Ghostly Writings of Patience Worth
Pearl Lenore Curran-Feb. 15, 1883–Dec. 4, 1937.
While many spirits are reported to have communicated through mediums, Pearl Lenore Curran is remembered for contacting the spirit of a 17th Century English women named Patience Worth. Worth purportedly migrated to North America and was killed by Indians at age 44 or 45.
Curran reportedly contacted this spirit using a Ouija board. Through these communications, several novels, poetry and prose were produced which Curran claimed was delivered to her through channeling the spirit of Worth.
It wasn’t the fact communication with the dead may have taken place, rather the literary quality of the works which brought the situation into national limelight. The works were hailed as nothing less than masterpieces by the days’ critics.
Incomplete census records of the times revealed several women named Patience Worth living in New England during the 17th Century. However there was no way to confirm this Patience Worth was the one in question.
Patience Worth began communicating on the Ouija board operated by Curran and her friend Emily Hutchings in 1913, but it soon became clear she did not want to talk about herself. On June 22, 1913 communications began. Then on July 8, 1913 the board seemed to possess unusual strength and a supposed message from Patience Worth emerged.
It said: "Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. Wait, I would speak with thee. If thou shalt live, then so shall I. I make my bread at thy hearth. Good friends, let us be merrie. The time for work is past. Let the tabby drowse and blink her wisdom to the firelog." When asked when she lived, the dates 1649 - 94 were given and she had lived "Across the sea."
Although this message indicated she was from England, the town or village in which she supposedly lived was never mentioned, although a few clues were found by some contemporaries of Curran. It was deduced Patience Worth had probably lived in rural Dorsetshire with her father John and mother Anne. Curran had also developed a mental picture of where Worth lived: "...green rolling country with gentle slopes, not farmed much, with houses here and there.”
Curran then visualized Patience leaving for America on a huge, three-masted schooner. Patience was described as"...probably about thirty years. Her hair was dark red, mahogany, her eyes brown, and large and deep, her mouth firm and set, as though repressing strong feelings. Her hair had been disarranged by her cap, and was in big, glossy, soft waves."
Curran continued saying she also saw Patience: "sitting on a horse, holding a bundle tied in sail-cloth, tied with thongs and wearing a coarse cloth cape, brown-gray, with hood like a cowl, peaked. The face is in shadow. She is small and her feet are small---with coarse square-toed shoes and gray woolen stockings." Pearl described her association with Patience Worth as "one of the most beautiful that can be the privilege of a human being to experience."
Pearl and Patience together wrote several novels including Telka, The Sorry Tale, Hope Trueblood, The Pot upon the Wheel, Samuel Wheaton, An Elizebethan Mask as well as several short stories and many poems.
These works occurred during a time of renewed interest in spiritualism in the United States and Britain. They captured the imagination of those wanting to believe an uneducated housewife could communicate with a long dead Puritan woman. Skeptics had a field day, noting Patience was able to knowledgeably write about the Victorian age, about 200 years after her death. However, the works were considered to be first rate.
William Marion Reedy, a distinguished and influential literary critic, considered The Sorry Tale to be “a new classic of world literature.” Patience Worth was also listed as one of the outstanding authors of 1918 by The Joint Committee of Literary Arts of New York.
Many people argued Curran alone could not be composing the works because of her poor education. One author claimed the language used in the Patience Worth historical novels was 90 percent Anglo-Saxon and 10 percent Old French. The author who noticed this was Casper Yost, the same man who introduced Patience and Pearl to the public.
Curran's curious linguistic style, a mixture of 20th century mid-America and pidgin Shakespeare, was analyzed by a specialist in the Elizabethan period. His opinion was: “The language employed is not that of any historical age or period; but, where it is not the current English of the part of the United States in which Mrs. Curran lives [i.e., St. Louis], it is a distortion born of the superficial acquaintance with poetry and a species of would-be Scottish dialect.” He also added Curran made up a lot of words.
Milbourne Christopher, prior to his death in 1984 was a leading magician and chairman of the Occult Investigation Committee of the Society of American Magicians. Christopher speculated Curran, like other 19th and 20th century spiritualists, did so not for the fame and fortune but as a socially acceptable way to express themselves.
Others considered her a fraud or mentally ill. In fact, she did have a mental breakdown when she was 13. She was once described as: “…a restless homemaker plagued by nervous ailments." Additionally her mother also had a nervous breakdown when Pearl was 4.
A thorough investigation of the case was conducted by Dr. Walter Franklin Prince in 1927. Prince published a 509 page report in his book The Case of Patience Worth, covering the Patience Worth case from 1913 to about 1927 when his book was published by the Boston Society for Psychic Research. It provided an autobiographical sketch of Pearl Curran, eye-witness reports, opinions, reviews, poetry and other information related to the case.
As part of his research Prince published an article titled "The Riddle of Patience Worth," which appeared in the July 1926 issue of Scientific American. The article apparently designed to discredit Curran, requested anyone with information on the case, to contact him…no one ever did.
From time to time, others have claimed to receive communications from the ghostly literary writer. One example is a book by Irene Hickman, D.O. and hypnotist. In the book Hickman claims Patience continued to speak through an acquaintance. This acquaintance was given the fictitious name "Anne" to protect her from public attention. The book was written during the years 1947 through 1950 and contained 197 pages of mostly poems.
Hickman stated: "The style, the manner, the personality of Patience was so obviously of herself and herself alone..." the writing seems to be much inferior to the earlier work of Patience with Pearl Curran.”
Eventually self-respecting critics began distancing themselves from it and Pearl could no longer get her books published. Nor was the work of Patience Worth listed in any anthologies of American poetry.
Today, the works of Pearl Curran/Patience Worth are little known outside of occult followers and most of the writing is out of print, except for a few “print on demand” publishers specializing in public domain works.
In 2010, writer Gioia Diliberto reported in Smithsonian magazine Pearl Curran wrote a short story called "Rosa Alvaro, Entrante," under her own name in the Saturday Evening Post in 1919. The story chronicles the life of, "Mayme”, a lonely salesgirl in a Chicago department store. Mayme is informed by a fraudulent fortuneteller she has a spirit guide, a young woman named Rosa Alvaro. Mayme begins merging in and out of Rosa's personality. In the end she confesses the whole affair was made up to bring a little excitement to her boring life." Diliberto suggests this story may provide an answer to who really wrote the writings of Patience Worth.
Patience continued to communicate through Pearl through November 25, 1937 which was to become her final communication. Apparently, Pearl had received an earlier message from Patience she was going to die as she told a dear friend: “Patience has just shown me the end of the road and you will have to carry on as best you can." Even though Pearl had not been ill, she developed pneumonia late in November and died on December 3, 1937.