The House of David
How a Fortune was Built on
The House of David and the City of David (aka The Israelite House of David) are religious communities located in Benton Harbor, Michigan that were originally one sect. The sect was founded at Fostoria, Ohio in 1902, by Mary & Benjamin Purnell. Benjamin said he found his calling after he dreamt that a white dove had perched on his shoulder and told him that he was the sixth son of the House of David. The dove told him that it was his mission to unite the Lost Tribes of Israel in advance of Judgment Day.
Ben began to preach the gospel according to the dove’s dictates and attracted a few followers. He decided that all new members of his cult should turn over all of their worldly goods to him and forsake ownership of any personal property. They had to adopt a communal lifestyle and refrain from sex, haircuts, shaving and the eating of meat.
Next it was revealed to Ben and Mary that they should move their tiny group to Benton Harbor and combine with another group of 200 folks there who called themselves the Flying Rollers. Shortly after arriving in Benton Harbor in 1903, they began to send out missionaries all across the US, Canada, England and Australia looking for converts. By 1910, the sect had over 700 members, and in 1916 the membership peaked at 1000.
Converting Gawkers Into Paying Customers
It wasn’t long after the sect settled in Benton Harbor that it
began to attract the attention of locals who were curious about Ben’s
followers; with their long hair, beards and communal lifestyle. As the
sect’s membership increased, so did the number of people who came to
gawk at them. Soon, there were tourists coming from as far away as
Chicago and Kalamazoo just to have a look at them.
Eden Springs Park
By 1907, the concerts and the ice cream parlor were drawing crowds so
large that they were overwhelming the small colony. So Purnell bought
some additional land and went about building a park, which he named
"The Springs of Eden." The first buildings erected were a new
ice cream parlor and a bandstand. Then they moved some animals that had
been on display near the old ice cream parlor to the park. They
continued to acquire animals for display until they had a full-sized
The park was almost entirely self-sufficient. HOD members built all of
the buildings They grew, prepared and served all of the food sold to
park visitors. They made all of the souvenirs sold in the shops and
manufactured the miniature cars and trains. For a while they even
generated their own electricity.
During the 1930s, Eden Springs Park became known nationally and was hosting over 200,000 visitors every year.
The “Shaveless Sheiks of Syncopation.”
The bands were so popular that Purnell added other forms of entertainment. They formed comedy musical acts, string bands, marching bands, jazz bands and dance orchestras. When the crowds grew too large to entertain from a single stage, members performed at multiple stages throughout the park. By 1910, the bands were sent on road trips to appear in theaters across the country.
Later, the House of David musicians entertained audiences all over the
world. The demand for entertainment at Eden Springs was so great that
vaudeville acts were booked into the park as well.
Baseball in Beards
The House of David was best known for its barnstorming baseball teams
which were active from the 1920s through the 1950s. HOD members started
playing baseball around 1913, and by 1920, the team was
"barnstorming" around the country. They were so successful
that other HOD teams were created. The barnstorming HOD teams were a
sensation in small towns all across the country.
A peppergame consists of at least three fielders standing 20-30 feet
from a batter . The batter hits the ball to one of the fielders, who
catches the ball quickly and lobs it from his glove back to the batter,
who hits the ball out to another player. The ball begins to move very
quickly and the players show off by adding a flourish to their moves.
Fans loved the comic antics of the men in beards and long hair.
Over the years, many big-leaguers played for the HOD teams, including Grover Cleveland Alexander and Negro league legend Satchel Paige, but they were required to disguise themselves as HOD members, by growing a beard or wearing a fake one. There were no black members of HOD, but Satchel Paige wore a false red beard that didn’t fool anyone. There is an enduring myth that Babe Ruth played for HOD, but there is no proof of that. HOD once made him an offer, but he never took them up on it.
Grover Cleveland Alexander once said, “If you want to see the world, join the Navy. If you want to see the United States, join the House of David Baseball team." It was not unusual for the HOD teams to log more than 30,000 miles a year while crisscrossing the US.
During the 1930s, the HOD teams set several firsts in baseball history; including the first signing of female to a professional baseball contract, pitcher Jackie Mitchell in 1933. Babe Didrickson, the famed Olympian and championship golfer also pitched for a HOD team. On April 17, 1930, the House of David played the very first night baseball game, utilizing a portable lighting system at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas. By 1936, they were regularly playing Negro league teams like the Kansas City Monarchs.
The rise and fall of King Benjamin
As HOD membership and business interests grew, and their followers
were toiling away in poverty and obscurity, Ben and Mary were living in
luxury and amassing a 10 million dollar fortune. Ben crowned himself
King Benjamin and began to misuse his power and influence to satisfy his
baser instincts, like taking advantage of the women and girls in his
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