Monday, April 20, 2009

My Town Monday: Benton Harbor, Michigan


Benton Harbor is on the western side of Michigan, near such vacation communities as Saugatuck and Holland. It is actually closer to Chicago than Detroit. It's population is about 10,000.

The House of David was a religious community founded in 1903 by Benjamin and Mary Purnell. Based in and around Benton Harbor, MI, the commune required its members to refrain from sex, haircuts, shaving, and the eating of meat. Starting around 1907 the community ran "The Springs of Eden Park" which became a popular vacation spot in the 1930s.




The House of David organized a famous baseball team, which toured from the 1920s to the 1950s. The House of David also organized musical bands, which toured the country almost non-stop primarily on the three top vaudeville circuits: the Pantages, the Keith and the Orpheum. The House of David also operated a world-famous amusement park and zoo.

The commune reached its peak in 1907-1927. In the 1920s, newspapers began running articles attacking Benjamin Purnell, who was accused of violating the commune's oath of celibacy. Purnell was tried for "public immorality," and 13 young women, placed under oath, confessed to having had sex with him. The trial led to Purnell's expulsion from the commune in 1927, and the former leader died in 1929. His body was mummified and kept in a glass coffin in the commune.

The group suffered further splintering after his death and ultimately split into two groups. One group, run by Purnell's wife Mary, remained successful until her death at 91 in 1953. The group has since declined, but still has a few dozen members.

Here is a link that someone provided me with. I was unable to open it on this antique computer.


For more MY TOWN MONDAY posts, see TRAVIS IRWIN

12 comments:

David Cranmer said...

I always find it intriguing that many people even today feel the need to create such communities and band together.

shirko said...

You can see a video about the House of David at: http://www.michiganhumanities.org/programs/media/file_details.php?id=273

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks. I will add it in. Patti

ARCHAVIST said...

I love these MTM post - they're all so interesting./

Charles Gramlich said...

Power and influence certainly seem to be aphrodisiacs.

pattinase (abbott) said...

For men, I think. I'm not sure what they do for women.

Reb said...

No sex, haircuts or shaving? I'm surprised he had any followers - and yet he had a wife? Very interesting, must follow link.

Travis Erwin said...

No meat? They even give you meat in prison.

Jerry House said...

Benton Harbor was the name of Chickenman, a very brief syndicated radio show I loved in the late Sixties. When I mention this to people, they just stare at me oddly.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't think I ever listened to any shows on radio. I didn't even know they still had shows on then. Or was it music?

debra said...

whatever happened to the mummy?

theuber said...

The mummy is still there in the Diamond House, (one of the three remaining mansions on the property).

-Historian/House of David Expert, Benton Harbor, MI