spiritual possession

Lurancy Vennum - Spiritual Possession?   

Part 1 | Part 2

The 'Return' of Lurancy

On 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'.

In 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, California on 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 Psychical Research Investigates

Dr. 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.

Spiritual Possession. Lurancy Vennum, second from right, her sister Florence, and brothers Schuyler and Frank. 1930s.Evidence is certainly not lacking in the case of Lurancy Vennum, it attracted wide attention at the time and contemporary newspapers in and around Chicago 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 spiritual possession

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.

Sources and Further Reading  

Edwards, Frank. Strange People, London, Pan Books Ltd, 1966. pp126-133.

Myers, F.W.H. Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, New York, University Books, 1961 (1903). Pp66-72

St. 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.

Wilson, Colin.  Poltergeist!  Sevenoaks, Kent, New English Library, 1981, pp71-3.

Copyright 2003 / 2005 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.

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