Mark Twain’s “ghost” written books

During his life, Samuel Clements (“Mark Twain”) became “the greatest humorist this country has produced,” according to the New York Times. It seems Twain still wanted to write after he died in April 1910. He supposedly “ghost” wrote at least three books.

The first book Twain wrote posthumously was appropriately titled Spirits Do Return. Published in Kansas City, Mo. in 1915, Ida Bell White, who remains virtually unknown, wrote the novel. Twain’s role in the book is a bit unclear. The title page says he “inspired” it. In the book’s introduction, though, White explains that never having written a book before, she was helped by “the Spirit World.”

She said she’d attended a “trumpet seance,” where a medium uses a trumpet to vocalize spirit voices. There, “the spirit voice of Mark Twain” talked to her, telling her to

get the materials and he would write me a book—or, rather that he would inspire me and I could write it but he would give me the words to write, which he has done.

The book is a convoluted story of a man wrongfully convicted of murder protected from the barbarity of prison by the spirit of his dead mother. He is eventually released when the real murderer confesses. At the close of her introduction, White says Twain “has promised to write many more [books] for me.” For whatever reason, their collaboration ended. Although three editions of Spirits Do Return appeared in 1915, there’s no record of White having another book published.

Maybe Twain was working on the most famous of his writings from beyond the grave. This time his co-author was Emily Grant Hutchings, born in Hannibal, Mo., Twain’s childhood home. Hutchings was a self-proclaimed psychic, and the title of the book revealed its source, Jap Herron: A Novel Written from the Ouija Board.

In the introduction to the book, she said during an impromptu Ouija board session in March 1915, “Samuel L. Clemens, lazy Sam” began sending messages. Twain’s spirit subsequently said he wanted to transmit more of his writing to “that girl from Hannibal.” Twain’s choice of Hutchings seems odd because when he received a letter from her in November 1902, he wrote on the envelope, “Idiot! Preserve this.”

Hutchings’ 42-page introduction earnestly details the lengthy process of writing and revising two short stories and Jap Herron. All were dictated letter by letter to Hutchings via medium Lola Hays’s Ouija board. Both women had to place a hand on the planchette, or it wouldn’t move, according to an article in the January 1918 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research.

In her introduction, Hutchings wrote that they “do not for one moment doubt” that this was Twain’s “actual post-mortem work.” In the story, set in Missouri, Jasper “Jap” Herron runs away from his impoverished and dysfunctional family, and a newspaper editor and his wife take him under their wing. Their guidance helps make him a successful, honorable man.

The September 1917 issue of The Bookman literary journal said the book was “unquestionably in Mark Twain’s style.” Not everyone agreed. The New York Times September 9, 1917, review of the book concluded,

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.

Twain’s daughter and publisher were less impressed. Both filed lawsuits to prevent the publication of the book. They dropped both suits after Hutchings agreed to destroy all existing copies and not publish it again. It did not end Hutchings career as an author, though. In 1922, a major publisher issued her book, Indian Summer, calling it “her first novel.” It was “a study of a woman, past middle life, who shuns happiness.”

Interest in spiritualism waned in the United States in the 1920s. Perhaps that explains why Twain’s next post-mortem work didn’t appear for another 50 years. Once again, Twain dictated through an Ouija board in Missouri, although this book was nonfiction.

God Bless U, Daughter, by “Mildred Burns Swanson and Mark Twain” was published by the Midwest Society of Psychic Research in Independence, Mo. Swanson and her husband, John, conversed with Twain’s spirit through a “Nona Board,” a homemade Ouija board. The roughly 55,000-word book came from those conversations, in which Twain expressed his thoughts on the afterlife and modern America.

Mrs. Swanson said the book’s title was the way Twain ended their Ouija board sessions. The couple, who hailed from Independence, chatted with Twain at least twice a day, she said in a January 1968 letter sending the book to the New York Times Book Review. Twain dispelled their hesitancy about listing him as an author, she wrote, telling them, “We will demand it!”

Mildred and John Swanson may have been the only members of the Midwest Society of Psychic Research as her letter said the book was self-published. As for the roughly 55,000-word book itself,

Mark chose the blue-green cover with clear, bright yellow lettering. They are favorite colors; the electric cool shades match Mark’s eyes; he adds, “They are also spiritual colors.”

The Swansons had thousands of recorded conversations with Twain and already had “ten extra chapters to go into the next book,” she wrote.

The reports of Twain’s death in April 1910 were accurate. Based on publishing history, though, any thought he wouldn’t continue writing was greatly exaggerated.

A distinguished man should be as particular about his last words as he is about his last breath.

Mark Twain, “Last Words of Great Men”

(Originally posted at Exploring History)

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