It is a sad fact of life that many artistic visionaries don’t become well-known until after they have died. History is rife with such people who were talented yet relatively unknown when they were alive, only to become icons posthumously. Yet, what if these artists could actually keep producing work even from beyond the grave, punching through whatever veil it is that separates our world of the living from that of the dead? That would be something, wouldn’t it? Here we will delve into just this, and look at cases of authors who have reached out from the realm beyond life as we know it, to continue their work and give the term “ghost writing” a whole new meaning.
Back in the 1800s, there was a very popular spirit medium known only as Mrs. S. G. Horn, who apparently channeled the writing of none other than the master of grim Gothic horror Edgar Allan Poe, author of many macabre classics in life, and perhaps even some work in death. Poe’s death itself is already quite mysterious, in that he just suddenly one day appeared wandering about the streets of Baltimore on October 3, 1849, after which he was hospitalized and then died on October 7 without even gaining enough lucidity to explain how he had come to be in this predicament, shouting out the mysterious name “Reynolds” through the night, and considering that the medical details and even his death certificate have since been lost his demise is every bit as mysterious as his life. In the 1869 book Strange Visitors there is the curious account of the medium Horn speaking to Poe from beyond the grave and divining a poem from the late poet and author entitled “The Lost Soul,” which supposedly reads as follows:
THE LOST SOUL
Hark the bell! the funeral bell,
Calling the soul
To its goal.
Oh! the haunted human heart,
From its idol doomed to part!
Yet a twofold being bearing,
She and I apart are tearing;
She to heaven I to hell!
Going, going! Hark the bell!
Far in hell,
Fiends are rolling,
Whitened bones, and coffins reeking,
Fearful darkness grimly creeping
On my soul,
My vision searing,
Drawn from me
By a soul I cannot see,
Whom I know can never love her.
Oh! that soul could I discover,
I would go,
Steeped in woe,
Down to darkness, down to hell!
Hark the bell! Farewell! farewell!
It is unclear if this was really a genuine work by Poe’s spirit recited through this medium, but it is a very creepy tale nonetheless. Horn also claimed to have contacted other dead personalities as well, including Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Benjamin Franklin. Another fairly well-known case of a dead author writing from beyond the grave is the account of spirit medium Emily Grant Hutchings, who claimed to have been contacted by none other than the then dead author Samuel Clemens, who most of you will know as Mark Twain. Hutchings claimed that Twain had reached out through her through a Ouija board after his death in 1910 and asked for her help to write his next work from the spirit world, and the spirit even supposedly proclaimed “Every scribe here wants a pencil on earth.”
Hutchings agreed, and she would then allegedly work with Twain’s ghost to begin crafting a novel entitled Jap Herron, which Twain supposedly obsessively spelled out and proofread through the Ouija board. The book was finally published in 1917 and released as being a genuine posthumous work by Mark Twain, although there was much controversy about the whole affair. For one, it was seen as vulgar and improper to try and pass off a new work as coming from a dead author as beloved as Twain. Another criticism was, well, the book was apparently not really very good, with one blurb from the New York Times scathingly saying of it:
If this is the best that ‘Mark Twain’ can do by reaching across the barrier, the army of admirers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will hereafter respect that boundary.
The book itself followed the tale of a poor man from Missouri who manages to face all obstacles to become a rich and influential member of society who then looks to bring his small home town to prominence. Twain’s daughter Clara Clemens was apparently so incensed by what was being largely seen as a publicity stunt that she actively sued Hutchings and was able to successfully halt the sale of the book and have all known copies destroyed. Although there are very few physical copies remaining it is still floating around, you can read Twain’s “final work” online, if you are so inclined. What do you think?
Unbelievably, this wasn’t even the only person claiming to channel Twain from the land of the dead, and there was another named Mildred Swanson, who along with her husband were members of the Midwest Society of Psychic Research and hard core spirit mediums to boot. Swanson also claimed that she had used a Ouija board to contact Twain and gather a collection of his posthumous writings and musings that she would compile into a book called God Bless U, Daughter. Swanson even said that Twain had expressed that other dead authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Louis Stevenson were waiting to publish new material through her. This book was never published by any big publishing company, but it did go into limited print on Swanson’s own dime. As to all of these people claiming to receive writings from Twain, the New York Times would publish an editorial piece in 1918 that read:
It is much to be regretted that MARK TWAIN himself is precluded by circumstances from commenting on the forthcoming and very posthumous production. The task is one that would have delighted him – and its performance by him would delight everybody else – except, perhaps, the psychical researchers who so industriously set down the products of subconscious activities. His daughter should not be unduly disturbed. Her father’s memory is safe, no matter what nonsense the “mediums” say he makes them talk or write.
