In your February/March issue James P. Johnson mentioned Mrs. Pearl Curran in connection with the Ouija board craze. Through her board she had made contact with one Patience Worth, a “creature” from some earlier time who often couched messages in Elizabethan idioms. When these messages came through with increasing speed, Mrs. Curran abandoned her board and learned to type to keep pace with her novel amanuensis.
Fifty-three years ago, in August 1930, I spent a jolly evening with Mrs. Curran and some acquaintances in the library of Gordon Ray Young, who was then, I believe, book review editor of the Los Angeles Times . Although unseen, Patience was the guest of honor and made her presence felt in a very lively manner.
Our host, Mr. Young, was a bearded wag who kept teasing Patience. To every one of his sallies she responded with quick wit. She referred to him with mild sarcasm as “bearded seer.” At one point, Young observed that she didn’t know everything, that she didn’t, for example, know chess. “Yet the gaming of life is a far wiser game,” she retorted. “To check a fool, to king a common fellow, to slay a pawn, this is living, sirrah!”
Several persons gave Mrs. Curran sealed envelopes. Patience would type a comment, and when the envelope was opened, she had each time paraphrased the contents or given an answer in her own fashion. Between times, almost incidentally it seemed, she turned out some very lyrical verses.
All the while she (Mrs. Curran) remained her own self on the side, a very pleasant but quite ordinary middle-aged woman who was far from well educated or well read but on good terms with her remarkably articulate dual personality. As Mrs. Curran, she seemed as bemused as were the rest of us by what was going on.
All that is far from the Ouija board, to be sure, but that was where it began.