MARY'S CITY of DAVID - The Israelite House of David as reorganized by Mary Purnell

1919 View





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A Panoramic View From 1919

It's a bright and beautiful 10th day of August, 1919...

Perhaps the most blissful days in the early Israelite history of now 96 years, Brother Harry Kirkham has set his 360 degree panoramic lens to slowly catch the Eden Springs Park activity at the famous Israelite House of David colony in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  A robust and handsome Benjamin Purnell is in the center ring as the cofounder of the Israelite community; his wife and cofounder, Mary is in the background just to the right of the tree (just above the steps, wearing a white ladies summer hat).  Benjamin would always be in the forefront, while Mary remained in the shadows until 1926-27.  The Israelite park is booming with business as is seen in this typical scene, with 7 to 8 miniature railroad locomotives carrying passengers on the mile circuit around the idyllic Eden Springs.  There is a very busy vegetarian restaurant, a bowling alley, musical entertainments performed by the Israelite musical bands and orchestras, a greenhouse, and aviary/zoo, a baseball field, and a large auditorium that featured silent movies, theatre plays and Israelite preachers in public services.

There was an air of God-given success, and every economic adventure the Israelite House of David pursued seemed to flourish.  The nation was also basking in its Allied victory in Europe, and recovering from the great influenza epidemic of 1918.  The American people had, with the victorious conclusion to World War 1, become a recognized world power that began to flex its muscles on an international level.

Setting the scene in the 1919 panorama at the Israelite community: this was the park's 11th season in operation, it had become the premiere amusement park in mid-America. the following year Jack Dempsey would train next door at Eastman Springs, and fight the heavy weight title north of the House of David grounds.  Judge H.T. Dewhirst was a serious correspondent yet living in San Bernardino, California, and was given immediate consideration for future membership with his wife, Holly, and 2 sons, Bob and Thomas.  The Israelite traveling baseball team, under the direction of colony Secretary Francis Thorpe, began to receive national attention, not only for its unique appearance and "peppergame" exhibitions, but also its ability to win baseball games against all comers.  The men's jazz band began to travel throughout the region and also gaining a reputation for its professional performances.  Just ahead is the decade of the "roaring 20s" that proved to be a critical roller coaster ride for the Israelite House of David and both of its founders, Mary and Benjamin Purnell.

There was trouble in Eden, as there "was war in heaven" (Revelation 12), and by the end of another decade (1919-1929), the membership would drop from 1000 to 435; the 435 would divide into 2 separate but neighboring communities of 217 and 218; Benjamin Purnell was dead (1927) after enduring 3 devastating defeats in Michigan courtrooms and the consequent defamation of his character; Mary Purnell, by 1929, would out live both of her 2 children, and her husband (whom she would staunchly defend), then, after 3 years of bitter internal strife, dissolve the Israelite House of David, and reorganize in the spring of 1930, in the first full year of the Great Depression.  The decade of 1919-1929, from this peaceful and idyllic Eden Park setting to the reorganization of 1930, saw a final victory in the Michigan State Supreme Court, at Lansing, that would overturn much of the lower (trial) court findings, and would throw out the "exile" provision leveled at Mary Purnell.  It was a dramatic and rocky decade that would try the faith and every aspect of the foundation and daily practices of the Israelite House of David.  So the winds blew, and the rains descended and the floods came upon the House to see if its foundation was rock or sand.  And this Eden Springs Park would flourish throughout the entirety of the troubled decade and, seemingly unmoved by the relentless attacks upon the colony's moral character and foundation, it remained a mecca for the region during the Great Depression of the 1930s, bringing a wealth of prosperity to Benton Harbor that will always be warmly remembered as its most golden days.

We'd like to thank Lou Burnett
for graciously loaning us this image for use on the web!

Can you spot the Israelite House of David Member who assisted Brother Harry Kirkham with this photo shoot?  Should be somewhat easy as he appears TWICE in the photo!  His name was Brother Percy Walker and his spots in the photo are available here.  

Berrien County Historical Association
Berrien Co

Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council
Tourist Council

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