the connection between the two of them began to deteriorate, possibly due to changes in Pearl’s life and the fact that she had become pregnant for the first time at age 39. After her husband and her mother both died, the contact between Patience and Pearl became less and less often and eventually it died away.
By this time too, public interest in the mystery had faded, especially as no solution had ever been posed as to how the St. Louis housewife was accomplishing such remarkable feats. After the publication of several books and hundreds of poems, interest in Patience Worth vanished and cynicism replaced it. Debunkers accused Pearl of hiding her literary talent in order to exploit it in such a bizarre way and become famous. However, exhaustive studies have shown this to be highly unlikely, if not impossible. Scholars have analyzed Patience’s works and have found them to accurate in historical detail and written in such a way that only someone with an intimate knowledge of the time could have created them.
Pearl Curran died in California on December 4, 1937. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat headlined her obituary with the words: "Patience Worth is Dead." And whatever the secret of the mysterious "ghost writer", it went to the grave with her.
So, what really happened in this case and why does it remain today as one of our great unsolved mysteries? Was there actually an entity speaking to Pearl from beyond the grave? Or could the writings have simply come from her unconscious mind?
No verification was ever made that Patience Worth actually lived in the 1600s and yet experts who studied Pearl Curran doubted that she could have produced the works attributed to the ghost on her own. She was a woman of limited education with no knowledge of the language used or the history and subject matter that was written of by the alleged Patience Worth. Pearl simply could not have created the works of literary quality that have become known as the works of her spiritual counterpart.
So, what was it? What did happen here? Was it a true case of afterlife communication or the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on both the literary and paranormal communities? It’s unlikely that we will ever know for sure, but in the absence of any other explanation, this one will have to be filed under "unexplained".
© Copyright 2002- 2008 by Troy Taylor