Marie Ogden and the Home of Truth

I love cults.

Okay, well, I love learning about them.  I get obsessed with reading, investigating, and watching footage of the Jonestown saga in the same way most Mormon mommies watch The Bachelor or pick out scrapbooking sheets.  I can't help it and I think a lot of people feel the same way; there's just some kind of draw to watching the questionable, ludicrous and dark things people do and believe, as well as how cult leaders engage and persecute their sheep.

I won't go into cult psychology or what I find most fascinating--that would be a whole separate post, but I did want to share a jaunt that Allyn and I made to a cult location earlier this year.  When I say earlier this year, I am ashamed to admit I mean January.  I have been meaning to blog about this f o r e v e r but it's August and here we are.  Forgive me and know that there will be an even better Utah-cult related post coming up, but the upcoming one will feature an active cult!

But first....

We went to Moab for Allyn's birthday and a hobby of ours, exploring abandoned places, intersected with the location of the Home of Truth.  I've mentioned it on the blog before, but I'll give a proper recap in case anyone's interested.  You can also read more in-depth info here and here.

And yes--Moab is beautiful any time of year and we had a WONDERFUL time!

*happy sigh*
Aaaaanyway, the cult.

Marie Ogden

Remember the name, it's important!  Marie had zero to do with Utah until she moved there as an adult.  She was a rich widow who turned to the occult after her husband died.  She traveled around talking about how the world was doomed until she got--via divine intervention I suppose--the idea to make a commune that would survive the last great calamities of the world.  Marie and her few followers bought a barren, harsh piece of land in San Juan County and settled there.

Creepily, the setup was comprised of concentric circle areas called "portals", and buildings were built on these imaginary boundaries.  There was an Inner Portal, Middle Portal, and Outer Portal.  Like any reputable cult leader Marie required all potential followers to hand over their worldly possessions and anything of monetary value and accept her doctrine.  There was no water, no electricity, and no dependence on the outside world, which Marie believed (a bit ahead of her time really) would be destroyed by nuclear war.

Wouldn't you hand over your checkbook right away? 

Impressively, the cult grew from the original handful to around 100 members at its 'peak' years of 34-35.  They did normal cult stuff like farming, starving, not having cars (except Marie) not ever entering civilization (except Marie, who went shopping almost daily in nearby Monticello), not eating meat, not drinking or using tobacco, and preparing for that apocalypse.


Whoops, Dead Body 

While the cult was doing its thing, the Mormon settlers of the area mostly ignored what was happening.  I read in a lot of places that Mormons are "tolerant" of cults, but I think it's far more likely that the Mormon plane of thought is "finally, someone who looks weirder than us!"  It's like the relief of being picked second-to-last in dodgeball.  Either way, no1curr about Marie and her weird shenanigans, so Marie got bold and decided she'd take her "God speaks to me through a typewriter" stuff to the local news, because she wanted to convert more people.

Mormons ignored this for the most part as well.  She bought the entire newspaper and though I don't have any articles, I'm sure you could guess the topics--fire, brimstone, God's anger, death, salvation, come over here and eat no meat with us et cetera.  It was shrugged off and no one paid attention until one of the cult members, a miss Edith Peshak, who had only joined in hopes of curing her cancer--passed away and Marie wrote brazenly about keeping the body preserved and feeding it, preparing it for "restoration."  She couldn't stop her from dying, but by God she was going to bring her back to life!!!  Exciting. Apparently the corpse was fed milk and eggs daily--how, I'm not sure, but it was also rubbed with salt and Marie oversaw the process by which her minions desecrated the corpse.  I mean, "prepared' it.  

This was the beginning of the end for the Home of Truth.  The cops showed up due to complaints over what citizens were reading in the local paper; they saw the body (remarked that it was well preserved) decided there was nothing wrong with keeping an embalmed body around other than the general weirdness, and left the compound.  Legal or not, this was too weird even for the Mormons, and their apathy turned to disgruntled side eyes.  Shortly thereafter the cult members followed suit. After all they had to live around this insane woman.  They became disillusioned and abandoned the Home of Truth (minus a few diehards.)  In the end Marie's cult was an epic failure, the body was lost forever, and the creator and divine interpreter Marie Ogden lived out her senior years giving piano lessons to the children of San Juan County.  Bet that was awkward. 

