Howard V. Chambers’ “Dowsing, Water Witches and Divining Rods”

Howard V. Chambers, "Dowsing, Water Witches and Divining Rod"

Howard V. Chambers, “Dowsing, Water Witches and Divining Rod”

One of my favorite things to do regardless of what town I’m in is to find a used book store (preferably the mom-and-pop book stores, but Half Price Books works fine as well) and just lose myself in the philosophy, theology, and church history sections, looking for books to go toward my dissertation and Ph. D. comps.  Though I rarely find any Kenneth Roberts books, I always do an obligatory scan through the fiction section, history section, and cookbook section (for Good Maine Food, of course!).  I must say that I unfortunately leave empty handed when it comes to Kenneth Roberts books; if there are any Roberts books in Louisville, they’re usually much later editions and worth only $1 or so.

Tonight, however, I found a pleasant surprise at Half Price Books.  Located in the “rare/out of print” section, I found a book titled Dowsing, Water Witches and Divining Rods by Howard V. Chambers.  I initially skipped over it, intent on finding that Roberts gem, but as I scanned over the titles again, my eyes stopped on the Chambers book and my curiosity was piqued.

Kenneth Roberts was known (infamously, primarily) for his interest in water dowsing toward the later part of his life.  His interest was such that he developed a relationship with a local dowser (Henry Gross), sought Gross’ help in finding water on his Rocky Pastures land, and wrote three books on dowsing.  Though Roberts was enthusiastic about what dowsing has to offer (as opposed to the more modern methods of finding water), many contemporaries derided Roberts for his interest in such a “bogus” practice.  Regardless of the noise from his critics, Roberts remained loyal to Henry Gross and convinced of the validity of dowsing to the day he died.

Chambers’ book devotes a full chapter (Chapter 9: Mr. Dowsing-Henry Gross) to Kenneth Roberts and his investment in Henry Gross’ dowsing ability.  Chambers’ entire book is a sort of history on the art of water dowsing, and in Chapter 9, he sets forth dowsing in the modern era, highlighted by Roberts, Gross, and the events surrounding the two men and their efforts to bring water dowsing to the public conscious.  The chapter is a quick read, but provides a fascinating look into a little-known (perhaps ignored) aspect of Kenneth Roberts’ life.

Unfortunately, Chambers does not provide a bibliography or a works cited page referencing his sources.  I am sure he read Roberts’ books on water dowsing, but I am very curious as to what articles he referenced(newspaper and journal alike) and if there were other sources he utilized.  Thankfully, we have the glories of Google News Archives and academic databases like JSTOR to try to locate possible sources Chambers may have utilized. ( For anyone interested, Chambers does mention a J.B. Rhine from Duke University in Chapter. 9 I, for one, am interested and hope to follow up on this.)

Kenneth Roberts was a fiercely loyal man – loyal to his work and his friends – and this was no less the case when it came to water dowsing and Henry Gross.  A study in Roberts’ involvement with water dowsing would be a study in and of itself – a study, I am sure, that would help to shed more light on this near-forgotten great American author.

Chambers, Henry V. Dowsing, Water Witches and Divining Rods: For the Millions (Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, Inc., 1969), 156 pp.


Rocky Pastures: Kenneth Roberts’ Secluded Hideaway – Sort Of

Rocky Pastures' entrance gates. Courtesy Paula Robinson-Rossouw

Rocky Pastures is nesteled in the woods of Southern Maine, offering privacy and seclusion from the masses for Kenneth Roberts – or so he thought.  According to the editor of The Kenneth Roberts Reader, Nelson Doubleday, the driveway leading to Roberts’ home is half a mile long.  This driveway, however, was not enough to deter vacationers and curious fans, so Roberts installed two directionboards.  According to Doubleday, one sign read “PRIVATE: DEAD END ROAD, NARROW AND DANGEROUS: PLEASE DON’T TRESPASS,” and the other read “NOT A PUBLIC ROAD” (Kenneth Roberts Reader, viii n. 2). 

Unfortunately for Roberts, the long driveway and the ominous directionboards did not work.  Doubleday tells us that “Ken says cynically that summer vacationists persistently ignore both signs” (Kenneth Roberts Reader, viii n. 2).   While it may seem ironic that Rocky Pastures will soon be visited by many people, Paula Robinson-Rossouw says that:

Given his very dry sense of humor, I’m sure Kenneth Roberts would have appreciated the irony of his sanctuary being opened to the public for the first time! What he disliked most about idle sightseers was the fact that they disturbed his intensive writing schedule, but he did open the grounds of Rocky Pastures once to demonstrate Henry Gross’s water dowsing skills. I’m sure Kenneth Roberts would be happy to know that his beautiful estate is helping to raise funds for the Kennebunkport Historical Society. After all, history was his great passion – along with dowsing.

Personally, I was not aware that Roberts had opened up his home to visitors at one time, but knowing how much he believed in Henry Gross’ ability, this makes sense.  What also makes sense is Roberts’ intense writing and research schedule, which explains his desire for seclusion from idle sightseers.  I wonder, though,  if the directionboards are still standing alongside the driveway to Rocky Pastures…

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