5 Books Dictated From Beyond the Grave

It’s really hard to write a book; it’s even harder to sell one. Add a dead author into the mix (it's pretty difficult to outline plot points and dictate precise punctuation from six feet under) and you’ve got a real publishing challenge. Enter the Ouija Board. Here are a few of the most famous instances of two frustrated creatives—one dead and one living—coming together to make literature happen.

1. The Sorry Tale, Pearl Lenore Curran and Patience Worth

Starting in the early 1910s, Pearl Lenore Curran and her friend Emily Grant Hutchings worked the Ouija board together twice a week, mostly to keep themselves amused while their husbands played pinochle. For almost a year, the planchette moved around the board but pointed to mostly random letters that didn’t form words, let alone sentences. Then, on July 8, 1913, Patience Worth made her presence known.

According to the frantic spelling across the Ouija board, Patience was born in either 1649 or 1694 “across the sea” and was killed in an Indian raid. Don’t ask which tribe, though. “Would ye with a blade at thy throat seek the [affiliation] of thine assassin?” she once responded to the question.

When really inspired, the Patience-Pearl duo could spell out about 1500 words an hour, which is how she came to be the author of books including The Sorry Tale and Hope Trueblood. Even spirits have their critics, though: Atlantic Monthly essayist Agnes Repplier declared the Worth pieces “as silly as they are dull.”

Curran may have hinted about the true origins of Patience Worth when she wrote a short story for The Saturday Evening Post in 1919 under her own name. The plot went something like this: A girl named Mayme believed she had a “spirit guide” named Rosa. After a bunch of hoopla about the whole supernatural affair, Mayme confessed to a friend that it had all been fabricated. “Oh Gwen, I love [Rosa]!” she admitted. “She’s everything I want to be. Didn’t I find her? It ain’t me. It’s what used to be me before the world buried it.”

“Patience Worth,” by the way, also happens to be the name of a character in a popular novel of the day that probably had some 1900s version of Fabio on the cover. Coincidence (or not): it was set in Colonial times. Pearl Curran said she hadn’t so much as flipped through the bodice-ripper before her own Patience started writing.

2. Jap Herron, Emily Grant Hutchings and Mark Twain

Emily Grant Hutchings, Pearl Curran's bestie, also claimed to receive prose via spectral author. Unlike Curran, though, Hutchings' ghostwriter already had a bunch of bestsellers under his belt. Hutchings, a one-time resident of Hannibal, Missouri, said that a spirit identified himself as “Sam L. Clemens, lazy Sam,” during a routine Ouija Board session, and requested help getting his final literary vision published so he could rest peacefully. “Every scribe here wants a pencil on earth,” Twain spelled out on the board. Not wanting to disappoint one of the greatest authors in history, Hutchings agreed. Throughout the course of writing Jap Herron, Twain offered his opinion on the homemade board (“That apostrophe is too far down. I am in danger of falling off the board every time I make a run for it”), the editing (“Will you two ladies stop speculating? I am going to take care of this story. Don’t try to dictate”), and the tobacco being used by Hutchings’ husband (“In the other world they don’t know Walter Raleigh’s weed and I have not found Walter yet to make complaint”).

Maybe being dead dulled Mr. Clemens’ gift for words and timing, because the end result was roundly panned. “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 New York Times declared in 1917.

The “co-authored” book had another major critic: Clara Clemens, Samuel’s daughter and the executor of his estate. She sued and was successful in getting Hutchings to cease production of the books and destroy any remaining stock. That means you won’t find Jap Herron next to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in bookstores, but it is available under Hutchings' byline. You can also read it online if you like.

3. God Bless U, Daughter, Mildred Swanson and Mark Twain

Apparently unwilling to let his deceased status slow him down, Samuel Clemens allegedly contacted Mildred Swanson of Independence, Missouri, decades after his dictation to Hutchings. In the late 1960s, Swanson wrote a book called God Bless U, Daughter, a diary of her planchette conversations with Clemens. The title came from the way Clemens signed out of each session. The author, Swanson said, was able to accurately predict events like her mother getting injured in a fall and told her that authors Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Louis Stevenson were also watching over her.

4. The Seth Materials, Jane Roberts and “Seth”

In 1963, a “personality energy essence” calling itself “Seth” contacted Jane Roberts via the Ouija board, which she was using for research on a book about ESP. He wasn’t interested in parlor tricks or delivering messages from long-gone relatives, however. No, Seth preferred to divulge details about reincarnation, free will, telepathy, physical matter, anti-matter, and the subconscious.