Our Trip 

So we trespassed to get to this place, but other than a few startled/confused cows and what I presume was the rancher driving by (I am 99% sure he knew we were there and didn't mind) it was a quiet, spooky January day.  I remember thinking at the time how weird it was that I was hiking through the desert while pregnant, because I didn't feel pregnant--OH HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED--and how eerie the entire place seemed.  It was so quiet.  Nothing like a desert Ghost Town to be absolutely motionless and suspended in time.

The buildings were in a really sorry state, as was the land: there's an unfinished cobblestone chapel, remnants of a windmill and water cisterns, and a vague circular layout.  We didn't find any treasures MINUS THE ONE other than a couch, some female shoes (WERE THEY MARIE'S?!?!?! I MUST KNOW) and a few other pieces of trash.  For some reason, a few of the houses are literally filled with manure--who buys a tract of land with a cult headquarters on it and then shovels the relics full of shit? Ranchers, I guess.  Supposedly there's a cemetery out there but we didn't find it.  We did find something cooler.  Read on! 

Okay, so ALL credit for this creepy find goes to Allyn.  I'd filled him in on the history of the ranch before going, as you do.  He was shining his light up in a once-attic---this one, to be particular...and he noticed a familiar name....

The crate reads:


Isn't that CRAZY?!?!?! I tried googling the name Letitia Whitley with no result.  But we all know she was a cult member, hence the 'c/o'.  Actually SEEING that someone had sent belongings or who knows what, to someone in this strange Depression-era faction of nuclear fearmongers, made the whole thing more real and exciting for us.

I'm assuming I could get some records from Letitia if I were to go to the Family History museum, but I haven't been.  Something to look into though.  How cool is that?


The Flood of 2017

Wait, let's back up.

Before the flood, I begged demanded for vacation time, because I was so, so woefully unprepared for baby.  I had a few things here and there and when I cancelled my baby shower (SUCH a good idea, in hindsight, lol) several friends showed up with gifts anyway which was amazing and wonderful.  It wasn't just setting up for his "space" but it was also a mental preparation--I wanted to have a breather.  As someone who plans on working up until delivery time and will come to work shortly thereafter I just wanted time to myself before human motherhood.

I got the time off and booked a one night trip to Zermatt resort in Midway, spared no expense, rented Allyn and I off-road vehicles and massages and a nice suite...it was going to be incredible.  Half babymoon, half early birthday...

The last day I worked (my usual overnight shift) I was giddy with the prospect of getting everything done.  Allyn called the guard shack early in the morning to ask if the house was flooded.  News reports were popping up of a flood in Salt Lake City of all places and he was listening to the areas affected on the radio.  Our neighborhood was one of the worse spots.  I called Derik, who was at home sleeping, and he very confusedly said everything was fine.

Well, that was before he got out of bed...

The next few days are a blur. 

We left work early to assess the damage.  I didn't take any interior pictures, mostly because I was angry and frustrated and disgusted and repulsed, but also because....why? I don't need to document the devastation of my house.  The carpets were soaked, the walls were bulging, and a smell was arising.  

We turned off the air conditioner and turned on fans in an attempt to clean the mess.  It was hilarious; thirty seconds over a square yard and the reservoir for the water vacuum was full of black, muddy sludge.  Over and over.  Allyn and Derik labored all night and day while I suffered in the heat and felt like an asshole because I literally can't move furniture or push a vacuum or anything.  I kept walking through the house and finding soaked random items, things like the first baby book I bought, or my moccasin shoes, or the bottom of a pack of diapers, or the base of a piece of art I bought for Allyn before we realized I was pregnant, that has our son's namesake on the print.  Everything was sopping and warped and ruined and I was disgusted, hot, fat, and pregnant.

