The early decades of the 20th century saw a rise in the popularity of Spiritualism and all its trappings. Americans of all social classes participated in seances and tarot readings and frequented mediums.
During the summer of 1913, in a small house in St. Louis, two women faced each other with an Ouija board on their laps. One of the women, Pearl Curran, suggested they stop, as all they were getting from the board was gibberish. But suddenly the pointer seemed to come to life and quickly spelled out:
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 by thy hearth. Good friends, let us be merrie. The time for work is past.
This was the beginning.
Over the next 24 years, Patience would dictate more than 3,000,000 words to Pearl Curran in the form of religious and secular poetry, novels, conversations, and plays. The works seemed to be primarily in the language of 17th century England.
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The media reported on the strange story and skeptics and believers from around the country would sit with Pearl when Patience was “writing.” Nobody was able to prove fraud because:
- Pearl had left school at the age of 14.
- Pearl had little to no knowledge of the technical aspects of Patience’s 17th-century language or its archaic vocabulary.
- Pearl had never shown any inclination of being an author or displayed an aptitude in writing.
- Pearl had limited if any reading experience with Shakespeare or the King James Bible or any other book using 17th century English.
While the observers continued to try to find an explanation for the writings, nobody questioned the quality of the literature itself. The New York Times called Patience’s novel “The Sorry Tale”: “a wonderful, a beautiful, and a noble book.” The Review of Reviews proclaimed: “the novel has beauty and extraordinary power.”
Time went on and the flow of Patience’s writing never slowed down.
One of the more bizarre incidents in an already bizarre story took place when Patience told the Currans to adopt a female infant. Although legally the child of the Currans, it was expressed by Patience that this was to be considered her own baby and at no point did the Currans dispute this. The girl was named Patience Worth Curran.
Eventually, Patience Worth’s fifteen minutes of fame came to a close. Interest in Spiritualism was waning. Subsequent novels and poetry floundered without a publisher, although Patience was not deterred and continued to produce poetry and fiction at the same rapid pace.
Pearl continued her sessions with Patience Worth until her death (which Patience had predicted during a session) in December of 1937.
Amazingly, this vivid unsolved mystery is practically unknown today. Was Patience a ghost? An alternate personality of Pearl Curran? A past life? As one magazine editor put it, “the mystery of Patience Worth is one which every reader may endeavor to solve for himself.”