On February 6, 1885, David Kendall, a city councilman in Eureka, California, was shot. Two Chinese men, possibly from rival gangs, were firing at each other from across the street when a bullet hit Kendall and killed him. Within 20 minutes of his death, a mob of 600 white men marched into Chinatown, intending to burn it to the ground.
Disturbingly, this wasn’t unusual. Violence against Chinese people and Chinese-Americans was a regular occurrence on the West Coast. However, this event was different because of what happened next. Instead of destroying Chinatown, the city decided to order the Chinese to leave. Within 48 hours, most of the Chinese residents were forced onto boats bound for San Francisco. This “peaceful” method of expelling them from their homes was quickly imitated. Towns up and down America’s West Coast, but also as far north as Vancouver, Canada, and as far east as Augusta, Georgia, began forcing out their Chinese populations. Jean Pfaelzer, author of Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans, considers it ethnic cleansing.
“The intention … was to round up all the Chinese people in over 200 towns across the Pacific Northwest and drive them out so they would never come back,” she says. Read more…
One day in 1913, a housewife named Pearl Curran sat down with her friend Emily Grant Hutchings at a Ouija board. Curran’s father had died the year before, and Hutchings was hoping to contact him. While they’d had some success with earlier sessions, Curran had grown tired of the game and had to be coaxed to play. This time, a message came over the board. It said: “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come — Patience Worth my name.”
This moment was the start of a national phenomenon that would turn Curran into a celebrity. Patience Worth, the ghost who’d contacted them, said she was a Puritan who immigrated to America in the late 1600s. Through Curran, she would dictate an astounding 4 million words between 1913 and 1937, including six novels, two poetry collections, several plays, and volumes of witty repartee.
The work attracted national headlines, serious reviews, and a movie deal. Patience Worth’s poetry was published in the esteemed Braithwaite’s anthologies alongside writers like Edna St. Vincent Millay. In 1918, she was named an outstanding author by the Joint Committee of Literary Arts of New York. Her novel, The Sorry Tale, was a bestseller with four printings. The New York Times said her poetry was a “high level of literary quality” with “flashes of genius.” Harper’s Magazine said that the “writings attributed to Patience Worth are exceptional.” The New Republic added: “That she is sensitive, witty, keenly metaphorical in her poetry and finely graphic in her drama, no one can deny.”
Literary Digest summed up the critical interest by writing: “It is difficult not to take Patience Worth seriously.” Read more…