After the first miserable night, during, which we suffered "swamp sleep" on reeking, wet furnished areas and I was reminded again of why I left the south, Allyn and I were driving somewhere and I commented that I felt like something bad was going to happen.  I felt like the landlady was going to tell us we had to leave. 

At some point after that, (see? it's all a blur) she stopped by with a somber look on her face; we had to vacate.  The place was uninhabitable.  And by all accounts it truly was, and was worsening the longer we sat there.  After she broke the news to us I had a good cry with Flemith stuck to my face, and then I bawled on the phone while I cancelled our reservation.  We had nowhere to go.  Nowhere. I was supposed to be putting up my baby's decorations and taking time off for a booked massage in the mountains, not frantically searching for a place to live.  That night, the final night we had before "evacuation" I had a huge mental breakdown and cried for hours and slept in my car because it was cooler than inside the house, and way less Resident Evil 7 mold-monstery.  

The Red Cross offered a motel, and other unhelpful things like clothes and blankets (not dissing the Red Cross...I just had no need of blankets....)  I had no desire to sit in a motel with three cats.  But just when I thought that might be our only choice, (and while the men loaded up every single belonging we had into the detached garage, which had not flooded) I was contacted by someone who offered her basement to us.  We worked out a deal that was cheaper than a motel, with two bedrooms, an actual bathroom, and access to the kitchen.  

As fast as we'd packed up our stuff, we hauled the necessities -- clothes, food, and beds, basically--across town to her basement.  Now here's the moment where I have to talk about how amazing humans can be.  I know we paid her, but this girl could have gotten a great, lucrative deal for a monthly rental.  Instead she took us in after a disaster and worked with us and our budget.  She was kind and friendly and offered empathy (I'm so rotund and sweaty I garner pity pretty easily these days, house or no house) for our situation.  One of my friends who is religious called this helper an angel, and I can't argue with that definition.  She literally saved us from far, far worse options.  

The rest of my "vacation" was spent being angry, frustrated, worried, and getting taken advantage of by rental predators. I tried very hard to avoid rental scams, and THEY ARE EVERYWHERE--WHY!?!?  I loved hearing how bad my credit was over and over again, and I especially loved the old Mormon man who snapped that I "must've done something wrong to get booted, go try the homeless shelter".  Jesus is so proud of you.

We were on our way to dinner and I told Derik to drive carefully; I sensed that something bad would happen.  It seems explainable as pent-up dread, but I believed we were going to wreck the car.  Two mornings after, I got word that my dad wrecked his bike again (the night I had the bad feeling) and was in ICU.  I vacillated between being livid at my idiotic younger sister for not telling me about this, being terrified and depressed that I might not lose just my home, but also my parent, and just being exhausted from pregnancy and the shit life decided to take.  Everyone asked me if I was flying home, but that seemed impossible, mentally.  I couldn't leave my people here, struggling to find a house.  There was no way.  

So we pushed on.  I had to dispute application fees from a scammy rental company.  I had to fill out applications and waddle my huge egg self over to Chase Bank for a money order to be told "you need an account..." YOU'RE A BANK! A BANK.  I HAND YOU CASH YOU HAND ME MONEY ORDER.  WHAT PART OF THAT NEEDS AN ACCOUNT? GROCERY STORES DO MONEY ORDERS.  I scrambled to fill out hand-written applications before the post office closed, fought back against a rental "agent" who claimed I didn't sound "serious" because my accent "isn't from around here."  Waited for updates on Dad and got hung up on by the nurses.  During this time the things that kept me going were the people around me, my poor, terrified animals, and the kid who routinely makes me feel like I have three separate pelvises that are all coming apart like the Titanic. 

In The Addams Family there's a scene after the Addams get kicked out of their mansion; they're all laying jumbled together in a crummy motel, the only one awake is Morticia.  She's sitting up in bed with Gomez dozing in her lap, and she looks around at her uprooted family with an incredibly sad look but then does that fantastic diva-esque eyes-narrowing that Anjelica Huston has mastered, and then she marches off in the middle of the night, on foot, to confront Fester.  That's a long vague bad description of a very poignant scene but I completely felt that way every time I was blanketed in sadness or felt like giving up.  

