Lurancy Vennum - Spiritual Possession?
Part 1 | Part
The 'Return' of Lurancy
7 May, 1878
, 'Mary' told the Roff family that it would soon be time for her to leave,
as Lurancy Vennum was getting better and would return. Then, on 21 May, after
fourteen weeks, thus fulfilling the prophecy which 'Mary' had made when
first taking control, she tearfully bade everyone goodbye and left. Lurancy was
back for good and she asked Mrs. Roff to take her home. When she arrived she met
her parents and brothers, hugging and kissing them in tears of happiness, and was
completely content to be in her own surroundings again. She told her
family that the past fifteen weeks seemed like a dream to her.
Back in her own house Lurancy became, in the words of
her mother 'perfectly and entirely well and natural
. . . Lurancy has been smarter, more intelligent, more industrious, more
womanly, and more polite than before.'
Her parents gave Dr. Stevens and Mr. and Mrs. Roff the
credit for her complete cure and believed that if Lurancy had remained at home
she would have died, or have been sent to the insane asylum. Her mother added:
'Several of the relatives of Lurancy, including ourselves, now believe she was
cured by spirit power, and that Mary Roff controlled the girl.'
In July, 1878, Dr. Stevens pronounced Lurancy in sound
health, both mentally and physically. He received a pencil-written letter from
her, in which she thanked him for his patience and help. Apparently, the
handwriting in this letter bore no resemblance at all to other recent writings
of Lurancy when she was 'Mary Roff'.
January 1882, now an
attractive young woman, Lurancy Vennum
married George Binning, a New York born farmer of English
parentage, from near Watseka. They moved to Rawlins Co, Kansas, in 1884, where
she became the mother of eleven children (she was to have thirteen altogether).
Occasionally, it is said that Mary would take control of her again, but as she
was not in an encouraging environment for such things she never developed her
mediumistic powers further. George Binning died in Long Beach,
21 November, 1916.
In the thirties Lurancy used to travel by train to visit her
sister Florence in Medicine Lodge, Kansas at least once, and sometimes twice a
year. Her great niece, Joyce Wesbrooks, remembers a family visit to her and her
daughter Daisy in Long Beach in 1938. In
1940 she was a seventy-six-year-old woman who preferred not to talk about those
fifteen weeks in the 1870s when she had mystified science.
Lurancy died in Los Angeles, California on 30 August 1952. Joyce
Wesbrooks' son, William Wesbrooks, a successful director and playwright, has
written a play about Lurancy entitled Before I Wake. This was first
performed in Gettysburg, PA, at Gettysburg College, in May, 1981. The initial
performances were attended by many of Lurancy's relatives.
The Society for
Richard Hodgson, a sceptical member of
investigated the case and visited Watseka on
12 April, 1890, questioning the main
witnesses who remained in the neighborhood. He also attempted to get some direct
statements from Lurancy (Mrs. George Binning) but received no answer to his
inquiries. Dr. Stevens wrote a book called The Watseka Wonder about the case based on his personal knowledge,
and William James, American psychologist and brother of the novelist Henry
James, also investigated and reported his findings in depth.
Evidence is certainly not lacking in the
case of Lurancy Vennum, it
attracted wide attention at the time and contemporary newspapers in and around
devoted a lot of space to
it. But what really happened?
Were the Roff and Vennum families involved in an elaborate hoax? Or was Lurancy somehow able to
fool, not only her own family and that of Mary Roff,
but the investigators as well? On the other hand, If she was genuine, are
the only possible explanations reincarnation or
The families involved seemed to think
Lurancy was indeed possessed by the spirit of Mary Roff. Richard Hodgson, who
worked with Morton Prince in the Christine Beauchamp multiple personality case
at the end of the 19th century, suggested that Mary Roff could be a
secondary personality of Lurancy Vennum's. If so, we can discount
reincarnation, spiritual possession or any other 'paranormal' explanation for
the case. However, the problem still remains of
how Lurancy obtained the detailed knowledge she is said to have possessed. The same problem applies if the whole thing was
an elaborate hoax. Where and how did she obtain the detailed information about people, places and events she knew nothing about? If
this mystery could be explained then we would be much closer to understanding
this case of alleged 'spiritual possession'.
*Many thanks to Joyce Wesbrooks, great-niece of
Lurancy Vennum, for family information and photographs. All photos
Joyce Wesbrooks. Thanks also to Will Johnson, Professional Genealogist,
for genealogical information on Lurancy and her family.
Edwards, Frank. Strange People, London, Pan Books Ltd, 1966.
Myers, F.W.H. Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death,
University Books, 1961 (1903). Pp66-72
Clair, David. Child Possessed. London, Corgi. 1979. (Published in U.S. in
1977 as Watseka)
Shirley, R. The Problem of Rebirth. London, Rider
&Co. 1936, pp90-95.
Kent, New English Library, 1981, pp71-3.
Copyright 2003 / 2005 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.