With a firm belief in divine healing and absolutely no faith in physicians, the Lima couple fervently prayed as their infant son slowly died.
The boy, the Lima Times-Democrat reported Sept. 13, 1900, “passed into the realms of the dark and immortal world, after suffering the agony of cholera infantum for one week without a moment’s attention from a competent physician and no remedy offered for relief from the fatal disease save the fanatical prayers of the Christian Catholic parents and their spiritual director, Elder Moot of the Zion Tabernacle and followers of Dowie.”
Dowie was John Alexander Dowie, a diminutive Scottish evangelist and faith healer who came to prominence staging “divine healings” at a makeshift tabernacle just outside the grounds of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. In the waning years of the 19th century, Dowie formed the Christian Catholic Church and, after holding services in Chicago for several years, founded the city of Zion, Illinois, north of Chicago.
Zion “was an experiment in theocracy,” the Associated Press wrote Sept. 2, 1951, on the 50th anniversary of the city’s founding, “a church government so powerful it controlled the municipal government and the town’s industries as well as its religious teaching.” Church members, called Dowieites in the press, shunned tobacco, alcohol, pork and modern medicine.
By October 1899, Elder Silas Moot, a native of Ontario, Canada, was holding services for a Christian Catholic congregation in Lima at the Zion Tabernacle on the west side of Main Street just south of the bridge. Things were going well.
“Rev. S. Moot has returned from Chicago, where he was in attendance at the fourth anniversary of the Christian Catholic church in Zion, also at the conference following,” the Times-Democrat reported on March 8, 1900. “He still will continue in charge of the work here and at Ada. The church numbers over 40,000, some 28,000 being added this year. Ordained officers numbered 20 at the beginning of 1899 and now number 140.”
News of the church in Ohio soon took a darker turn thanks in large part to Cyrus Fockler, a Christian Catholic preacher whose fiery sermons in Mansfield convinced some to join the church and many others to form a mob and go after Fockler.
“He was abusive toward other churches,” the Mansfield News explained on Sept. 25, 1900. “He defamed organizations like the Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, and even the nation’s defenders, the Grand Army of the Republic.” Worse, “without knowledge of medicine or surgery,” the newspaper added, Fockler “sought or did attempt to perform the office of midwifery, causing the death of the infant and insanity of the mother.”
By July 21, 1900, Mansfield had had enough of Fockler, and he was roughed up and run out of town. Although decrying the mob violence, the Mansfield News several days later couldn’t help but point out that Fockler, essentially, had it coming. “He was a disturber in the community,” the editor wrote on July 23, “and his continued absence from this locality will be a distinct gain of the city.”
Thanks to Fockler, any Christian Catholic preacher looking for a shot at martyrdom in the late summer of 1900 could hardly have selected a better spot to attain it than Mansfield. Among those who ventured into the hostile, wary city in his wake were Moot and a particularly persistent preacher from Bluffton named Ephraim Basinger.
Beginning in August 1900, Basinger regularly caught the eastbound train, arrived in Mansfield – and was detained by local authorities, an act of dubious legality which didn’t seem to bother anyone.
“Mansfield had the usual visit from the Dowieites Sunday,” the Mansfield News wrote Sept. 4, 1900. “The Rev. Ephraim Bassinger (sic), who had been here the previous Sunday, made the customary bluff of holding services in Mansfield, but did not do so – as usual.” Basinger was taken to the county jail where “he was entertained during his short stay in the city,” the newspaper gleefully reported.
Subsequent visits were less cordial. On Sept. 16, Basinger was holding a meeting at the home of a follower in Mansfield when police arrived to once again take him to the depot and place him on a westbound train. They were “followed by a jeering mob of several hundred,” according to a story in the Marion Star. “He was a target for apples, tobacco cud, missiles and kicks as he was escorted to the depot, and when he arrived there he was a pitiful sight.”
It got worse. “Elder Silas Moot, of Lima, and Elder Ephriam Bassinger (sic), of Bluffton, were in the hands of the Mansfield mob Sunday,” the Lima Times-Democrat reported Sept. 25, 1900. “They endeavored to sneak into the city, administer to the still faithful adherents of the Dowie faith, and then sneak out again. It was a failure in each instance.”
The pair, according to the newspaper, “were mobbed … stripped of their clothing and given a coat of smokestack varnish, an article similar to tar.” When “the man with the brush had finished, the elders, all but their faces, were as black as ebony,” the Times-Democrat reported. They finally were rescued by police – and again put on a train out of town.
Meanwhile, the death of the child in Lima was followed by more newspaper stories of Dowieites refusing medical treatment, including another one in Lima. On Sept. 18, 1900, the Times-Democrat reported an 8-year-old Lima girl, suffering from a “fever,” was near death. “The doors of the house are batted against local physicians, and the only treatment the patient has received is the prayers of the Dowieites, which the superstitious parents have learned to believe in through the persuasive measure of the Dowie elders. Telegrams have been sent to Chicago and other places where the church is strong, asking for prayers, and the parents are firm in the belief that the life of the child will be spared through that agency alone. ”
The girl eventually was removed from the home and survived. The Zion Tabernacle did not.
On Oct. 22, 1901, the Lima Daily News reported that “Silas Moot, formerly in charge of Zion Tabernacle on South Main Street, will leave shortly for Zion City, Chicago, for future residence. Five Lima families are now there.” By January of 1902, the tabernacle was the home of the Christian Missionary Alliance church.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.