After hearing about how I'm a hoodlum or how I'm arbitrarily denied with no explanation, I finally found an apartment, and a renter, with whom I really clicked.  Landlord/tenant relationships are important, and when my mention of bad credit came up her response was "credit scores don't define a person."  It was the first time I'd felt treated like a human in a week.  She offered to hold the apartment for a deposit, and I had to make the quick decision to accept without any of my family there (everyone else was working--I was on "vacation", remember?) I figured the lease was a year so if they hated my choice, they could hate me for a year.

That was earlier this week; Friday the 4th of August we moved in.  We are still up to our chins in unpacked boxes and I'm even more pregnant and even more maladapted to heat.  I now have a scramble of budget to fix, addresses to update, projects to plan for the apartment, and continued paperwork for things like utility bills.  Getting a place meant that we have time and ability to sit and figure those things out but by no means do I feel settled; I had to dig through boxes just to find my work shoes yesterday.

I know everyone has their quirks and worries.  Mine is always about stability.  I don't talk about it, but when I take a shower, I'm always thinking of when I used to hunker in a tin bucket with lukewarm water or when I had to slide down a slope to a spring to carry water home during the winter.  Whenever somebody does something wasteful like toss a tissue into the toilet and flush I think about the bucket we had as a "toilet" when I was small, that needed to be carry-emptied every so often, and was used by five kids and two adults, in the kids' bedroom.  I still pause and marvel at doorknobs instead of big rectangular pieces of wood nailed into the wall.  I see huge aisles of food and think about our little modest garden harvests and trading zucchini for deer meat or whatever the barter was.  Whenever it rained in Salt Lake previously, I compared it to the immense storms of the Southeast that drowned wild animals and always knocked down one or five of the trees around us.  Cozying up under blankets in a bed when I slept on the floor and outside for years, or even feeling heat opposed to stoking the fire and being terrified of operating the wood heater at ten years old, I think of those and more, all the time.  

A lot of people will scold those of us with this mentality, that we don't "allow" ourselves to be happy and enjoy the moment.  You're goddamned right I don't.  I always worry.  I always think what if.  I know what it feels like to be on the unimaginable side of poverty, to a place that's almost unreachable unless you know where to go (hint: Farner, Tennessee.)  I know how quickly times and places change and how one day you can come home from school and be swept to a city hundreds of miles away with no warning, no belongings.

What this flood taught me is that I'm right to think this way.  It absolutely validated every worry or thought I've ever had.  I would not have been prepared if I hadn't thought of the possibility--close to every day--that something might happen to my house.  I'm not saying I'm a psychic, but that old "prepare for the worst" saying is pretty much how my brain operates everything.  It has for years and I expect it probably always will.

I did not anticipate the good though.  I am still in awe of how kind these strangers were, and how well my friends carried me through all of this, even though I am not the only person in the world who is hurting right now.  I got so many kind offers, both of support and assistance, and despite my bitching and complaining the people who were stuck in the basement with me didn't utter a peep of negative thoughts, and wouldn't let me carry or move anything (trust me, I tried to anyway--I physically can't, anymore.)

All moms ever do is one-up each other on their miserable experiences so now I guess I get to join the club and say OH YEAH? WELL WE WERE HOMELESS WHEN I WAS 34 WEEKS.........

Just kidding.

One of the nicest things about the new place has been putting my baby stuff into the empty room ready for him.  I didn't think I would even look forward to it as the old house didn't have much in the way of space--I'm not big on nurseries and could care less about a theme.  But it feels like we will have somewhere comfortable, both he and I, while we adjust to the horror that is new human life, and I am so grateful for that opportunity.

Will I chill out and actually get comfortable and let my guard down? Nope, I'll be thinking every day about how anything horrible could happen.  But I am a multitasker thought-wise, and my fears are always paralleled with gratitude for what I have, because I know it can be taken away when you least expect it.