“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.”
So began the 24 year relationship between a St. Louis housewife named Pearl Curran and the long dead Puritan woman who spoke through her Ouija board.
By all accounts, Curran was an average turn of the century housewife, spending her time on housework and card games until the death of her father led her to experiment with spirit communication. Although attempts to reach dear departed dad were disappointing, suddenly the planchette flew across the board, and Patience, a 17th century English-American immigrant, introduced herself.
The era when Pearl met Patience may have been the last great opportunity for such a relationship. The horrors of WWI brought about a brief last hurrah of the Victorian Spiritualist enthusiasm, and communication with the dead through automatic writing and the Ouija board was tremendously en vogue.
Patience was no one-time casual Ouija board visitor, becoming a reliable guest at the Curran home, answering questions and making light conversation, with Pearl interpreting and her husband, John taking notes. Patience appeared so regularly in fact that the couple began hosting bi-weekly spirit sessions, to which they invited friends and celebrities.
The fact that Patience was dead (and most likely fictional) was not going to stand in the way of her literary ambitions. Between 1913 and Pearl’s death in 1937, Patience dictated reams of poetry, several short stories and plays, and seven books, including one set in the Victorian period - long after her supposed death.
The July 9, 1917 St. Louis Daily Globe Democrat published a review of Patience Worth’s first novel, gushing: “Greatest Story Ever Written. Patience Worth’s ‘Sorry Tale’ is Equal, if Not Superior, to Any of the World’s Masterpieces in Literary and Intellectual Expression and Is Incomparable in Its Religious Significance.”
Over time, suspicions that Pearl might have somehow been misleading the gullible public with her literary channeling sessions brought would-be debunkers to her door. Although she had her critics, virtually all who witnessed her Patience Worth sessions came away amazed. Modern researchers theorize that ordinary-seeming Pearl may have had a very unique form of multiple personality disorder, combined with savant-like qualities that manifested as Patience.
Most revealing, however is one short story published in the Saturday Evening Post in November 1919 under Pearl Curran’s own name. “Rosa Alvaro, Entrante” told the story of a bored shopgirl who created a daring Spanish spirit alter ego. This Rosa was, in the words of the shopgirl, “everything I want to be.” She was also entirely made up.
It is interesting - and slightly sad - to note that not only does Patience Worth have a Wikipedia entry while Pearl does not, the collection of Pearl Curran’s papers at the Missouri Historical Association can be found filed under the “Patience Worth Collection”.
More on Pearl & Patience fromSmithsonian Magazine ”Patience Worth: Author from the Great Beyond”
More on the history of Ouija Boards from Mitch Horowitz: “Ouija: A History”
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