As the sessions with Seth went on, Roberts became so comfortable with Seth’s thoughts that she no longer needed the Ouija Board and could simply dictate the messages he was sending through her brain. Together, Roberts and Seth developed enough material for 10 books from more than 1800 sessions.

Here’s Jane in a Seth session from 1974.

5. A View From the Other Side, Mary Maracek and Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts died in 1984 at the age of 55. Naturally, she took it upon herself to channel her writings through someone else just as Seth had done through her. The result is Jane Roberts’ A View from the Other Side, a brief booklet about Jane’s own experiences since her death. Most of Jane’s fans denounce the work as utter fabrication, saying that not only does it not sound like her tone of voice, but it also expresses views that Jane never would have agreed with.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
David Lynch's Amazon T-Shirt Shop is as Surreal as His Movies
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images

David Lynch, the celebrated director behind baffling-but-brilliant films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, is now selling his equally surreal T-shirts on Amazon.

As IndieWire reports, each shirt bears an image of one of Lynch’s paintings or photographs with an accompanying title. Some of his designs are more straightforward (the shirts labeled “House” and “Whale” feature, respectively, drawings of a house and a whale), while others are obscure (the shirt called “Chicken Head Tears” features a disturbing sculpture of a semi-human face).

This isn’t the first time Lynch has ventured into pursuits outside of filmmaking. Previously, he has sold coffee, designed furniture, produced music, hosted daily weather reports, and published a book about his experience with transcendental meditation. Art, in fact, falls a little closer to Lynch’s roots; the filmmaker trained for years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before making his mark in Hollywood.

Lynch’s Amazon store currently sells 57 T-shirts, ranging in size from small to triple XL, all for $26 each. As for our own feelings on the collection, we think they’re best reflected by this T-shirt named “Honestly, I’m Sort of Confused.”

Check out some of our favorites below:

T-shirt that says "Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"
"Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a sleeping bird on it
"Sleeping Bird"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt that says Peace on Earth over and over again. The caption is pretty on the nose.
"Peace on Earth"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a screaming face made out of turkey with ants in its mouth
"Turkey Cheese Head"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an odd sculpted clay face asking if you know who it is. You get the idea.
"I Was Wondering If You Know Who I Am?"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a sculpted head that is not a chicken. It is blue, though.
"Chicken Head Blue"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a lobster on it. Below the drawing, the lobster is labeled with the word lobster. Shocking, I know.
"Lobster"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an abstract drawing of what is by David Lynch's account, at least, a cowboy
"Cowboy"

Buy it on Amazon

[h/t IndieWire]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Lists
8 Projects That Reenvision the Traditional Cemetery
iStock
iStock

Globally, nearly 57 million people died in 2016. If you happen to be a cemetery caretaker, you might be wondering where we managed to put them all. Indeed, many cemeteries in the world’s major cities are filling up fast, with no choice left but to tear up walkways, trees, and green spaces just to make room for more graves.

In response to these concerns, a variety of visionaries have attempted to reimagine the modern cemetery. These plans tend to fall into one of two camps: Biologists and environmentalists have brainstormed alternate methods for disposing of bodies, some of which are said to be better for the planet than the traditional methods of burial and cremation. Meanwhile, architects have looked at ways of adapting the burial space itself, whether that means altering a traditional cemetery or creating something new and more ephemeral. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that have emerged in recent years.

1. VERTICAL CEMETERIES

As cemeteries started running out of ground to dig, it was only a matter of time before they started building up. There's been a lot of talk about skyscraper cemeteries in recent years, although the idea dates back to at least 1829, when British architect Thomas Willson proposed a 94-story mausoleum in London.

"The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence," says Martin McSherry, whose design for an open-air skyscraper cemetery with layers of park-like burial grounds was one of the proposals presented at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards in 2013. Another recent plan by architecture students in Sweden suggested repurposing a cluster of silos into a vertical columbarium (a place to store urns). Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica was one of the first places to implement this vertical concept back in 1984, and at 32 stories high, it currently holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest cemetery.

2. REUSABLE GRAVES

For much of human history, graves were often reused, or common graves were dug deep enough to accommodate multiple bodies stacked one on top of the other. “Our current cemetery design is actually a pretty new thing,” Allison Meier, a New York City cemetery tour guide (and Mental Floss writer), tells us. “It wasn’t normal for everyone to get a headstone in the past and we didn’t have these big sprawling green spaces.”

