From birth she was said to have &
She was born with a &
(a fetal membrane) covering her face, a sign, old world people believed, that she had a particular gift. Her mother noticed that when she put the infant in the arms of people the baby seemed to have a healing affect. The child&
s earliest memory was of being carried through Carolina cornfields in the middle of the night to be placed in the arms of the ailing.
She grew up to become Ashland&
s most famous citizen. Forty years before Shakespeare or Gangaji thousands of people were coming from thousands of miles to see the lady with the healing touch. Imagine Iowa Street at Holly crowded with people in wheelchairs; cars lining the street full of people sick with cancer or asthma waiting their turn.
Until this week I&
d never heard of &
The Ashland Healer,&
but while visiting one of my parishioners, a long time Ashland resident who has been experiencing stubborn back problems, I heard her say, &
Where is Susie Jessel now that I need her?&
I had no idea what she was talking about but she filled me in, telling me (along with her husband) all she knew about Mrs. Jessel who has been dead nearly forty years now.
Susie Jane Gaddis Jessel was born in April of 1891 in Grandview, N.C. of Tennessean stock. Her father fought for the confederacy. Her mother was said to have given birth to her (the last of nine children) at the age of 54.
At the age of 16 she became acutely aware of the fact that her &
cut her off from everyday living. She decided to become a teacher as a way of joining the main stream, but some time later she had what she would call a vision of Jesus inviting her to embrace her calling as a healer. That was it. She was engaged for life. Profiled in a piece in &
magazine in 1943, this mother of six was soon seeing upwards of 600 people a week.
But Susie Jessel was no Oral Roberts, and this is what interests me about her; nothing was said to be required of the patient to accomplish his or her healing. Not faith in God, nor even faith in the healer. As she said herself, &
t care in the least if a patient has faith in me or not &
133; A great many have gone to specialists in the best hospitals, both here and abroad and have been pronounced incurable. Why should they put blind faith in an Oregon village healer?&
Still, she acknowledged her power (which she denied was miraculous) was given her by &
A sign in her clinic attested, &
With God All Things Are Possible.&
Every afternoon she would go to her &
and would stay until the last patient was seen which was seldom before — a.m. Her hands, it was said, possessed a kind of intelligence of their own. She asked not to be told the ailment. She let her hands find the affected area. Often times it was the veins on the back of her hands that gave her a clue as to its location. They would harden and stand up.
In the face of criticism that her healings were of a hysterical nature her youngest daughter, Mary Jane, pointed to the fact that her mother&
s touch often healed babies, even pets, as well as adults.
It would be silly to call her a charlatan. She accepted very little money &
a dollar or less per patient tucked in her apron before during or after the treatment. Larger gifts were either discouraged or returned. Many gave nothing but a word of thanks.
Much of the money she received was used to house and care for patients who didn&
t have the resources to stay in Ashland for the longer periods required for their treatment. Sometimes Susie and her husband, Charles, would put patients up in a house of their own set aside for just this purpose and at no charge. She felt a certain empathy for those who she said may have been &
bled to death&
by the medical establishment.
That establishment was certainly watching. The most famous visitor to the clinic was probably Charles Mayo of the Mayo brothers clinic in Rochester, N.Y. who kept hearing of her amazing work from patients he had been unable to help. A retired doctor in our town told me he &
many patients with her. It appears that from the day she opened her Ashland clinic in 1933 to her death in 1966, Jessel seldom, if ever, had a day to herself.
Many people commented on the warm camaraderie which grew up among those waiting to see the slight woman with the healing hands. Rich or poor, it didn&
t matter. Disease, like death and the fear of it is a great leveler. No religious fervor or revival spirit, it was all about mutual support.
I will not even begin to discuss here the efficacy of her work or the many notarized attestations to healing. Any way you cut it, whether you are &
in such phenomenon, or intensely skeptical, who can doubt that here, in our little village, something remarkable came to an end forty years ago? For thirty-three years hope existed here on an extra-long leash.
is pastor of Ashland&
s First Presbyterian Church.