The House of David has always been mysterious. From the stories of its leader and his highly publicized lawsuit, to the organizations immense wealth, countless businesses and inventions, to their world famous baseball team, there is a lot of information about the organization, but not much. of answers. That’s why Chris Siriano, founder and director of the House of David Museum, has produced a new documentary highlighting its origins and history called “House of David, Life Everlasting”.
“I was a history student at Western and after returning home from eight years of school, I decided to learn about our local history, but I couldn’t find much,” says Siriano . “I went to libraries and everywhere, the more I read, the more I discovered the House of David. I started to understand that it was more than just an amusement park and really started to dive deep. The more I learned, the more I realized that someone had to preserve their history.
The House of David amusement park in Benton Harbor brought about 75 million visitors to the area between 1908 and 1973. They had hotels on Main Street in Benton Harbor, some in the amusement park, and kept hotels like The Vincent and The Whitcomb reserved. At one point, there would be as many as five cruise ships docked in St. Joe, with visitors disembarking to stop at the famous amusement park, which was the past equivalent of Disneyland with its rides, a zoo, orchestras and group performances. , vaudeville shows, and a miniature race track with gas-powered cars, which was a novelty at the time.
“In studying them, I discovered that they had several businesses at the time, such as Charley Cars bus lines, 100-acre farmland, many hotels, a diamond mine in Australia, a gold mine. gold in western Oklahoma, a coal mine in Kentucky, furniture companies, and resorts and factories around the world,” Siriano says. “In fact, during the World War I, when Woodrow Wilson tried to ration the use of coal, that’s when they bought the coal mine and had trucks driving back and forth from Kentucky delivering coal . The town of Benton Harbor ended up buying their power for a while.
House of David is credited with inventing the pin-laying machine for bowling allies, the cross propellers for cruise ships to keep them from tipping over in wavy conditions, the self-flushing toilet, the process of putting grape juice in a can and forklift. They were also hired by NASA in the 1960s to figure out how to transport food to space, inventing the space food process used today and building one of the first automobiles, which currently sits in the American Auto Museum.
“When I started studying them, there were still six or seven members left and I was lucky that they kept inviting me to tell their stories,” says Chris. “I have volumes of notebooks and over 10,000 photos in the House of David museum that tell the story of who they were and all they accomplished. While they were an organization high level they were very mysterious mainly because the way they lived so strangely from the norm they grew their own food, generated their own energy, made their own clothes and didn’t come to the outside world for anything .
One of the most notable things people know about the House of David was their baseball team.
“They were the only Caucasian team that played in the black leagues. They couldn’t play in the major leagues because they didn’t shave or cut their hair. They played all over America from 1914 to 1954. They traveled with African-American teams and helped break the color barrier in the sport before Jackie Robinson entered the major leagues,” Siriano says. “In fact, the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City has an exhibit about them that gives them a nod to help break the color barrier.
Worth around $10 million at the time, House of David leader Benjamin Purnell was accused of sexual misconduct with some of the underage young women. The New York Times was there to cover this nationally followed trial in which Purnell was tried on a hospital stretcher after being diagnosed with tuberculosis shortly after the start of the trial. He was ultimately found not guilty of the charges, but was found guilty of running a religious organization under false pretences. Before being tried, he evaded capture from 1922 to 1926 by hiding in his mansion which had chambers within chambers, hidden vaults, and escape tunnels.
“I wanted to make the film to tell the story of House of David. There’s so much unknown and confusion about what actually existed within the grounds of Brittan Avenue,” says Chris. “I had the lucky to live with the (remaining) members for 25 years, they are now dead, but I talked to them for hours and wanted to tell the real story, the facts and dispel the rumours.
The documentary will dive deep into the House of David, explain the roots and beliefs of their religion, and showcase some of their accomplishments and history. The first film covers the origins and some of the key players in the formation of the organization. In the future, there will be nine more episodes following their story, their inventions and their achievements in our society.
See movie dates and times below: (dates in Holland, Lansing, Detroit, Chicago and then across the country to come)
Mendel Centers Hanson Theater July 8 at 7 p.m.…..$10
The Parish Event Center on July 9 at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.… $5 Limited to 150 seats
LOMA in Coloma on July 11 at 1 p.m.…$4
MICHIGAN THEATER South Haven July 13 at 1 p.m.…$4
WONDERLAND THEATER in Niles on July 16 at 10 a.m.…$4
Celebration Cinema Benton Harbor on July 22nd at 7pm…..regular ticket price
Grandville Cinema Celebration July 22 at 7 p.m.
Celebration Cinema Benton Harbor on July 23 at 4 p.m.…regular ticket price
Grandville Cinema Celebration July 23 at 4 p.m.
Celebration Cinema Benton Harbor on July 24 at 4 p.m.…regular ticket price
Grandville Cinema Celebration July 24 at 4 p.m.…regular ticket price
The Lawrence Palace Banquet Hall on July 27 at 1 p.m.… $5 Limited to 120 seats
Mendel Centers Hanson Theater July 30 at 4 p.m.…..$10
Notre Dame Century Center August 12 at 7 p.m.…..$10
by Julée Laurent