At around the same time all of this was going on, Hutchings would also claim that her and friend Pearl Lenore Curran had managed to start a Ouija board dialog in 1912 with a spirit that identified herself as an author named Patience Worth. According to Curran, Worth would reach out through the board, claiming to be from England and saying:
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 at thy hearth. Good friends, let us be merrie. The time for work is past. Let the tabby drowse and blink her wisdom to the firelog.
Curran claimed to have gotten a lot of information from Worth, such as that she had set sail across the sea to arrive on the shores of America, and that she was eventually killed by Native Americans shortly after her arrival. Worth also apparently gave a detailed descriptions of her physical appearance, but most importantly the spirit claimed that she had been a prominent poet and writer, and seemed eager to continue her work through Curran. Thus would begin numerous Ouija board sessions during which these writings would be carefully recorded and compiled, and the words were supposedly often accompanied by powerful visual visions beamed into Curran’s head by the spirit. Curran would say of these sessions:
I am like a child with a magic picture book. Once I look upon it, all I have to do is to watch its pages open before me, and revel in their beauty and variety and novelty. When the poems come, there also appear before my eyes images of each successive symbol, as the words are given me. When the stories come, the scenes become panoramic, with the characters moving and acting their parts, even speaking in converse. The picture is not confined to the point narrated, but takes in everything else within the circle of vision at the time. If the people talk a foreign language, as in The Sorry Tale, I hear the talk, but over and above is the voice of Patience, either interpreting or giving me the part she wishes to use as story.
The spirit was apparently incredibly prolific in death, with Curran publishing several collections of “Patience Worth”’s work, novels by the alleged dead authoress, such as Telka, The Sorry Tale, Hope Trueblood, The Pot upon the Wheel, Samuel Wheaton, and An Elisebethan Mask, as well as many anthologies of poems and countless musings by the supposed dead author. Interestingly, these works were widely considered to be of good literary quality and quite well-written, and Patience Worth received many accolades by other writers, even managing to be named one of the outstanding authors of 1918 by The Joint Committee of Literary Arts of New York. It really isn’t bad for a spirit talking through a Ouija board, and largely thought by skeptics to have been a complete figment of Curran’s imagination. It was nevertheless believed by many in the Spiritualist movement and paranormal world that something very unique was going on here with Curran and Patience Worth, and psychic researcher Walter Franklin Prince would say of it:
Either our concept of what we call the subconscious must be radically altered, so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause operating through but not originating in the subconsciousness of Mrs. Curran must be acknowledged.
Of course there are plenty of skeptics of the existence of Patience Worth, and it has been accused of being merely a publicity stunt, possibly a fraud, and that the dead author exists no where else other than within the imagination of Curran. Although believers have pointed out that the literary achievements of Worth were beyond the abilities of Curran to pull off on her own, skeptics have disagreed, and psychologist Richard Wiseman has given a damning appraisal of the Patience Worth case, saying:
Unfortunately for Spiritualism, Curran’s writings failed to provide convincing evidence of life after death. Try as they might, researchers were unable to find any evidence that Patience Worth actually existed, and linguistic analysis of the texts revealed that the language was not consistent with other works from the period. The case for authenticity was not helped by Patience writing a novel set in the Victorian times, some 200 years after her own death. Eventually even the most ardent believer was forced to conclude that Pearl Curran’s remarkable outpourings were more likely to have a natural, not supernatural, explanation.
Another interesting case of a spirit claiming to be an author is that of the one known only as “Seth,” who was purportedly conjured up by accident in 1963 by the paranormal author Jane Roberts while fooling around with a Ouija board researching a book. The mysterious Seth would dictate around 10 books of material through nearly 2,000 Ouija board sessions, but became more and more unhinged until Roberts claimed that she hd gotten too frightened of the spirit to contact him any more. In an interesting footnote to this case, Roberts herself would die in 1984 and then herself try to channel her writings through a Ouija board from beyond, eventually writing through a medium the book Jane Roberts’ A View from the Other Side, which details her experiences in the afterlife. The book has gotten mixed reviews, with many criticizing it as not being in Roberts’ own style and not really accurately representing her thoughts or opinions in life, but it is a rather strange and bizarre account of a person having ghosts write through her, only to go and do the same thing herself upon death.
There is in the end no way to know the veracity of such stories. We cannot be certain that there are really these creative spirits seeking to write on even through the inconvenient hurdle of death. It certainly seems that such people would want to continue their work past their expiration date and seek out those who would help them do it, but how much of this is really legitimate or not? Who knows? It does get the imagination running though, wondering what these great creative minds would be up to in the years since their departure from our reality and how they would express themselves if given one more chance to do it again, and whether any of these stories is true or not, it sure is a wild ride.