Friday, May 18, 2012

Aimee McPherson

McPherson with her "Gospel car" (1918)
Aimee Semple McPherson (October 9, 1890 – September 27, 1944), also known as Sister Aimee, was a Canadian-American Los Angeles, California evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s. She founded the Foursquare Church. McPherson has been noted as a pioneer in the use of modern media, especially radio, which she drew upon through the growing appeal of popular entertainment in North America.
On May 18, 1926, McPherson went with her secretary to Ocean Park Beach north of Venice Beach to swim. Soon after arriving, McPherson was nowhere to be found. It was thought she had drowned.
McPherson was scheduled to hold a service that day; her mother Minnie Kennedy preached the sermon instead, saying at the end, "Sister is with Jesus," sending parishioners into a tearful frenzy. Mourners crowded Venice Beach and the commotion sparked days-long media coverage fueled in part by William Randolph Hearst's Los Angeles Examiner and a stirring poem by Upton Sinclair to commemorate the tragedy. Daily updates appeared in newspapers across the country and parishioners held day-and-night seaside vigils. One parishioner drowned while searching for the body, and a diver died of exposure.
Kenneth G. Ormiston, the engineer for KFSG, had also disappeared during this time. Some believed McPherson and Ormiston, who was married, had become romantically involved and had run off together. After about a month, McPherson's mother received a ransom note (signed by "The Avengers") which demanded a half million dollars, or else kidnappers would sell McPherson into "white slavery". Kennedy later said she tossed the letter away, believing her daughter was dead.
Shortly thereafter, on June 23, McPherson stumbled out of the desert in Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona. She claimed she had been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by a man and a woman, "Steve" and "Mexicali Rose". Her story also claimed she had escaped from her captors and walked through the desert for about 13 hours to freedom.
Some, however, were skeptical of her story since McPherson seemed in unusually good health for her alleged ordeal and her clothes showed no signs of a long walk through the desert. A grand jury convened on July 8, 1926, but adjourned 12 days later citing lack of evidence to proceed.
Five witnesses claimed to have seen McPherson at a seaside cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea, with the cottage being rented by Ormiston under an assumed name. Ormiston admitted to having rented the cottage but claimed that the woman who had been there with him—known in the press as Mrs. X—was not McPherson but another woman with whom he was engaging in an extramarital affair.
The grand jury reconvened on August 3 and took further testimony along with documents from hotels, all said to be in McPherson's handwriting. McPherson steadfastly stuck to her story, that she was approached by a young couple at the beach who had asked her to come over and pray for their sick child, and that she was then shoved into a car and drugged with chloroform. When she was not forthcoming with answers regarding her relationship with Ormiston (now estranged from his wife), the judge charged McPherson and her mother with obstruction of justice. To combat the bad newspaper publicity, McPherson spoke freely about the court trials on the air from her radio station.
The prosecution of McPherson generated support for her among surprising sources. Local flappers attended the trial in support of McPherson, whom they regarded as a modern woman similar to themselves, and whose prosecution they believed was motivated by issues of gender. Newspaperman and cynic H.L. Mencken, previously a vocal critic of McPherson's, had been sent to cover the trial and came away impressed with McPherson and disdainful of the unseemly nature of the prosecution.
Theories and innuendo were rampant: that she had run off with a lover, she had gone off to have an abortion, she was taking time to heal from plastic surgery, or she had staged a publicity stunt. The Examiner newspaper then reported that Los Angeles district attorney Asa Keyes had dropped all charges on January 10, 1927.

McPherson (about 1920)

“Rained nearly all night.  Very fine rain.  I took the blood cow to Will McEwen’s butt this morning and then finished plowing for corn today.  Rained again tonight.  I plowed most of the garden after finishing the corn ground.”
Leesah

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