House of David
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When Benjamin Purnell moved his religious commune from Augustine, Ohio to Benton Harbor, Michigan, he could not have predicted the colonies' future fame. Unlike other religious communes, the House of David readily welcomed curious guests. Visitors and locals alike delighted in the community's amusement park, musical groups and sports teams. However, none of these attractions could rival the popularity of the House of David traveling baseball team.
Purnell established the House of David in 1903. Over the next twenty years, the colony grew to seven hundred followers. Preaching that he was the seventh messenger prophesized in the book of Revelation, Purnell created a community where celibacy, vegetarianism, and long hair and beards were the norm.
Although not an athlete himself, Purnell encouraged commune members to take part in the popular pastime of baseball. The House of David baseball team formed around 1913. By 1920, it had started "barnstorming" around the country to play teams at local fairs. In doing so, it earned revenue for the colony and a means of recruiting converts. The team continually drew large crowds that were primarily interested in the novelty of the players' long hair and beards.
Spectators also came to see the infamous "pepper game," which was always played after the 5th inning. The audience marveled as a few players (The original number was three.) tossed the ball to each other, gradually adding speed. The ball would then appear and vanish in sleight-of-hands tricks - sometimes appearing and disappearing in the players' beards!
When Benjamin Purnell died in 1927, the House of David commune split into two factions. Purnell's widow created her own community a few miles away. This became known as the City of David. After the schism, both communities maintained their own baseball team. The House of David team disbanded in the late 1930s, but the City of David team continued to play well into the 1950s.
At its prime in the 1920s and 1930s, the House of David team became quite skilled and even challenged some teams in the Major Leagues. The team played a few exhibition games and won against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Athletics. Fans also looked forward to their annual match-up against the Chicago Cubs. Throughout its entire career, the House of David baseball team traveled over one millions miles, won an average of 75% of their season games and never ended their tradition of delighting fans across the country.
The Archives of Michigan houses images and Michigan Attorney General's files related to the House of David. To learn more, please visit the Archives or call (517) 373-1408.
Michigan History Magazine has published three articles on the House of David - in the July/August issue of 1979, the March/April issue of 1989, and the July/August issue of 1991. Click Michigan History Magazine for more information on the magazine.
The House of David Baseball Research Project is dedicated to preserving the baseball team's history as accurately as possible. Those wishing to learn more can click House of David Baseball Research Project to visit the web site.
-Nicole Garrett, Project Archivist
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This is the Archives Image of the Month page for November, 2006.
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