(Submitted by friend of the blog Emery Emery)

Local News

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. – Marion Shurtleff believes in miracles.

In December, the 75-year-old San Clemente, Calif., resident found a piece of her childhood from Covington, Ky., tucked in the pages of a used Bible she purchased at a bookstore near her home.

“I opened the Bible and there was my name,” Shurtleff said in a phone interview from her home. “I recognized my handwriting. I was shaking, literally. I was crying.”

What Shurtleff found was an essay she wrote for her Covington Girl Scout troop when she was 10-years-old.

“It’s three pages, almost four. This was the requirement for the foot traveler badge.”

Shurtleff remembers going to Girl Scouts on Fridays while she attended Fourth District Elementary in Covington. She would go on to graduate from Holmes High School before moving to California for the first time in 1963.

In the essay, she found a detailed account her 10-year-old self gave of a day’s hike through the city that included a meeting of her troop at Trinity Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue.

“We left at 10 in the morning. We went to Devou Park and went around where we had camped the prior year. We walked back to the church and then I took a streetcar home about 4 in the afternoon,” Shurtleff said, summarizing her trip.

Her favorite part of the whole letter she said, was an editorial comment she left in a brief paragraph.

“’We were well provisioned,’” Shurtleff read from the letter. She goes on to describe how each member of the troop had a compass, lunch, and backpack.

“All my friends laughed, and said, yes Marion, that’s you, well provisioned.”

Shurtleff said there was no other clue as to how the Bible carrying her letter ended up in California. The only clue on the letter itself was the name, “Bonnie Gene Edwards,” who she believes was an assistant at her school.

Besides the letter, Shurtleff said she was surprised by the attention she’s received since her story originally ran in the Orange County Register. A local television station, CBS 2 picked up on it and then the Internet.

“I was surprised when the church secretary sent me the email saying it made it to Yahoo,” she said.

Since then, a genealogist and church group has attempted to contact her.

Shurtleff said she would like to know the history of the Bible she purchased. She also added she’s heard speculation that perhaps she always had the letter and possibly forgot it

“I’ve moved too many times. I’ve been down to bare bones. That Bible could have been in Timbuktu, or Alaska. I believe it’s God showing His Grace to us and His love, making us aware that there are stranger things that happen.”


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 227. Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast  for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

I love this story for several reasons. First, let’s talk about the odds of this happening. There are many factors to consider, some of which Wendy suggested, which involve knowing the history of the book itself. The way I see it, the odds of this happening are extremely small in any case, but many times smaller in some cases than others.

Sixty-five years passed between the time Ms. Shurtleff wrote the essay and when she found it in the Bible. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the essay was placed in the Bible, for safekeeping or perhaps as a bookmark, shortly after she wrote it. This would undoubtedly be in Kentucky. But we can only speculate about how the Bible ended up in a bookstore in California, and how that happened is important in determining the odds that Ms. Shurtleff would find it.

The least shocking possibility is that the Bible once belonged to Ms. Shurtleff, it moved with her from Kentucky to California, and she got rid of it at some point afterward. It is reasonable that she simply didn’t recognize it. If that is what happened, the odds that Ms. Shurtleff would choose and buy that particular Bible are much, much higher than if she had never seen that Bible before. We tend to favor the familiar, even if we aren’t aware that something is familiar.

This would still be a shocking story unless Ms. Shurtleff frequents the store where she bought the Bible. In that case I would have to speculate that the Bible was among books that she sold to the store at some point, or to a neighbor, perhaps in a garage sale, who then sold it to the store.

However, after reading the story, what seems most likely to me is that the essay was left behind during a troop meeting at the church and was placed in one of the Bibles there and forgotten. It must then have been purchased by someone who moved to California at some point. This would make the probability of it finding Ms. Shurtleff very, very low and dependent upon the rates of migration from Kentucky to California during those sixty-five years as well as how often Bibles are sold or given away.

But there are two other interesting thoughts I have about this story. One is a question: why was the essay still there after sixty-five years? This suggests that the Bible was rarely used. Then again, it was discarded, unless it was acquired after its owner passed away.

Finally, I have to wonder about Ms. Shurtleff’s explanation for what happened. She is quoted as saying, “I believe it’s God showing His Grace to us and His love, making us aware that there are stranger things that happen.” If God wanted to show Ms. Shurtleff a miracle, why did he choose such a mundane document, a merit badge assignment? Why not a love letter or some other meaningful document?