Obion County’s Sleeping Beauty
By Jonas Jutton, newspaper correspondent, and published in newspapers in the 1890’s.
Within twelve miles of Union City there died on October 27, 1873, at the age of 37 years, a lady, who for twenty-four years was a puzzle and wonder to the scientific and medical world. Her name was Susan Carolyn Godsey, known throughout the United States as the sleeping beauty, and she deserved that appellation, for rarely have eyes of man rested upon more beautiful features than those of Miss Godsey.
Before her death, many articles were written about her, some of which were true in part while others were base fabrications almost in toto. To acquaint myself with the facts, I drove out to the home of Mrs. Mary E. Jurney, Miss Godsey’s sister, with whom lives her brother, B. W. Godsey, Mrs. Jurney has reached the allotted span of life, while her brother has passed the meridian.
They are all that remain of the family. Mrs. Jurney is a widow, whose children all married, and she and her bachelor brother live alone upon a little farm of twenty-four acres, which they own.
Susan Caroline Godsey was born in 1836, in Gibson County, Tenn. When seven years of ages she moved to Obion County with her parents, who settled twelve miles northwest of Union City, near the Kentucky line.
Susie, as her family and acquaintances called her, was as healthy as most children up to her eighth year, when she took the chills. The usual chill remedies would stop them for a while, but they invariably returned. When ten years of age she made a visit to her sister, Mrs. Jurney, several miles away, and while there had a chill. A quack, named Wasson, who had lately moved into the neighborhood from Middle Tennessee, was called in. He gave her medicines and left others, which were administered according to his directions, but the next day Susie had a chill as usual. The day following she missed her chill, but had a convulsion resembling a fit. From that day she began having cramping spells, the peculiarity of which was that in a second her hells would strike the back of her head, and before one could snap his finger her knees and chin would come together.
Other physicians were called in, who declared that the medicines Wasson had given her were the cause of her peculiar malady. But two of the remedies were known, delphinium and sulfuric ether. Of the former he gave her a spoonful, enough to kill any three men. But Susie’s system was such that it did not kill her, but in conjunction with the other drugs threw her into a condition to which death would have been preferable. Susie’s father was going to prosecute Wasson for malpractice, bet he fled to Middle Tennessee, where he soon died.
Daily, for three years, Susie had these twisting, cramping spells, and every night, exactly at twelve o’clock, she would vomit blood after suffering terrible tortures. In three years, her peculiar afflictions left her, and she went into a sleep which, with frequent awakenings, kept her in bed twenty-four years until death relieved her.
When her sleep was prolonged past the usual time, physician were called in, but none of them could arouse her from her deathlike slumber.
Her condition soon became widely known, and physicians from abroad came to see her and study her case, which proved beyond all their skill. A physician came from Paris, France, to see her, and procuring an interpreter at Hickman, Ky., visited the sleeping beauty at her humble home, but the satisfying of his curiosity as to the truth of what he had heard was all that was accomplished by his visit.
In 1867, her brother, B. W. Godsey; her brother-in-law, James Jurney; her niece, Zenoba Jurney; and Mr. Jonah Montgomery, a friend, carried her to Nashville, where for several days under the care of the celebrated Dr. Robert Eve, she was exhibited to the students of a medical college of which Dr. Eve was president.
In 1870, her physician, Dr. C. P. Glover, and Dr. John Ray, accompanied by Susie’s mother, her brother, B. W. Godsey; and Zenoba Jurney, niece, carried her to a medical college in St. Louis. While in that city celebrated physicians from all parts of the country came to see her but her case baffled the skill of them all.
During the twenty-four years of her sleep she would awake every morning at six o’clock, then every hour until noon. In the afternoon she would wake at three o’clock and then at sunset, and night at nine and eleven o’clock. These hours were never varied, except every Wednesday, when she would wake at ten a.m. She would have cramping spells in the chest and hiccoughts, followed between ten and eleven o’clock by a vomiting of blood sometimes as much as a pint.
She generally remained away but five minutes, never over seven. Doctors present when she awoke would endeavor to keep her awake by animated conversation and by telling her of the pretty things they were going to bring her, but no diversion could prevent her falling asleep at the expiration of five minutes.
The house was visited daily by sightseers, and all were welcome to see the sleeping beauty, and no charge was made, though some left small presents of money. When feeling that she was going to sleep, she would invariably bid them good-bye, ask them to call again, then fall into her death-like slumber.
Her sleep was more the appearance of death than a peaceful slumber. There was no sign of life. A mirror held to her nose and mouth exhibited not the slightest blur of moisture upon it, the lightest filmiest down laid upon her nostrils would not be agitated.
She was a small eater, though she enjoyed three regular meals a day and was fond of sweets and knicknacks.
Though Mr. and Mrs. Godsey were poor and had to battle for a living, they were too proud to gain wealth by their daughter’s misfortune, notwithstanding they had excellent opportunities to do so. May showmen and museum managers offered them princely sums for the privilege of exhibiting their daughter, among them was P. T. Barnum, who made then several propositions, the last being $1000 a week and the expenses of the family. To all these tempting offers the parents turned a deaf ear, and when they died left their children but a few acres of land.
Though but thirteen years of age when she went to sleep, Susie grew to a full sized woman. Her head was crowned with a mass of coal black hair which grew rapidly, but strange to say, her finger nails and toe nails never grew a particle after she went to sleep, and were not trimmed in the twenty-four years.
Miss Godsey was quite bright and intelligent, and when awake enjoyed conversing upon any subject with which she was familiar.
During the twenty-four years of her sleep she was subject to disease the same as others, and had several spells sickness, one of which was scarlet fever, which she caught from a negro boy who came to the door, no other member of the family contracting it.
It was the opinion of many physician that if she could out live the effects of the medicines Wasson gave her she would regain her normal condition, and this theory is borne out by the fact that for several days prior to her daughter she could be aroused from her slumber, such being impossible before. This would indicated that the effects of the drugs were wearing out, but her poor, tired body had also worn out, and she passed away, apparently of no disease but that produced by Wasson’s remedies.
She departed this life October 27, 1873, and was laid to rest beside her and mother in Antioch cemetery, not far from her home. Watchers guarded her grave several nights for fear her body would be disinterred and offered as a sacrifice upon the altar of medical science.