In Bag of Bones, Stephen King writes “The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.” In this case I share today, the disembodied muse was very much invited, through means of the Ouija board. This is the story of the spirit Patience Worth and her earthly transcriber Pearl Lenore Curran.
I came across this story on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. You can watch the episode here (the Patience Worth segment is at the 23:39 mark). Anyway, onto the story…
Many of the sources I came across portrayed Pearl Lenore Curran (1883-1937) as a rather basic woman with less than average intelligence. While she never fulfilled her dreams of becoming a singer, this housewife began her journey into stardom on July 8, 1913 when she received a message through the Ouija board.
Many moons ago I lived. Again I come—Patience Worth my name.
From that point on, Pearl began to receive words, messages, and prose from beyond. At first she had to use the Ouija board, but soon the words would appear without the use of ritual.
Patience Worth’s spirit came into this world when spiritualism provided unique power to women and was accepted by many (one notable example is Arthur Conan Doyle). Yet, it was under the scrutiny of science and Houdini. Nevertheless, this was an opportune time for a woman and a disembodied voice to make a splash in the literary world.
Together, Patience and Pearl wrote several novels (The Sorry Tale, Telka, Hope Trueblood, The Pot Upon the Wheel, Samuel Wheaton, An Elisebethan Mask), short stories, and poems. Their work received positive reviews. As Smithsonian Magazine writes:
“Patience Worth[’s] messages out of the darkness never sink to the commonplace level, but always show high intelligence and sometimes are even tipped with the flame of genius,” said the New York Times, echoing other newspaper reviews across the country.
While many found the literature of Pearl and Patience remarkable, other literary critics and scientists thought it was unimaginative and/or a fraud. Several psychologists and scientific researchers studied the phenomenon. Was Pearl smarter than she was putting off? Who was really writing this material? Is there life after death?
While I could go on all day about this, there are already two excellent articles (below) that go into great detail about Patience and Pearl. I have also included some works by Pearl and Patience (maybe you can decide their literary worth). I recommend reading/browsing through them and writing notes in your own commonplace book!
I’d like to, though, finish with the death of Pearl Curran. It is a very curious story. The last (documented) communication with Pearl was November 25, 1937. Pearl told her friend Dotsie:
Oh Dotsie, Patience has just shown me the end of the road and you will have to carry on as best you can.
Pearl died shortly after: December 3, 1937.
Additional Reading (Free Online)
Works Published About Pearl During Her Life (Free Online)
Pearl/Patience’s Works (Free Online)