The Watseka Wonder

Mary Roff was born in Indiana in October 1846. Mary had had fits frequently from the age of six months, which gradually increased in violence. She had also had periods of despondency, in one of which, in July 1864, she cut her arm with a knife until she fainted. Five days of raving mania followed, after which she recognized no one, and seemed to lose all her natural senses, but when blindfolded could read and do everything as if she saw. After a few days she returned to her normal condition, but the fits became still worse, and she died in one of them in July 1865. Her mysterious illness had made her notorious in the neighborhood during her life-time, and her putting his own alleged clairvoyant powers are said to have been carefully investigated “by all the prominent citizens of Watseka, including newspaper editors and clergymen.

It was in February 1878 that her supposed “control” of Lurancy began. The girl then became mild, docile, polite, and timid, knowing none of the family, but constantly pleading to go home,” and “only found contentment in going back to heaven, as she said, for short visits.”

About a week after she took control of the body, Mrs. A. B. Roff and her daughter, Mrs. Minerva Alter, Mary’s sister, hearing of the remarkable change, went to see the girl. As they came in sight, far down the street, Mary, looking out of the window, exclaimed exultantly, “There comes my ma and sister Nervie!” — the name by which Mary used to call Mrs. Alter in girlhood. As they came into the house she caught them around their necks, wept and cried for joy, and seemed so happy to meet them. From this time on she seemed more homesick than before. At times she seemed almost frantic to go home.

On the 11th day of February, 1878, they sent the girl to Mr. Roff’s, where she met her “pa and ma,” and each member of the family, with the most gratifying expressions of love and affection, by words and embraces. On being asked how long she would stay, she said, “The angels will let me stay till some time in May;”.

The girl now in her new home seemed perfectly happy and content, knowing every person and everything that Mary knew when in her original body, twelve to twenty-five years ago, recognizing and calling by name those who were friends and neighbours of the family from 1852 to 1865, when Mary died, calling attention to scores, yes, hundreds of incidents that transpired during her natural life. During all the period of her sojourn at Mr. Roff’s she had no knowledge of, and did not recognize any of Mr. Vennum’s family, their friends or neighbours, yet Mr. and Mrs. Vennum and their children visited her and Mr. Roff’s people, she being introduced to them as to any strangers. After frequent visits, and hearing them often and favourably spoken of, she learned to love them as acquaintances, and visited them with Mrs. Roff three times.

One day she met an old friend and neighbour of Mr. Roff’s, who was a widow when Mary was a girl at home. Some years since the lady married a Mr. Wagoner, with whom she yet lives. But when she met Mrs. Wagoner she clasped her around the neck and said, “0 Mary Lord, you look so very natural, and have changed the least of any one I have seen since I came back.” Mrs. Lord was in some way related to the Vennum family, and lived close by them, but Mary could only call her by the name by which she knew her fifteen years ago, and could not seem to realize that she was married. Mrs. Lord lived just across the street from Mr. Roff’s for several years, prior and up to within a few months of Mary’s death; both being members of the same Methodist church, they were very intimate.