J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Listening Closely to Elizabeth Parsons

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast doesn’t have an exciting format—it consists of professional readings of O.D.N.B. entries. But the podcast producers obviously like picking out quirky subjects to share with listeners.

I recently caught the life story of Elizabeth Parsons (download), a teen-aged girl in London who became the focus of a supernatural mystery in 1762. Eventually Horace Walpole, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Lord Mansfield all came into her story, which is better known as the tale of the Cock Lane Ghost or Scratching Fanny.

The cartoon about the case above, available through Wikipedia, notes several famous examples of “English Credulity” in the eighteenth century, including the man who advertised that he would jump into a bottle, the woman who claimed to have given birth to rabbits, and alleged kidnapping victim Elizabeth Canning.

After her moment of fame, the O.D.N.B. reports, Elizabeth Parsons got on with her life, married, and died in 1807.

TOMORROW: And Elizabeth Canning?

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