Did Ouija Board link two Hannibal authors?
Emily Grant Hutchings, as pictured in the St. Louis Star and Times, Jan. 26, 1913. (newspapers.com)
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The world heralds the novels that Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain) wrote about boys growing up along the banks of North America’s greatest river. Those books, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” brought lasting fame to the small inland port of Hannibal, Missouri, where steamboats landed during navigational season, bringing ashore news, people and merchandise to the otherwise landlocked hamlet in mid America.
When Mr. Clemens died in 1910, the world mourned the loss of adventure created via his pen and imagination.
But seven years after his death, as the United States was ramping up for participation in the war in Europe, the New York Times wrote a review of a new book, written under the byline of a Hannibal native, Emily Grant Hutchings.
Mrs. Hutchings professed that this book,“Jap Herron: A Novel Written from the Ouija Board,” (1917) was dictated by Mark Twain himself, over the course of two years.
The newspaper’s review - skeptical as it was - bolted the book to top seller status, and it quickly gained the attention of fans and critics alike. Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch, the daughter of the famed author, turned to the Supreme Court in order to stop the distribution and profit taking from the work.
Subsequently, publication did cease, but Mrs. Hutchings never backed down from her contention that it was a Twain-dictated work.
Born in Hannibal circa 1870, Emily Schmidt (as she was then known) grew up in an educated and high achieving environment. Her father, Carl Hermann Schmidt, was a well respected German Methodist minister, who came to the United States in 1849. Her mother, Margueretta Katherine Ruck de Schell Steininger Schmidt, was the daughter of a German noble family, coming to the United States before her majority, and marrying Dr. Rev. Schmidt in Cole County, Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1851. Mrs. Schmidt subsequently audited courses at the Missouri Medical College, St. Louis, and became the first female licensed to practice medicine in Missouri.
Emily R. Schmidt was the youngest child born of Rev. and Dr. Schmidt, growing up on Hope Street, not far from what is now the Scott’s Chapel United Methodist Church at Hope and Griffith streets. Her father died in 1884, when she was about 14 years old. She went on to graduate from Hannibal’s high school at the age of 17, circa 1887.
From there she went to Altenburg, Germany, where her father had been born in 1820, and she attended the famed Karolinum Hohere Tochtere Schule school, where she remained for one year.
Returning to Missouri, she entered Missouri University at Columbia, where she took a course in letters, graduating from the Normal College in June 1891.
She subsequently accepted a teaching job at Hannibal’s high school (West School), then located on Walnut Street, southwest corner of Heuston.
After teaching German, Latin and Greek for two years, she resigned that post in August 1894 and moved to St. Louis, where she would began her feature writing career in 1896 at the St. Louis Republic newspaper.
Her early works included poetry, including the following example published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Feb. 1, 1897.
From the Philistine.
When Luna from her skyey bower,
A colder but purer Venus came.
To spend a wakeful, watchful hour
With him her lips could never name.
Her wonted heaven, in sorrow’s gray,
Mourned for her calm, benignant light.
So when my Joy, unprone to stray,
Forsakes me in the darksome night,
Perhaps some rare Endymion
Holds Joy in rapt, inbreathing spell.
Joy sometimes seeks a joy of her own;
I bow my head and say, “Tis well.”
Emily R. Schmidt
In 1897 she was married to Charles Edwin Hutchings, who would go on to become the long-time secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Tower Grove Park, St. Louis.
During 1904, employed by the General Press Bureau, Mrs. Hutchings, now using the pen name of Emily Grant Hutchings, wrote one story a day for 24 weeks, promoting the World’s Fair in St. Louis.
A sampling of the stories, as collected from newspapers.com, include:
“A Real Airship at the World’s Fair,” published by the Los Angeles Times, Sept. 18, 1904.
“Funny Fish at the Fair,” published in the Buffalo, N.Y., Times, July 27, 1904.
“American Art at World’s Fair,” published by the Lexington, Ky., Herald, July 10, 1904.
“Crowds that do not Crowd,” published By the Omaha (Neb.) Daily Bee, July 31, 1904.
“English as the Filipino Learns It,” published by the Times-Democrat, New Orleans, La., Aug. 16, 1904.
“In the Philippines Women will Demand Their Rights in the Future,” published by the Clark County Courier, Kahoka, Mo., Nov. 11, 1904.
In mid May 1917, Mrs. Hutchings spoke to the Journalism Week audience at Missouri’s university in Columbia, reading two chapters from “Jap Harron.” The Evening Missourian, Columbia, quoted the author in its May 15, 1917 edition. She defined a spiritualist as one who belongs to a definite cult.
“All spiritualistic cults believe that the soul and mind survive physical death and can communicate with living persons,” she explained.
Also on the program’s agenda was Mrs. Lola V. Hays, a spiritualist who worked with Mrs. Hutchings in transcribing the book via a Ouija Board. Her talk was titled, “Taking Dictation from Spirit Land.”
Mrs. Hutchings a widow without children, died at her home, 1327 South Vandeventer Avenue, St. Louis, Jan. 18, 1960. Her Jan. 20, 1960 obituary in the St. Louis Post Dispatch noted that she wrote poetry and articles for national magazines. Her poetry and fiction were published in Current Literature, Cosmopolitan, Country Life, Current Magazine, The Open Court and Atlantic Monthly.
She wrote several books, according to her obituary, including “Indian Summer,” a novel, and “Where Do We Go From Here?” based on psychic research.
She was survived by several nieces and nephews.
A Kindle version of “Jap Herron” is available for 99 cents, via Amazon.
Margaret Schmidt, mother of Mrs. Hutchings, was featured in this column Dec. 4, 2021.
Illustrations of Emily Grant Hutchings (a Hannibal, Mo., native) and Mark Twain (who grew up in Hannibal) are tied together in this image featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 26, 1917, publicizing Hutchings’ new work: “Jap Herron: A Novel Written from the Ouija Board.”(newspapers.com)
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.email@example.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com