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July 25, 2021

Pictures of the House of David, the All-Bearded Baseball Team, From the Early 20th Century

In 1903, Benjamin and Mary Purnell founded the Israelite House of David, a religious society in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The House of David had many of the characteristics of a typical cult: a charismatic leader, apocalyptic beliefs, communal living, and strict prohibitions on sex, alcohol, and cutting one’s hair. However, the House of David is likely best remembered for its shockingly successful baseball teams and vast amusement park, Eden Springs.

The founder believed that such endeavors were good for both the body and the soul. Starting in 1914, the commune had started playing competitive baseball and within just a couple of years, the players had fallen into a strict training regimen. By the 1920s the House of David players had become a fairly famous “barnstorming” sensation, traveling around and playing exhibition matches. Many of the players caught the attention of the major leagues, but the House of David forbid the cutting of their hair, so the trademark beards that made the team recognizable also made them unfit to move up to the pros. Despite the bearded ceiling, the teams managed to gain a great deal of notoriety and some teams even took on professional players who would grow a beard or sometimes even wear fake beards in solidarity with their teammate’s religion.

The teams continued to play well into the 1950s but the House of David commune was beginning to unravel. It was devastated by the press from a lurid rape scandal which divided and depleted the membership.

However the baseball teams and their communal heritage are still remembered in the House of David Museum which explores the history of the colony from its illustrious baseball teams to their impressive zoo to their industrial triumphs. This museum in nearby Saint Joseph is unaffiliated with the House of David commune. Rather, it was begun by a local history enthusiast, Chris Siriano, who remembers the House of David as “a cult… but, you know, a good cult.”






















(Photos: Getty Images, via Atlas Obscura)




2 comments:

  1. I bet they still stood for the anthem tho.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yeah, and at least there aren't any blacks on the team, right?

      Delete



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