March 10, 1907
Someone who opened the Los Angeles Times on this Sunday might be forgiven for wondering what had become of the world, for Page 1 was full of news about the demise of two religious leaders.
The first was the death of John Alexander Dowie, the founder of Zion, Ill., who considered himself the reincarnation of the biblical prophet Elijah. The second was the decline of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science.
The Times published some of Eddy’s letters to her son, saying: “These Eddy letters, now carefully guarded in a safe deposit vault at Washington, are confidently expected to invalidate every transaction made by Mrs. Eddy in the last 15 years.”
They are too long to post, but here’s a sample:
“My Dear Son: The enemy to Christian Science is led by the wickedest powers of hypnotism and is trying to do me all the harm possible by acting on the minds of people to make them lie about me and my family.”
Dowie’s history is far more complex and even the highlights of his career defy an easy summary. He arrived in San Francisco in 1888 and moved to Chicago two years later. By 1899 he was mobbed by thugs while staging nightly crusades in Chicago after establishing a divine healing mission and opening a bank and newspaper.
In 1900, he bought the property for what is now Zion and began calling himself “Elijah the Restorer.”
Five years later, he was paralyzed in Zion upon returning from a trip to begin a colony in Mexico. In 1906, he appointed a general overseer, Wilbur Glenb Voliva, who took over the movement and repudiated him.
Dowie’s last words were: “The millennium has come. I will return in a thousand years.”
E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com