Now that many urban cemeteries are filling up, the idea of reusing plots is once again gaining popularity. In London, it’s estimated that only one-third of the city’s boroughs will have burial space by 2031. In response, the City of London Cemetery—one of the biggest cemeteries in Britain—has started reusing certain grave plots (the practice is legal in the city, even though grave reuse is outlawed elsewhere in England).

Across continental Europe, however, it's not uncommon for graves to be "rented" rather than bought for all eternity. In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Greece, families can hold a plot for their loved one as long as they continue to pay a rental fee. If they stop paying, the grave may be reused, with the previous remains either buried deeper or relocated to a common grave.

Meier says she isn’t aware of any cemeteries in New York City that have started reusing their plots, though. “That’s a tough thing for Americans to get on board with because it’s been a normal practice in a lot of places, but it’s never been normal here,” she says.

3. A FLOATING COLUMBARIUM

A rendering of a floating columbarium
BREAD Studio

Ninety percent of bodies in Hong Kong are cremated, according to CNN, and niches in the city's public columbaria are at a premium. The average wait for a space is about four years, sparking concerns that Hong Kongers could be forced to move their loved ones' ashes across the border to mainland China, where more space is available. (A space at a private columbarium in Hong Kong can be prohibitively expensive, at a cost of about $128,000.) To address this issue, a proposal emerged in 2012 to convert a cruise ship into a floating columbarium dubbed the “Floating Eternity.” Designed by Hong Kong and London-based architecture firm BREAD Studio, the columbarium would be able to accommodate the ashes of 370,000 people. Although it's still just an idea, BREAD Studio designer Benny Lee tells CNN, "A floating cemetery is the next natural step in Hong Kong's history of graveyards."

4. UNDERWATER MEMORIALS

An underwater lion sculpture and other memorials
Neptune Reef

Land may be limited, but the sea is vast—and several companies want to take the cemetery concept underwater. At Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, human ashes are mixed with cement to create unique memorials in the shape of seashells and other objects of the client's choice. The memorials are then taken by divers to the ocean floor and incorporated into a human-made reef designed to look like the Lost City of Atlantis. Eternal Reefs, based out of Sarasota, Florida, offers a similar service.

5. SPACE MEMORIALS

Not a water person? Try space instead. Elysium Space, a San Francisco-based company founded by a former software engineer at NASA, offers a couple of “celestial services.” At a cost of nearly $2500, the Shooting Star Memorial “delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star,” while the Lunar Memorial will deliver a "symbolic portion" of human remains to the surface of the moon for a fee of nearly $10,000. Another company, Celestis, offers similar services ranging in price from $1300 to $12,500.

6. HUMAN COMPOSTING

Shoveling soil
iStock

Critics of burial and cremation say both are bad for the environment. To address the need for a memorial method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, waste resources, or release carcinogenic embalming fluid into the soil, a number of eco-friendly options have emerged. One such innovation is the “mushroom burial suit," a head-to-toe outfit that's lined with mushroom spores designed to devour human tissue and absorb the body's toxins. Another company, Recompose, espouses human composting—a process by which a corpse would be converted into a cubic yard of soil, which could then be used to nurture new life in a garden. The procedure isn’t legal yet, but the company plans to work with the Washington State legislature to make it available to the general public before eventually rolling it out nationwide.

7. DEATH AS ART

Many innovative proposals have emerged from the DeathLAB at Columbia University, including a plan to convert human biomass (organic matter) into light. The design—a constellation of light that would serve as both a memorial and art installation—won a competition hosted by Future Cemetery, a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society and media company Calling the Shots. John Troyer, director of the UK-based center, says they're working on raising funds to install a concept piece based on that design at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, but any usage of actual biomass would have to be cleared through the proper regulatory channels first. According to DeathLAB, the project would save significant space—within six years, it would more than double the capacity of the cemetery orchard where the memorials would be installed.

8. VIRTUAL CEMETERIES

As virtual reality technology gets more and more advanced, some question whether a physical cemetery is needed at all. The website iVeneration.com, founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, lets users "create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park," as Reuters describes it. In Japan, one online cemetery allows the bereaved to “light” incense, share memories of their loved one in comments, and even grab a virtual glass of beer. Similarly, an app called RiPCemetery created a social network where users can craft a virtual memorial and share photos of the deceased.

However, Troyer says he doesn’t believe technology will ever usurp the need for physical spaces. “A lot of the companies talking about digital solutions talk about ‘forever’—and that’s very complicated with the internet, because the virtual material we create can easily disappear," he told the The Guardian. "The lowly gravestone has been a very successful human technology, and I suspect it will last … I would go with granite.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios