Thursday, August 14, 2008

Final Innings

A look at Michigan’s Benton Harbor / St. Joseph area just after World War II

by David Minor

In April 1997 the House of David Museum opened in Riverside, Michigan.
Other than its memorabilia very little else, with the exception of several
web sites and books, remains of the House of David and the City of David.
It’s not too likely that more than a handful of members still live.

There’s one slight problem with strict group celibacy. It plays havoc with
dynasties and family lines. The House of David and City of David sects
found their memberships rapidly shrinking as members died off and had no
offspring to replace them. It can be said the group died because of its
beliefs but not for them.

Right up until the Depression the groups would dominate southwestern
Michigan's economy, tourism and agriculture. After the U. S. entry into
the war the diversion of resources, especially motor fuel, would seriously
diminish out-of-area tourism (thus local economies). Sect membership had
dwindled by this time, which hurt their agricultural pursuits. They would
even end up using German war prisoners to help work their farms.

So small had their total numbers become that fundamental objections to war
made little difference in the House of David populations. In World War I
four members – out of the 35 who agreed to perform non-combat services -
had spent time in Leavenworth Prison as conscientious objectors. They had
been inducted into the Army but were sent to Leavenworth, according to
historian Robert S. Fogarty, “. . . after they refused to handle dead
animal carcasses, since [they believed] the Israelite injunction against
the ‘dead burying the dead’ still applied.” Actually the correct version
is to let the dead bury their own dead. How that was supposed to happen
was never explained by sect members.

After the war House of David activities began diminishing. The miniature
railroad engines they had begun turning out from scratch for their
amusement park rides back in the early 1900s ground to a halt as the
manufacturing plants turned out their final three locomotives. These were
far superior to the many they replaced and continued in service right up
until the park closed in 1971. In May of 2000 the Northwest Ohio Railroad
Preservation group purchased one of the three remaining quarter-scale
engines - #901. You can visit their Findlay, Ohio, museum today, close
your eyes, and let old 901 haul you off to yesterday.

Mary’s City of David baseball teams continued touring right up until 1956,
but Mary would not be rooting for the home team, having passed away in
October of 1953, at the age of 91. But even then Purnells couldn’t stay
out of court. Grandson Samuel Coy Purnell sued the colony, claiming his
right to the assets and properties of Mary’s City of David. He lost his
lawsuit when City of David attorneys proved the assets were held only in
trust by Mary, not as personal property. Samuel did alright, though, The
City of David paid him $750,000 to drop any further claims.

We have to wonder what would have happened if he’d won his suit. Would we
be reading about Grandson’s House of David?

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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