This morning when I sat down to break my fast, I realised – to my dismay – that I’d left my current reading material in the backseat of my car last night. Too lazy to walk outside to get said book, I scanned the living room for a quick read. If I’m not eating with others, I simply must have something to read. And there I spotted it, sitting on the coffee table: last months issue of Smithsonian magazine. I snatched it up only to realise belatedly that it was an issue that I’d already skimmed through. Still, it was the issue with a very interesting story in it. One that I wanted to post about here on the blog. The story of Patience Worth and the medium through whom she communicated her stories: Pearl Curran.
Who Patience Worth was, exactly, is still unknown. Research done at the time of the event(s) indicated no such woman bearing the name Patience Worth lived during the 1600s.
What is known points more toward the woman through whom she communicated. Pearl Lenore Curran was a housewife living with her husband in St Louis, a woman of limited education and, it seems, limited interest in anything beyond her normal life. She certainly had no previous interest or experience in the occult or paranormal prior to her thrust onto the national stage. Their encounter was accidental at best and happened one day while Pearl was part of a session involving a Ouija board with her mother and neighbour. Pearl had considered Ouija boards silly and a waste of time as most often the words spelt out were nonsense, but one day as the women sat around the board, the words came across abundantly clear: “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come-Patience Worth my name.”
Everything started on 8 July 1913 and by 1915, the Currans were having regular group sessions where Patience would write poetry and prose, through Pearl, right before their very eyes. These “meetings” often resembled church suppers with the meal spread out on the dining table and children running freely through the house. Some visitors attended these sessions to ask questions of Patience – who occasionally seemed to express knowledge of the lives of those around her – while others simply wanted to bear witness to the phenomenon. One such visitor was poet Edgar Lee Masters who was astonished at what he witnessed.
“There is no doubt…she is producing remarkable literature,” [he] told a reporter, though “how she does it I cannot say.”
While many spiritualist-mediums of the early 20th century fell into trances while channelling spirits, Pearl was always quite alert whenever she was communicating on behalf of Patience. She would often smoke or eat meals all the while calling out to the stenographer the words conveyed to her by Patience. Nor were there ever any dimmed lights or table knocking as was also popular in that day with spiritualist-mediums.
For a total of 25 years, Patience Worth conveyed some 400,000 words through Pearl – a record number of words communicated via nothing but an Ouija board. All works created between the two, with the help of Pearl’s husband John, were published in both anthologies as well as books in their own right.
Of course as soon as word had spread about the relationship between Patience and Pearl, all manner of psychiatrists, philosphers, neurologists and historians wanted to study this most fascinating mystery of how it came to be. Many wrote books about it, but ultimately no one had answers. Was Pearl Curran a fraud? Was Patience Worth a product of Pearl’s unconscious mind? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
When Pearl Curran died on 4 December 1937 and the St Louis Globe-Democrat headlined her obituary with the words “Patience Worth is Dead”.
My recount of this story is but a brief glossing over of the entire story. The one which appeared in the Smithsonian is much more extensive and can be found here.