We often wonder when was the first time a now well-known phenomenon first occurred or was recorded. In the instance of spiritual possession, at least in the United States, we may have an answer in the case known as “The Watseka Wonder.” Indeed, if such a condition exists, it’s likely people have been claiming or appearing to be possessed by a supernatural force since human beings existed. However, many cite the Watseka story as the first well-documented example of a person appearing to have been taken over by a deceased human spirit. This historical incident also benefits from the thorough documentation from a credible source. At the time, a physician and Spiritist, Dr. E. Winchester Stevens, treated his patient experiencing the possession and wrote about the bizarre events soon after they occurred in a book he titled, The Watseka Wonder
. Stevens’ report details the story of Mary Lurancy Vennum, who began to suffer from cataleptic-like seizures at the age between thirteen and fourteen years old. On July 11, 1877, the first attack happened where Lurancy passed out on the floor and remained unconscious for five hours. The “fit,” as it was called back then, happened the next day as well, except that this time while in something of a trance, she spoke of being in heaven and in the company of various spirits. She described some of these spirits as angels and claimed to talk to a departed sister and a brother who died when Lurancy was just 3. Her episodes occurred in greater frequency by January of the following year, some lasting from an hour to eight hours and as many as twelve times per day. Her religiously orthodox parents and the numerous doctors that examined her feared she had become insane, and the only option left was to have her committed to an asylum. However, a respected, casual acquaintance of the Vennum family, Asa B. Roff, became intrigued by Lurancy’s condition and instead convinced her parents to let Dr. E. W. Stevens treat the girl using Spiritist methods. To everyone’s astonishment, Lurancy then started to behave like she was inhabited by the soul of Roff’s daughter Mary. Mary Roff had passed away more than a decade before Lurancy was born. Join us tonight for Part 1 of our series, where we cover the circumstances of perhaps America’s first acknowledged case of “spirit infestation,” known as “The Watseka Wonder.”
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