WATSEKA, Ill — The information below comes from news stories and a book that were written about the event. But just because something is written down doesn’t mean it’s true. This story should still be looked at with skepticism.
The Watseka Wonder is a story that gained attention during the late 1800s and early 1900s in the town of Watseka, Illinois. It revolves around a young girl named Mary Lurancy Vennum, whose life became the focus of widespread fascination.
At the age of 13, Vennum started exhibiting peculiar behavior when she fell ill in July 1887. She claimed to hear ghostly voices calling out to her at night, but there was never anyone else in the room. She also experienced stomach pain and entered trance-like states where she believed she saw ghosts around her.
Her parents were concerned about Vennum’s condition, family members and others suggested sending her to an asylum for proper care. However, her family decided to pursue spiritual means instead and enlisted the help of Dr. E. Winchester Stevens, a well-known medium at the time, to investigate the case. Just as Vennum faced the possibility of confinement, Asa Roff, a man whose daughter, Mary Roff, had experienced similar afflictions over a decade earlier, arrived in Watseka.
Mary Roff’s life had been marked by unexplained spells and trances from infancy, baffling doctors who couldn’t find a clear cause. Although Mary Roff developed a belief in her ability to communicate with ghosts, her family and medical professionals remained skeptical. Eventually, she was confined to an asylum, where she passed away in July 1865.
During Vennum’s illness, a distinct entity claiming to be Mary Roff emerged, asserting control over Vennum’s body until Vennum’s own soul was healed. “Mary” expressed a deep desire to reconnect with her family and friends and insisted on staying with the Roff family.
The Roff family kindly agreed to care for her until her condition improved. Dr. Stevens and the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Vennum exhibited an astonishing ability to recall detailed aspects of Mary Roff’s life, including specific events and people. Curiously, she seemed to forget much about her own family and friends, adding to the mystery.
For a few months, Vennum lived as Mary, residing with the Roff family and interacting with Mary Roff’s acquaintances. However, on May 7, Vennum acting as “Mary Roff” unexpectedly announced that Vennum’s soul would return to her own body on May 22, and she promptly reverted to her original self as promised.
According to various accounts, Vennum resumed a normal, happy, and healthy life after the experience, with no evidence of recurring strange behavior. The Watseka Wonder remains a remarkable tale that garnered support from numerous witnesses and investigations by scientists and psychic researchers of the time.
Story continues today
In this recent article by the Commerical-News the owner of the Roff house in Hoopston, offered up his home for ghost hunters. The house has been converted into a bed and breakfast and has been known as a popular location for ghost hunters.
In 2009 a movie was produced called The Possessed based on the documented possession. The movie claims that this was America’s first known documented possession.