may-1-1920-saturday-evening-post-the-ouija-boardPearl Curran and Emily Hutchings were best friends in the summer of 1912 although some might say they were as different as night and day.  Emily was a vivacious, social “woman about town“, known, according to Emily,  to all of the “big” women in St. Louis.  She was from a middle class family with seven brothers and one sister raised in Hannibal Missouri, childhood home of Mark Twain.  She was college educated, well travelled having lived in Germany for a year,  and known in St. Louis as a lecturer, arts librarian, and magazine and newspaper writer of topics of interest to women. She had a lot of writing credits to her name and had met and personally communicated with Mark Twain several times before he died.  Emily was married to Charles Edwin Hutchings and had no children.

Pearl Curran on the other hand was an only child, somewhat lonely at times and from a comparatively poor family living in Podunk towns in Texas, Missouri and Illinois, had a limited formal education, had not traveled much out of Missouri and Illinois but was an accomplished singer and piano teacher.  Before the arrival of Patience Worth she spent most of her time attending to household chores, cooking for and entertaining her husband, John H. Curran, stepdaughter, Julia Curran, mother Mary Pollard, father George Pollard and grandfather John Cordingley. The 1920 census also records Julia Davis and Joe Davis as members of the household.  (Mrs. Curran said she had one maid.)  Pearl would eventually have two children of her own; an adopted daughter Patience Worth Curran and her biological daughter, Eileen.   Pearl had no interest in writing or reading literature and was content with going to movies, playing the piano and singing.

John H. Curran

John H. Curran

Dr. Walter Franklin Prince in his book The Case of Patience Worth published in 1927, noted that in July 1912 Emily and Pearl, “were making a call on a neighbor who had an Ouija board, and during the call there came what purported to be a message from a relative of Mrs. Hutchings.  Thereupon the latter [Mrs. Hutching bought a board and took it to Mrs. Curran’s house with the idea of continuing these curious experiments.”  Pearl Curran’s father George Pollard was ill at the time and passed away about two months later.  “For a time Mrs. Curran refused to have anything more to do  with the board, but finally allowed herself to be persuaded.  Then (the deceased) Mr. Pollard and Mrs. Hutchings’s mother purported to communicate through the board.”  No record was kept of these sessions but Mrs. Hutchings or Pearl Curran’s mother, Mary Pollard would write down the words as they came from Pearl through the Ouija Board and, according to John Curran,  Emily Hutchings “would then take the notes home and rewrite and punctuate them.  Also she would make interpolations of her own in the record and, we found since, she would add to and take from and change ad libitum.”

Eventually, John Curran would take over the job of transcribing the notes thereby removing Emily from this task.  He states that “At first Mrs. Curran believed in the idea conveyed by Mrs. Hutchings that it was absolutely necessary for Mrs. Hutchings to be at the board with Mrs. Curran in order that anything might come.  At this date (January 5, 1915 ) this has been entirely disproven and the following people have already sat with us, there being no difference in the character or quality of the result no matter who sat.  (He then named 14 people in addition to himself and Mrs. Hutchings who had sat with Mrs. Curran and obtained good results.)

James H. Hyslop

James H. Hyslop

Apparently the relationship between Emily and Pearl  deteriorated somewhat after this and by early 1915, Emily is absent for a few months from the notes recorded  by John Curran.  Daniel Shea, in his book The Patience of Pearl  documented through letters written by Emily Hutchings  to James Hyslop, chief psychical researcher for the American Society of Psychical Research (ASPR) that Emily complained to Hyslop about the Currans that she was being replaced by a “copyist” and she was politely ignored when she offered to continue as stenographer.  Her dismissal, she wrote, resulted from her “uncompromising honesty” when she and her husband refused to agree with the Currans that it would make a better story if all supernormal communications were attributed to Patience Worth.

