Most Interesting Group You Have NEVER Heard of Resides Here in West Michigan
They wore the English D, but are not the baseball team we love that owns that 'D'.
While watching Antique Roadshow, a gentleman brought in a autographed photo of a baseball team out of Benton Harbor, Michigan. I had never heard of these ballplayers, or their club. With a little research I found a very interesting story...
Back in 1903 a religious commune was founded in the west side of our state, and yes, it still exists today. The leader of this group was charismatic man who was called "King Ben" (his real name is Benjamin Purnell) and his wife, a woman who was referred to as "Queen Mary" (Mary Purnell). At the start of the cult, there was only 1 compound that the group resided at, now there are two. According to Chicagotribune.com...
"The original Israelite House of David and its offshoot, Mary's City of David — sit just across Britain Avenue from each other in Benton Harbor, a small city on Michigan's western shore."
Ron Taylor,who joined 'Mary's City of David' back in 1977, claims there are only 2 people left at Mary's and possibly 3 or 4 at the 'Israelite House of David'. Small memberships to say the least, but before the group split they had over 600 active members. The premise of the group was explained as...
"The colony is devoted to educational and scientific advancement. "
That sounds great, but here are some of the groups rules...
- No meat
- No tobacco
- No alcohol
- No sex
- A husband and wife could only join the group if the claimed to be brother and sister
- Members never went near a corpse
- Members must wear their hair and beards long because..
"they believe they can absorb electricity from the air with their long hair. And the electricity is just as important as food."
With these interesting rules a judge in 1927 stated that...
"In the minds of his people, Benjamin has established a kingdom separated from the world in which he has held temporal and spiritual dominance, ordering the physical lives of the members and directing the aspirations of their souls and the operations of their minds."
King Ben, Queen Mary and the compound (Kingdom) had many things to attract people to their teachings...
- Eden Springs amusement park
- A zoo
- A beer garden
- Open air dancing
- Vaudeville bands
- A synagogue
- A barnstorming team of baseball players.
It was that baseball team with a group of men with long hair and beards, that brought national attention to the group. In fact, it was reported...
"The House of David baseball team spread the cult's beliefs and was a money-maker. Under its player-manager Jesse Tally — known as the "bearded Babe Ruth" — the team took on semi-pro teams. It played spring-training exhibition games against major league teams. A 1933 Tribune headline noted: "Yankees Defeat House Of David, 5-3; Break Camp."
The team was known for their goofy antics and have been compared to the Harlem Globetrotters. Some of the players even wore fake beards so they could play on the team. Despite the national attention, rumors where running wild with speculations of sexual abuse. In 1923, formal charges were made against the colony claiming the group was based on "a foundation of deceit, immorality and fraud." That would not be the first or the last time the group was taken to court. In 1927 many woman claimed in a court of law that they were "forced into loveless marriages to shield the House of David from state investigators." One female member said "she was pulled from under her bed, forced to dry her tears and go and be married" It was during this trial that"King Ben" was accused of having sex with teenage girls as a purification rite. It was soon after that allegation that "King Ben" made an appearance in the court room. It was reported that...
Belatedly, Purnell came to court on a stretcher. Emaciated and weak, he denied he was guilty of anything. In November 1927, the judge ordered Purnell to leave the cult. He died a month later, having never been prosecuted on any sexual misconduct charges. In giving his ruling, however, the judge excoriated Purnell for "his betrayal of the spiritual faith of his victims and ... the use of the sacred aspirations of religion to gratify his lust."
The group did survive, even as the cult split into two groups. Over the years, the membership of the group dwindled, the baseball teams folded, and tourism of the compounds became nonexistent.
'Queen Mary' passed away in 1953, but the few members left remain faithful to the cult. In fact, member Ron Taylor, believes the lack of members is consistent with 'Queen Mary's" teachings and with her timing of judgement day...
"She said it will come, when all my followers could fit in a clothes closet."
I guess according to "Queen Mary" judgement day could come at anytime.