Soon after Emily stopped participating with Pearl Curran she began her association with Lola V. Hayes another medium who channeled spirits.  With Lola’s help Emily contacted the spirit of Mark Twain and began receiving his dictation of a couple of short stories and a short novel titled Jap Herron.  It is interesting that with Jap Herron, Emily assumed dominance over her medium, something Pearl Curran would not let her do with Patience Worth.   Even though Lola V. Hays channeled the book by Mark Twain, Emily claimed the credit and published the book along with a 42-page introduction about how she (Emily) accomplished the feat of writing for Mark Twain

Emily continued to elicit Hyslop’s sympathies through additional correspondence revealing that she had contacted Patience Worth, with Hyslop in return saying that he too had contacted her.   Hutchings did not think that Hyslop’s  Patience Worth ringed quite true and that her Patience Worth had told her that she (Patience) had not written Telka, the first long work from Curran’s Ouija board.  Instead Hutchings’s Patience Worth told her that “the man who composed it had chained her (Patience) and compelled her to send it across.”  Emily kept this communication going with Dr. Hyslop, behind Pearl’s back.  Emily stressed with Dr. Hyslop, her need for privacy “trusting you not to permit this letter to fall into other hands” since she “would not, for the world, have my dear friend, Mrs. Curran , offended or wounded by my recital of her mental or educational shortcomings”  .  Emily proposed to Hyslop that Jap Herron be conveyed to the ASPR, with the not-so-subtle bribe that Twain had offered to give 25 percent of the profits from the book to the cause of psychic research (presumably to the ASPR). Apparently Emily was successful in priming Dr. Hyslop  to rail against Pearl Curran and her Patience Worth in that he subsequently provided a scathing review of Casper Yost’s book about Patience Worth.  (Hyslop had not yet met Patience or Pearl at the time of his review.) However, Hyslop found Emily’s book, Jap Herron to have “abundant, indisputable, evidence that Mark Twain was behind the work.

However Clara Clemens, Mark Twain’s daughter was not impressed with Dr. Hyslop’s evaluation of the book.  In a New York Times article published on February 11, 1918  she is quoted as characterizing Professor Hyslop’s assertions as “silly, foolish, stupid and crazy,” and announced that she had asked her attorney, Charles P. Lark of New York, to prevent the publication of Jap Herron through an injunction.

Pearl eventually telephoned Emily and wondered aloud with her why Hyslop had “so bitterly attacked Patience Worth” attempting to discover the source of Hyslop’s information about Patience Worth.  Emily evasively said to Pearl “I don’t know,” even though she had been writing to Hyslop about the whole Patience Worth affair.  Interestingly, according to Irving Litvag in his book “Singer in the Shadows”  he states that as a result of additional  verbal and written attacks on Patience Worth and Pearl Curran initiated as a result of the Hyslop condemnation, Emily [perhaps feeling guilty for what she had spawned stood up to defend Mrs. Curran by claiming “We who have worked with Patience Worth cannot lie supine while the skeptic annihilates her with so absurd a bludgeon as the Chaucer-and-Ozark theory.  (It was mistakenly claimed by some that Pearl Curran had picked up English archaisms from reading Chaucer and living in the Ozark mountains of Missouri.)  I have known Mrs. Curran long and intimately and I know to an ultimate certainty that she never read Chaucer in her life.  I know, too that the only reading of Chaucer that her husband did was in my home fully a year after the Patience Worth dialect had been coming. . .their argument has not a leg to stand on.”

Patience Worth commented upon the criticisms by saying “Ye art yet for to learn there ne’er wert a bloomed field, greened and sweet o’ grasses, but some ass seeked to browse therein.”

According to Daniel Shea, Pearl Curran was unaware that Emily had begun her own Ouija board communications with Patience Worth , Mark Twain and with Pearl’s deceased father, George Pollard, who according to Emily, readily discussed his daughter’s shortcomings with her as he dictated assurances to Emily that she “had been more a daughter to him than she of his flesh [Pearl ever was.”  Then revealing her insecurities, Emily queried Pearl’s father whether or not Pearl was planning to eliminate her from the Patience Worth sessions.

Four years before she died in 1960, Emily told a St. Louis Post Dispatch writer that she still believed completely in the reality of Patience Worth and that she never had doubted that Patience was truly the spirit of a woman who had died long before.

One might say that if it were not for Emily Grant Hutchings purchasing a Ouija Board and forcing Pearl Curran to use it with her, Patience Worth might never have found her voice in Pearl Curran.  In many ways I think that Emily Grant Hutchings was everything that Pearl Curran wanted to be but wasn’t.  Perhaps Patience Worth was Pearl’s way of “besting” her good friend Emily at her own game—writing. But regardless of the motive for Patience Worth and regardless of why the relationship between Emily Hutchings and Pearl Curran eventually soured, and whether or not the writing of Patience Worth was really from the subconscious mind of Pearl Curran, I think we can all say with much appreciation, “Thank you, Emily!” 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *