Marching to Shibboleth
a sordid story of faith healing, financial fraud, flat Eartherism, and figs
John Alexander Dowie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on May 25 1847. The Dowie family was poor in cash but rich in spirit, and young John was active in the Presbyterian faith. At the age of 7, young John Alexander had a moment of peace and clarity while singing in the Church choir and was “taken up by Christ.”
But Christ would have to wait. In 1860 the Dowies emigrated to Adelaide, Australia to join a relative who had struck it rich during the Australian gold rushes.
John Alexander returned to Scotland in 1867 to study for the ministry the University of Edinburgh. However, he had to abandon his studies and return to Adelaide when the family business experienced financial difficulties.
In April 1872 he managed to talk his way into a pastorage in the suburb of Alma, even though he had not finished his divinity degree. It’s not surprising. Though Dowie was only 5’4″ he was powerfully built, with a big full beard and wild hair already starting to thin out on top. He was perceptive, persuasive, and driven by a simple but powerful faith. He had a forceful, magnetic personality that dominated a room. When he was carried to ecstatic heights by religious visions he could carry listeners along with him.
But he also had his fair share of negative qualities. He was grandiose, narcissistic, thin-skinned and paranoid. He was quick to anger and slow to turn the other cheek. In 1906 divinity student Rolvix Harlan made the follwing rather astute observation of Dowie’s temperament:
His discussions are characterized by a lack of appreciation of the true principles involved, and an utter disregard for the feelings of any who may honestly and conscientiously hold other views. He seems utterly incapable of an impartial examination of any question, and can only regard those of another opinion as devils and dastards.Rolvix Harlan, John Alexander Dowie and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, 1906
By December 1872, Dowie had already alienated most of his congregation in Alma. It didn’t help that the primary subject of his sermons was temperance, which has never been all that popular in Australia. He bitterly resigned his post, muttering that the churches in Adelaide were “overladen with worldliness and apathy.”
Instead, he moved east to Sydney, and became a minister in the suburb of Newton. It was during his time in Newton that Dowie’s theology began to evolve. In the mid-1870s the area was being ravaged by the twin plagues of measles and scarlet fever. The young pastor was surrounded by the dead and dying. Not a week went by that he wasn’t officiating at a funeral. And he was astounded at how little modern medicine could do to alleviate his flock’s suffering. In one notable instance, he almost got into a fistfight with a doctor who thought that a little girl was beyond saving, and refused to even try.
Dowie turned to his Bible, and came to a revelation: “Disease, like Sin, is God’s enemy, and the devil’s work and can never be God’s will.” He became a convert to faith healing. Any Christian who trusted in God for health would receive it. Anyone who asked for it and did not receive it was not a true believer
At time, faith healing was a fad. It had long been a part of the Christian faith, but most Protestant churches had turned away from it for various theological reasons, and also because it was uncomfortably Catholic. But in the latter half of the 19th century faith healing began to get mainstream acceptance, provided it was done quietly and not with the sort of showy “demons out” display we associate with modern Evangelical or Pentecostal practice.
And that’s what Dowie did when he first started faith healing in 1876. His “treatment” consisted of a course of bed rest, prayer, and Bible study. It proved surprisingly effective, though it helps that he was mostly treating cases of addiction. In essence, his healing homes were a religious version of rehab.
Dowie made another big change in 1876, marrying his, um, first cousin Jane Dowie. Their first child, Alexander John Gladstone, was born the next year, and was followed by daughters Jeanie in 1879 and Esther in 1881.
In 1877, he resigned from his position to start his own independent church. Or maybe he was driven out because he kept insulting every other pastor in town.
Alas, despite his mighty faith, John Alexander Dowie was absolutely terrible with money. He could not afford to rent halls to hold services, and had to preach on street corners. At one point he even had to move back in with his uncle. He even lost most of his money to a con man who ran a simple advance fee scam — you know, like the ones you get in your inbox every day.
In 1882 he had to swallow his pride and take a position as a minister at an established church in Melbourne.
He received a warmer reception in Melbourne.
At first he was arrested multiple times for his outspoken temperance protests, but the arrests just got his name in front of the general public. His strident attacks on Spiritualism from the pulpit and in the papers bolstered his profile even further. Then his faith healing exploits stared to draw crowds. He would eventually claim to have cured some 8,000 people during his time in Melbourne — though it’s worth noting that many of those he claimed to have cured were now residing in not easily reachable places like Tasmania, New Zealand, and India.
By 1884 he was successful enough to break away from his established congregation and form his own Free Christian Church. He also founded the International Divine Healing Association to promote faith healing throughout the world.
But his abrasive personality and defensive outbursts kept backfiring upon him. He kept getting thrown in to jail for his temperance protests, and the sentences were getting longer. Authorities temporarily shut down the Free Christian Church for failing to meet local building codes. And then there was a legal battle with a man who literally bought the land the church was built on right out from under Dowie’s feet.
Then in 1885 Dowie’s daughter Jeanie of bronchitis at age 6, in spite of his fervent prayers.
By 1888 Dowie was no longer welcome in Melbourne, either. He announced that the Lord had called upon him to “carry the leaves of healing from the Tree of Life to every nation.” He left Australia for the United States.
With the Eagle and the Sword
The Dowies arrived in San Francisco on June 9, 1888 and checked into the Palace Hotel. John Alexander announced to the press that he was there to spread the good news about faith healing in a non-denominational way. With the support of an unnamed benefactor, he was introduced to key religious figures and held meetings up and down the coast from San Diego to Vancouver.
His faith healings were always a draw, but reporters couldn’t help but notice that Dowie was claiming to have healed an astounding number of people even though he’d only been in the country for a few months. And that those who had been cured always seemed to live in some distant part of the state rather than somewhere close.
Dowie’s claims to be non-denominational more or less vanished as soon as he took to the pulpit and opened his mouth. As usual, he preached against Spiritualism, but perhaps picking up on cues from his American audience he also denounced Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Methodism, Unitarianism, Buddhism, and Islam. He wasn’t even a fan of Christian Science or Mental Science, because while they seemed like-minded they actually taught that infirmity came from within instead of being inflicted from without by diabolic forces. He spat on secret societies, especially the Freemasons, who he seemed to blame for his difficulties in Australia. He claimed they taught that a man could get to heaven without faith in Christ, and that they planned to take over the world.
Dowie was raising a few hackles right from the get-go. In addition to attacking the aforementioned sects, he claimed American Protestantism was an utter failure that provided no moral compass, and that the United States was not a Christian nation. When audiences in Los Angeles heckled him, he told them every minister in the city was a congenital liar.
By the end of 1889 Dowie had burned every bridge that had been open to him in California. No less a figure than Ambrose Bierce called for him to be run out of town on a rail:
…the newspapers of Oakland are cruelly disputing his pretensions, and proving that some of the persons whom he made whole by prayer were entire from the start and the rest are still “far from gay.” Wherefrom it is manifest that the Rev. John is a stranger to righteousness and unacquainted with truth. Let him therefore be taken outside the gates of the city of Oakland and prayed at until he die.Ambrose Bierce in the San Francisco Examiner, April 20th 1890
By this point Dowie knew when to get out of Dodge. He left California and headed east, ping-ponging from Oakland to Salt Lake City to Omaha to Chicago to Pittsburgh to Baltimore to Minneapolis. Reporters covering the Dowie beat noticed that the crowds were dwindling at every stop. (And also that if you could sneak into the tent before the show you could see him rehearsing his faith healings.)
Meanwhile, Dowie continued to shoot himself in the foot by giving the press inflammatory quotes like this one, given on the occasion of William Tecumseh Sherman’s death in 1891:
If the teachings of the Bible are true General Sherman is now in Hell and he could not sneak into Heaven by means of extreme unction performed over his half-insensible body.
In 1893, Dowie took a leap of faith. He returned to Chicago and set up shop in a little wooden hut, the “Tabernacle of Zion,” at 251 East 52nd Street. Which just happened to be directly across from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition’s Midway Plaisance. And Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Those exiting the fair would be given free copies of his weekly newspaper, Leaves of Healing, and invited to see a service where he would perform a faith healing. If they were so inclined, they could also view a museum of crutches, braces and trusses that had been donated by those who had been healed by Christ.
It was a bold gambit, and it worked. Dowie’s sermons were just the right sort of fire and brimstone to play off the exuberant hedonism of the fair. Crowds packed the Tabernacle to listen to him froth at the mouth about the evils of Catholicism, doctors, journalists and politicians. They ooh-ed and ah-ed as he performed faith healings on Buffalo Bill’s niece Sady Cody and Abraham Lincoln’s cousin, Amanda Hicks.
And they donated money. Lots of money.
After the World’s Fair closed up shop, Dowie was able to relocate his growing congregation to Chicago’s Central Music Hall. Eventually, he purchased two whole city blocks on South Michigan Avenue near the Field Museum, where he set up shop in “Divine Healing Home Number One.” The complex would eventually grow to include Zion College, the Zion Printing Works and the Zion Publishing House, the Zion Home of Hope, the Zion Junior School and Home for Students, and the Zion Working Girl’s Home. He even had his own bank. Five other tabernacles were spread out throughout the greater Chicagoland area.
It wasn’t long before Dowie’s Healing Homes drew the ire of Chicago’s Board of Health. In 1894 the Board was in the midst of a long campaign to shut down quacks and charlatans throughout the region. They had mostly focused on patent medicine sellers and folk doctors, and were content to ignore faith healers, but they couldn’t ignore an operation the size of Dowie’s. A series of unfortunate deaths in Healing Home Number One at the tail end of 1894 finally gave the Board of Health an excuse to start investigating Dowie for practicing medicine without a license.
First, they went after Leaves of Healing, his weekly newsletter. They declared it was an “advertising sheet” even though all of the ads were, in fact, merely promotional material for Dowie’s Tabernacles and the International Divine Healing Association. That meant the newsletter no longer qualified as Second Class Mail, and the shift to Third Class meant Dowie’s costs increased by an order of magnitude. Dowie fought the reclassification in court, and one, but it took months.
Then in January 1895, one Frank E. King came to Healing Home Number One to have his tuberculosis healed. Suspecting that the authorities were just waiting for another death before they would act, Dowie had King thrown out of the house when his health took a turn for the worse.
It didn’t help. Instead, regulators had Dowie arrested for practicing medicine without a license because he’d taken $120 from King. Dowie claimed was the money was not for services rendered, but a donation. Which it may have been, but it was also not optional.
While Dowie stewed in jail, city inspectors toured his facilities, declared they were operating as unlicensed hospitals, and condemned one of them for good measure. Under city law, hospitals could not be operated within 100′ of a residence without explicit consent from neighbors. Dowie’s rather glib defense was that he didn’t treat anyone, and that the “patients” in the home were merely there for “pleasure.”
It was a weak and unconvincing defense, but it worked. It turned out the existing statutes were so vague and toothless that Dowie had plenty of wiggle room, and the Board of Health couldn’t actually do anything to shut him down. So they went back to the city council, who passed stronger regulations, and the Board of Health arrested Dowie again. And again. And again. And again.
This time, they overreached. Dowie may not have been popular, but the general public was not exactly keen to see a minister dragged away from the pulpit and arrested during the middle of Sunday services. The resulting publicity created a groundswell of popular support and filled the pews. Plus, it turned out the new law was far too strict, since under its definition any building with a sick person inside it could now be classified as a hospital. It was declared unconstitutional and Dowie was once again a free man.
A free man who’d doubled his congregation to 50,000 souls.
Emboldened by his success, Dowie withdrew from his own International Divine Healing Association and founded a new order, the Christan Catholic Church. He started styling himself as “Doctor” Dowie (though he had only received an honorary doctor of divinity), and told everyone he was the promised messenger from Malachi 3:1:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.
He never gave up on trying to convert Chicago. In public, he stepped up his attacks on the establishment, declaring all other churches and ministers to be enemies of God, and decrying Chicago mayor George Bell Swift as a “dirty smoking low ward bummer.” He attacked doctors as charlatans and frauds, trying to usurp God’s power to heal, power that properly belonged in the hands of the clergy.
In September 1889 he launched a three month “Holy War” against the hosts of hell that had turned Chicago into a den of sin and vice. Coincidentally those devils were mostly the medical establishment that called him a fraud, the politicians that persecuted him, the churches and social organizations that had the temerity to disagree with him, and the papers that printed baseless allegations against him.
If Dowie wanted a war, Chicago was all too happy to give it to him.
On October 18th Dowie took to the pulpit and launched into a sermon called “Doctors, Drugs and Devils,” a vitriolic denunciation of the very concept of scientific medicine. What he didn’t know was that the audience was filled with medical students. As Dowie droned on they jeered him and flooded the Tabernacle with, well, fart spray, basically, and then started throwing stones and bottles. The faithful started to panic and the service turned into a riot. The police had to be called out in force to restore order. Twelve people were arrested, and eighty were injured.
Two days later, a mob of 1,500 protestors surrounded a tabernacle and called for Dowie’s head, forcing him to cancel services and sneak out the back door. Someone threw a brick at Dowie’s head. Then mobs began to converge on his downtown headquarters on an almost daily basis. The police would come to disperse the mobs when called, but wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them from forming. Dowie couldn’t even go outside without a hundred bodyguards sweeping the street in front of him. This went on for weeks. Eventually, Dowie backed down and called off his Holy War.
The establishment wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easy. They went after associates, and started arresting him for practicing medicine without a license again. And again. And again.
Dowie crumbled under the strain. In January 1900 he was laid low by a mysterious illness — unidentified at the time, but pretty clearly a stress-induced stroke. As he recovered in his bed, he delivered his sermons to the faithful in the Tabernacle below via telephone. He claimed sinster forces were trying to take him out of the picture, probably the Freemasons and the Methodist Episcopal Church, which he called “the most murderous institutions on Earth.”
As part of his recovery, Dowie spent the second half of the year making a whirlwind lecture tour of Europe. It did not go well. He was heckled by medical students wherever he went, even in his hometown of Edinburgh. His homecoming in January 1901 was almost a relief. He celebrated by renting out the Coliseum to hold a service for 8,000 of the faithful.
But the John Alexander Dowie who took the stage at the Coliseum was subtly different from the John Aleander Dowie that had left six months previous. Instead of the plain suits he’d used to prefer, he was now clad in resplendent golden robes resembling those an Episcopalian minister or Catholic priest. And in his sermon he boastfully compared himself to the Apostle Paul and the prophet Elijah. He claimed the Freemasons were trying to take over the world, and only he could defeat them. He claimed he would never die until his work on Earth was complete.
During his trip, Dowie had spent some $50,000 on clothes, furniture and other finery. He defended his purchases by stating, “The Pope of Rome has a palace and magnificent furniture because he is the head of a great church. I am the head of a church, too, so why should I not have the same kind of things?” Suspecting some sort of financial chicanery, Cook County regulators tried to launch an investigation of the Dowie’s bank but were stymied by his staunch refusal to cooperate.
The press dialed up their attacks on Dowie, calling him a swindler and a hypocrite. The Board of Health continued to have him arrested, charged, and fines. Even Dowie’s family turned against him: his father and brother-in-law left the faith, claiming his recent pronouncements had gone too far.
Dowie didn’t care. He didn’t need them any more.
Praising Zion ‘Til Her Death
He was no idiot. He’d realized back in 1895 that as long as he lived in Chicago, he would be at the mercy of its medical establishment and political machine. So he drew up a plan to create a shining city on the hill where God — which is to say, John Alexander Dowie — would reign supreme.
In February 1899, Dowie organized the Zion Land and Investment Association to raise money to build Zion City, a theocratic commune and utopia for his followers. He sold shares to the faithful for $100 each, which paid guaranteed dividends of 6% per annum. With the $1,250,000 he raised, he snapped up some 6,500 acres of farmland about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. He even apparently purchased some of the land incognito disguised as a tramp, like Walt Disney buying up property for Disney World.
Dowie’s plans for the city were grand (and also clearly swiped from the plan of Salt Like City, which he’d visited shortly after fleeing California). Everything was laid out in a symmetrical grid, with landmarks given Old Testament names like “Gilead” and “Beulah.” At the very center of town was the Shiloh Tabernacle, a mighty edifice large enough to house thousands of the faithful.
In 1901, the first building in town was finished: the Zion Hotel, a large dormitory that housed the construction workers making the city’s dream a reality. Over the next few years those laborers worked feverishly to build homes, factories, and other critical infrastructure while while Dowie exhorted the faithful to come to the new utopia. Ultimately, some ten thousand souls came from all over the world to join him on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1902 Zion City, Illinois was official incorporated. Town motto: “Where God rules, man prospers.”
From the beginning, Zion City was a strange place.
For starters, it was an actual theocracy. All the true power was invested in Dowie, as General Overseer of the city and Church. Oh, sure, there were elected officials, all of them members of Dowie’s “Theocratic Party,” but they were there mostly there for appearance’s sake. Their only real job was to rubber-stamp and enforce Dowie’s edicts.
And what edicts they were! Zion City was advertised to potential residents as a haven away from the “diabolical evils” of the modern world. To that end, the following things were banned:
- alcohol and tobacco;
- immodest dress;
- pork, shellfish, rabbit, and any other non-Kosher food, really;
- doctors, drugstores, and hospitals;
- medicines and vaccinations;
- theatres, gambling dens, dance halls, and houses of ill repute;
- opera houses and circuses;
- and masonic lodges and fraternal organizations of every stripe.
Literal morality police patrolled the streets in gleaming white robes, issuing fines and escorting the offenders to city limits. They blew a giant horn to wake everyone up in the morning and enforced the city’s strict (and very early) curfew. And made sure residents greeted each other not with a secular “hello” but with a properly religious, “Peace to thee.”
To most of us this probably sounds odious, but these rules were actually a selling point for most potential residents. (I’m guessing they were the sort of sour-faced holier-than-thou types who make John Lithgow in Footloose seem like Caligula by comparison.) To those who did complain, Dowie reminded them that God had:
…establish[ed] his own government in Zion, a rule of Love, but a Rule of Ominpotent Power… If you cannot stand the rule of God, then you had better go to Waukegan, where I guess the Devil rules.
(Waukegan, get some aloe vera because you just got burned!)
Only members of the Christian Catholic Church were allowed to buy property in the city. Well, not buy, technically. Instead, Zion City offered residents 999-year leases, which Dowie, as General Overseer, could revoke at any time for any reason. And did.
Every resident in town was guaranteed employment by Zion Industries, Inc., which was also entirely owned by Dowie and the Church. Zion Industries operated every business in town, including a brickyard; a lumber yard; the water, power, and phone companies; a print shop; a lacemaking factory; a bakery and confectionary; the Zion City Bank; and every commercial establishment in town. Everyone was paid equally, but was also expected to tithe a good share of what they earned back to the Church. It was almost communism… almost.
(Dowie, despite the fair treatment he guaranteed workers, was anti-union. This may seem odd, but remember: he considered any organization not divinely inspired by or controlled by God — i.e., John Alexander Dowie — to be illegitimate.)
For a few years everything in Zion City was swell. Oh, sure, there were a few speed bumps, but for the most part everything ran smoothly.
In May 1902, his 19-year-old daughter Esther burned to death when she spilled a lit oil lamp all over her clothes — a death I would not wish on anyone. Once again, all of Dowie’s prayers could not save a loved one.
In July 1902, he caused an uproar when he gave a sermon on the Fourth of July ridiculing the Declaration of Independence.
In September 1902 he angered Ahmadiyya prophet Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad when he preached that all Muslims would be destroyed by the power of God. Ahmad responded by challenging Dowie to a prayer duel: they would both pray to their God for the other’s death, whoever died first would be the loser. (No word as to whether Dowie took him up on that.)
In August 1903, Dowie finally took the plunge and became an American citizen, which is odd because he didn’t seem to like America very much. But he seemed to like Queen Victoria and the United Kingdom even less, and also it helped his tax situation. That didn’t stop him from proposing a new flag for the country… which was basically the Confederate “Stars and Bars” battle flag. (*sigh*)
Then, in October 1903, Dowie decided he needed to make the first steps towards converting all of mankind. On October 15th, he descended on New York City with some 3,000 fervent Zion residents, a 500-strong choir, a brass band and drum corps, 800 bodyguards, and some twenty tons of pamphlets and other literature. He rented out Madison Square Garden and threw open the doors to preach to the general public.
It did not go well.
On opening night Dowie drew a crowd of about 15,000 curious potential converts — but those numbers steadily dwindled throughout the night each time Dowie opened his mouth to blast New York, the medical profession, and every preacher not named John Alexander Dowie. Attendance fell sharply on subsequent nights, and the audience was increasingly made up of medical students, drunks, and hecklers. The eighth night nearly turned into a riot, and Dowie called the whole enterprise off and slunk back to Zion City with his tail tucked between his legs.
Not a single soul had been saved.
He tried to perk himself up by opening up 1904 with a whirlwind world tour. In February, that tour took him to Australia — the first time he’d been back in over 16 years. In Sydney he was heckled mercilessly, even though the event was ticketed to prevent “undesirables” from attending and a repeat of the NYC fiasco. Dowie’s bodyguards were arrested for threatening attendees, by the very policemen they’d brought in for their own protection. The prophet was eventually chased from the building while the crowd chanted “we want Dowie” and “bring out your prophet!”
Two days later a sermon in Melbourne turned into a riot when he called all Australians sinners and criminals. (Which is true, but it’s still rude to say it to their faces.)
Needless to say, the Australian leg of the tour was cut short. The rest of the tour was conducted much more circumspectly. Still, no converts.
When he returned from the tour, he had an announcement. He was dropping his last name and from now on was to be addressed as “John Alexander, First Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian Catholic Church was now the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church. Mainstream religious organizations were horrified, but frankly, the people in Zion City had long since abandoned them anyway.
By now Zion City was experiencing serious financial difficulties. The Church’s finances had been solid when the city was started, but they’d unintentionally shot themselves in the foot with their guaranteed employment policy. Since Zion Industries produced virtually nothing anyone outside of the city would want to buy (or couldn’t get cheaper elsewhere), it was essentially a closed economy. Well, not entirely closed — John Alexander, First Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ was sending a lot of money out of the system to fund his world tours, missionary work, and extravagant lifestyle. And he was still religiously paying 6% dividends to Zion City investors in spite of the fact that the city had never turned a profit.
Zion Industries workers were now being paid in scrip. Assuming there was even work for them. Construction had drastically slowed and the other industries were moribund. The Church’s capital funds had dwindled to almost nothing, and the city was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
In November 1904, John Alexander managed to temporarily stave of bankruptcy by ordering all Zionites to deposit all of their money in the Zion City Bank. That cured the immediate cash flow problem, but not any of the structural issues. John Alexander didn’t care. He has already off to Mexico to scout out locations for his new pet project, a commune called Zion Paradise Plantation. City managers tried to make some small improvements while John Alexander was out of town, but when he returned in March 1905 he transferred most of them away from town and reversed most of their changes.
Clearly, nothing was going to change in the long run under his rule.
Until We Eat Our Last Reward
On September 30th, 1905, the First Apostle had a sudden stroke while conducting services. He was whisked out of Shiloh Tabernacle and off to the Caribbean in the hopes that the warmer climate might speed his recovery. While he was abroad, spending $2000 a day on his own health, the city’s economy collapsed almost entirely.
The City fathers and Church overseers now had to face the uncomfortable reality that their savior might not be long for this world. Previously, John Alexander had insisted that he would live until the great work was done and explicitly banned any discussion of possible successor. Now, they had to find one fast.
Fortunately, there was an obvious choice: Wilbur Glenn Voliva.
Voliva (born March 10, 1870) had been a particularly pious youth, preaching as a teenager, attending a string of Bible colleges, and eventually getting ordained at the age of 19. He had been a pastor at several churches in Indiana, Maine and Ohio, but found most Protestant denominations too secularized and wishy-washy for his liking. In 1899, Voliva was given an issue of Leaves of Healing and became an instant convert to the Christian Catholic Church and the gospel of faith healing. (Though all his faith could not heal his four-year-old son, Paul, who died in September 1900 of spinal meningitis.)
Dowie took an instant liking to the serious-minded Voliva, who quickly became a Church elder and then an overseer. When Dowie suffered his first stroke in 1900, Voliva was brought in to help run the day-to-day business of the Church while the First Apostle recovered. When Dowie recovered, Voliva was sent to Australia to manage Church affairs there. In fact, during the 1904 tour, he was one of the bodyguards who had been arrested during the fracas in Sydney.
If you were looking for a calm, level-headed man of faith to help lead you through a crisis, you could do a lot worse than call on Wilbur Voliva. And with the First Apostle downed by illness and Zion City teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, that’s exactly what the Church did.
The paunchy, grim and humorless Voliva arrived in Zion City in February 1906. In his first sermon from the Tabernacle he made it clear what he was all about:
The people of Zion need pounding, and let me tell you, they are going to get it… I want men and women of principle in Zion. All others must depart. We must have obedience. I intend to obey the will of the First Apostle. The officers must obey me and the people themselves must obey… There is too much talking altogether, and about nine hundred and ninety nine thousand miles of it has got to stop. If anybody talks while I am preaching, I will hit him with a book… There must be no outside comment on my sermons. When you leave here don’t talk about it, for I won’t stand for that… I also hate a man with pride. Some men are too proud to work.. I would like to get out in the ditch and work, and every man who is a man should want to.
Voliva exhorted the Zionites to give all they could, dramatically removing his own watch and throwing it on the collection plate. The faithful responded as best they could, but, well, that had literally just given all they could some fourteen months previous. It was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.
So Voliva turned to other methods of revenue generation. He borrowed $1 million to cover the city’s debts. He offered people the chance to buy their way out of their 999-year land leases and purchase their properties outright. He tried to refocus the city’s work on more immediately profitable enterprises like farming. He filed for bankruptcy and started trying to untangle the horrible financial mess that was Zion Industries and get it properly incorporated under Illinois state law.
Well, that got Voliva and the other Church overseers an angry telegram from Dowie, who told them in no uncertain terms to stop meddling with the town’s finances.
It soon became clear why: the town did not, in fact, have finances. The Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, Zion City, and the Zion City Bank were, in fact, basically just one giant slush fund for the personal use of John Alexander Dowie. And he was anxious someone would find that out.
Dowie had been misappropriating funds for his own personal use for years, moving money around to cover any shortfalls, and cooking the books if anyone ever started asking questions. He’d taken some $2.5 million for his own personal use, including some $65,000 he’d pulled from the Zion City Bank on its very first day of operation. That money went towards his increasingly elaborate ceremonial robes; lavish furnishings for his mansion in Zion City; the purchase and maintenance of a summer house in White Lake, Michigan; art, books, and more. Whenever he traveled, enjoyed a private train, deluxe hotels, and the finest food.
Even setting aside his embezzlement, Dowie had been frittering away the Church’s money for years. His attempt to storm New York City in October 1903 had cost the some $300,000 and his 1904 World Tour had cost them even more, without a single convert to show for his efforts.
In April, Voliva and the other Church overseers gave the faithful an ultimatum. The time had come to choose between Dowie or Zion.
The faithful were torn. What Dowie had done was terrible, but well, were they not Christians? Was forgiveness not divine?
Jane Dowie helped them make up their minds. As they wavered, she told them her husband had given into the “black lusts of the flesh”: drinking, tobacco, and women. He had committed adultery for years, and beat Jane whenever she protested. He had seven spiritual wives already, and his Zion Paradise Planation in Mexico was just a secret plan to establish a polygamous colony outside the reach of American law. And just the previous year, he had attempted to divorce Jane so he could marry a Swiss heiress and steal all of her money.
The choice was made, and the faithful chose Zion.
Dowie returned to Zion City to try and retake control, but he had been partially paralyzed by his stroke and cut a pathetic figure. He was declared incompetent, confined to Shiloh House, and given a small allowance. He died on March 9th, 1907. In his will, he left everything he owned to Zion City.
(I guess Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad won their duel. If so, it was a hollow victory because Ahmad only outlasted Dowie by another six months.)
Meanwhile the bankruptcy case made its way through the courts, eventually making it in front of the Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the future Commissioner of Major League Baseball. A repayment schedule for creditors was agreed upon, Zion’s religious government was dismantled, and a public election was held to appoint the next General Overseer.
Wilbur Glenn Voliva won in a landslide. Zion City was his now.
With the Buckram and the Cord
He celebrated by dropping the “Apostolic” from the Church’s name now that the First Apostle was gone. He also dropped “City” from Zion’s name, but that would be a few years later.
Voliva spent several months fighting the other overseers and city managers, who were worried about one man having total control over the entire city again. He squeezed all of them out over the next several months and refused to appoint successors, claiming he couldn’t find anyone worthy in the congregation.
Anyone expecting that Zion might lighten up after Dowie’s departure was sorely disappointing. If anything, Voliva was even stricter than his predecessor. Dowie’s restrictive bans were joined by a long list of new ones:
- no dancing, drinking, loud talking, smoking, spitting or swearing;
- no coughing during sermons;
- no kissing before marriage and no heavy petting even after marriage;
- no bathing suits in public (but mandatory bathing suits in your own bathtub);
- no engagement rings, eyeglasses, or make-up;
- no open-work stockings, sheer clothes, or x-ray gowns;
- no collarless dresses, plunging necklines or peek-a-boo waists;
- no slit skirts or skirts more than 3″ above the ankle;
- no short sleeves;
- no high heels;
- no tan shoes;
- no wearing pants for women, and no not wearing hats for men;
- no bobbed hair;
- no chewing gum, oyster stew, french fries, or pie;
- no jazz, vaudeville, Broadway, or motion pictures;
- no pet ownership;
- no municipal buses;
- no driving over 5 mph;
- no doctors, ambulances, or vaccinations;
- no Freemasons, Catholics, or Methodists, and especially no Aimee Semple McPherson;
- no to ouija boards, the Apostolic Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer;
- and absolutely positively no evolution or women’s suffrage.
On Sundays any activity other than going to church was banned, including reading newspapers, digging potatoes, picking lettuce, buggy riding, whittling, roller skating, swimming, or baseball. Some wag said attending a wake was more fun than Sunday in Zion, and he wasn’t far off.
Oh, and for good measure he also banned Santa Claus.
In many ways, this was indicative of Voliva’s entire personality. Like Dowie, he was narcissistic and domineering, unable to tolerate even mild dissent. But Dowie came, fundamentally, from a place of love — yeah, I suppose it’s hard to believe, but he genuinely wanted to heal the world with faith, to help it be a better place. Voliva, on the other hand, thought the world was going to hell in a handbasket and it was his job to whip it back into place with strict discipline. If Dowie was the new Elijah, Voliva was the new Jeremiah. If Dowie had chastised them with whips, Voliva would chastise them with scorpions.
He also had absolutely none of Dowie’s charisma, which is saying something. He managed to alienate the churchgoers who hadn’t migrated to Zion even as he cemented his hold over his dwindling flock.
Voliva mercilessly cut the city budget, reorganized its finances, sold off some of the flagging industries, and exhorted the faithful to live simply and tithe every spare penny to the Church. He managed to pull Zion back from the brink of insolvency, but by then he had bigger problems.
When he allowed city residents to buy out their 999-year leases he’d started a demographic shift. A significant number of the residents were no longer members of the Christian Catholic Church, but so-called “Independents,” and they did not like living in a theocracy. They were united in their unanimous dislike of Wilbur Voliva. The only thing that stopped them from seizing power was that they were less than unanimous when it came to deciding who should replace him.
In 1909 it looked like Voliva’s Theocratic Party had lost the municipal elections, and they barricaded themselves inside City Hall. The governor called in the National Guard, but in a sudden last-second reversal, a recount showed the Theocrats winning a slim majority of only five votes. Voter fraud was alleged and Voliva was arrested, but the evidence was thin and soon he was a free man, free to make sure Zion was anything but.
In 1912 there was a huge kerfuffle involving the outside industries had come to town. The Cook Electrical Company had taken over the building that used to house the Church’s print shop, but they were not popular with the Zionites because their employees drank, smoked, and flirted on their breaks. They threatened the plant managers with violence and warned them to get out of town or else. A riot ensued.
A few weeks later, a mob of 300 Zionites attacked the old lace works, which had been taken over by Marshall Fields and Company. They found two employees smoking, beat them mercilessly, and dragged them to the city limits while singing hymns.
Things only got worse. The Zionites continued to attack the Independents, who started fighting back. For the next year and a half Zion was a town wracked by armed riots and residents took to carrying guns for their own protection. Voliva slandered the Independents as “dirty dogs”, referred to their neighborhoods as “rat row,” and even excluded their children from and municipal parks and public schools. (That last one probably wasn’t a huge loss, since the only textbooks used in Zion’s public schools was the Bible.) He snarled at them from the pulpit and declared, “Get out of this community if you have a drop of honest blood and go establish a settlement of your own.” Which increasingly they did. And when they didn’t, Voliva still managed to marginalize them by rigging elections and threatening them with outright violence.
By 1915 things in Zion had settled down to the point where Voliva could tackle what he thought was really important, the three things that were destroying modern society: textual analysis and reinterpretation of the Bible, the theory of evolution, and belief in a spherical Earth. They’re not as unrelated as you might think — Voliva, you see, was a strict Biblical literalist who believed not only that every word in the Bible was the divine word of God and an inerrant fact. But it was more than that. He was almost a Biblical supremacist, who believed that anything that wasn’t in the Bible was untrue and not even worth knowing.
Now, it’s true that the Bible doesn’t say the Earth is round. But it also doesn’t really say the Earth is flat, either. There are some metaphorical passages about the “ends of the Earth” and the “pillars of Heaven,” I guess. But to Wilbur Voliva, metaphors were like… well, nothing, dammit! God doesn’t do metaphor and neither does Wilbur Voliva! Voliva claimed that the Earth was a big old disc with the North Pole at the center and mountains of ice around the edges to stop all the water and people from dropping off into space.
He was not shy about promoting these ideas, either. Every year he took out ads in Chicago and Milwaukee papers offering $5,000 to anyone would would debate him and convince him the earth was spherical. But, he warned, “I can whip to smithereens any man in the world in a mental battle. I have never met any professor or student who knew a millionth as much on any subject as I do.” His technique was simple: he wasn’t willing to listen to your arguments or even accept any evidence that existed outside of the Bible. Of course he couldn’t be defeated. It’s not really a debate if one side is completely intractable.
To be fair, he was totally able to be flexible when it suited his needs. In 1918 he declared that the Spanish Flu epidemic was a harbinger of the end of the world and that Jesus would return soon. Needless to say, the world did not end, and he backed down. But that didn’t stop him from proclaiming the End Times were upon us again in 1923. And in 1927. And in 1930, 1935, 1942, and 1943.
In the 1920s Zion was buoyed by an unlikely development. Zion Industries still controlled the bakery, and while it was doing okay, it didn’t have a distinctive product. While flipping through the Bible they saw a reference to figs, and hit on the idea of creating a roll filled with fig paste, which became their trademark Zion Fig Bar. (At least, that’s the official story. It’s more probable that they just straight up ripped off the Fig Newton, which had been invented some thirty years previously.) The Zion Fig Bar proved to be a huge hit, to the point where Zion Industries’ candy division launched the Fig Pie, essentially a chocolate bar filled with fig paste that sounds utterly disgusting.
The two fig-based products managed to turn the Church’s finances around. Soon Voliva was boasting of all the money he’d made. I mean, when he wasn’t pleading personal bankruptcy in court after losing libel suits. But he used the money to tour the world, send pretty young “Zion Angels” out to drum up converts, and start a 50,000 watt radio station to spread his Flat Earth gospel all over the Western Hemisphere.
In 1925, he offered his services as a witness for the prosecution at the Scopes Monkey Trial. He never testified, but he did propose to William Jennings Bryant that the two of them should run for president and vice president in 1928 on an anti-evolution ticket. It never happened. Probably because the two egotists couldn’t agree which one of them would get to be on the top of the ticket.
As Your Cornflakes Rise ‘Gainst the Rust-Red Skies
Then the Great Depression hit.
It hit Zion Industries especially hard, and in 1933 the company had to file for bankruptcy. To raise money Voliva was forced to sell off more and more property, helping shift the city’s demographics back towards the Independents. Other faiths began to get a foothold in the city, and they did not like how Voliva ran it.
In 1934 the Theocratic Party suffered its first real defeat when an Independent was elected to the school board — and by a significant enough margin that Voliva couldn’t credibly rig the results. Voliva responded by threatening to put the new board member “out of commission,” closing the public schools, and refusing to re-open them until the pupils swore a loyalty oath. To Wilbur Voliva, personally. But the school board election was only the first of many electoral defeats. Over the next few years more and more Independents began winning elected positions.
In 1937, Shiloh Tabernacle and Voliva’s radio station burned to the ground in a five-alarm blaze. It had been set by a juvenile delinquent, Thomas Griffith, whose foster parents had donated every cent they had to the Church only to be left high and dry by Voliva when their luck turned. By this point the Christian Catholic Church no longer had the money to rebuild either structure.
By 1939 the Theocratic Party was completely shut out of Zion’s government. The new Independent government put a globe on the city’s car registration sticker, just to mess with Voliva. He could see the writing on the wall, and left Zion for the tropical splendor of Coral Gables, Florida.
While there Voliva was diagnosed with terminal cancer, which must have been a great surprise to him. He’d always claimed that his Biblically-mandated diet of buttermilk and Brazil nuts would allow him to live to the age of 120. He used the occasion to tearfully confess that, just like Dowie, he’d been misappropriating Church funds for his own use for years. He’d just been better at covering it up.
Voliva died on October 11, 1942.
Without his guidance, the Christian Catholic Church dwindled to almost nothing as it lost control of its industry and real estate holdings. The restrictive real estate covenants were broken one by one and by 1953, Zion was no different than any other town in Illinois.
The last remaining bastions of its industrial heyday, the bakery and candy company, closed for in the 1960s.
The last vestiges of old Zion were swept away in the 1990s, when a lawsuit from the ACLU forced the town to drop the religious imagery on its seal.
Today Zion is best known best known as the birthplace of actor Gary Coleman.
Zion! Oh righteous Zion!
There is no one to blame!
For the homespun pies
‘Neath the cracking skies
Shall release the fulsome rain!
Dowie made his first big splash at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition. Some other notables who made a big splash at the 1893 World’s Fair include pressed pennies ( Series 5’s “Pressing Matters”); Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed’s Koreshan Unity (Series 4’s “We Live Inside”); and Gilded Age glutton Diamond Jim Brady (Series 6’s “He Could Eat It All”). And we discussed the fair itself in Series 10’s “The White City.”
At the 1893 World’s Fair, John Alexander Dowie performed a faith healing on Buffalo Bill Cody’s niece, Sadie Cody. We encountered one of Buffalo Bill’s other nieces, Mabel Cody, in Series 3’s “Death from Above by Chocolate.” (If you need a refresher, in 1923 the Mabel Cody Flying Circus merged with Doug Davis’s Flying Circus to form Baby Ruth Flying Circus.)
At various points Dowie tried to convert nearly every other fringe religious group in the Great Lakes Area, including Dr. Teed’s Koreshan Unity (Series 4’s “We Live Inside”) and “Prince” Michael Keyfor Mills’ New and Latter House of Israel (Series 5’s “Exceeding Great”).
Wilbur G. Voliva and flat-Eartherism were featured heavily in Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This puts him in the company of such illustrious individuals as hollow earth enthusiast Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed (Series 4’s “We Live Inside”), electron-denier Bayard Pftundtner Peakes (Series 5’s “I’m the Naughty Boy”), and color healing quack Dr. Dinshah P. Ghadiali (Series 5’s “Normalating”).
Ambrose Bierce makes a brief appearance in this story. He also makes a brief appearance in Series 9’s “Lost Legacy” where he may have spent his final years in Mexico as part of a secret agent double act with “archaeologist” and scam artist Frederick Albert Mitchell Hedges.
In addition to challenging John Alexander Dowie to a “prayer duel,” Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was also famous for pushing a theory that Christ had survived the Crucifixion and relocated to Srinagar in Kashmir. We covered that claim, and other claims about Christs’s supposed Indian sojurns in Series 10’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Gospel.”
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- Buckley, James M. “Dowie, Analyzed and Classified.” Century, Number 64 (1902).
- Crockett, Albert Stevens. Peacocks on Parade. New York: Sears Publishing, 1931.
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- Harlan, Rolvix. John Alexander Dowie and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion. Evansville, WI: R.M. Antes, 1906.
- Health, Alden R. “Apostle in Zion.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), Volume 70, Number 2 (May 1977).
- Jenkins, Philip. Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- McGlathery, Glenn. “Towards a Flat Earth Theory.” Science and Children, Volume 17 Number 4 (January 1980).
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. New York: Praeger, 1991.
- Sifakis, Carl. American Eccentrics: 140 of the Greatest Human Interest Stories Ever Told. New York: Facts on File, 1984.
- Swain, John. “John Alexander Dowie: The Prophet and His Profits.” Century, Number 64 (1902).
- Wacker, Grant. “Marching to Zion: Religion in a Modern Utopian Community.” Church History, Volume 54, Number 4 (December 1985).
- “News of the day.” Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Jun 1880.
- “Parliamentary elections.” Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Sep 1880.
- “A curious action for libel.” Melbourne Age, 20 Jun 1882.
- “A prosecution under the building act.” Melbourne Age, 17 Mar 1885.
- “Mr. Dowie and the Free Christian Tabernacle.” Melbourne Age, 29 May 1885.
- “Healing by faith.” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 Jun 1888.
- “Healing by prayer.” San Francisco Chronicle, 30 Jun 1888.
- “A healer.” Oakland Tribune, 14 Jul 1888.
- “Not ‘invited.'” Oakland Tribune, 11 Jan 1889.
- Bierce, Ambrose. “Prattle.” San Francisco Examiner, 20 Apr 1890.
- “In beautiful language.” San Francisco Examiner, 12 Jun 1890.
- “Driven to insanity.” San Francisco Examiner, 18 Jun 1890.
- “Divine healing mission.” Chicago Tribune, 30 Sep 1890.
- “Dowie’s foolish words.” Chicago Tribune, 27 Feb 1891.
- “Dowie and the Spiritualists.” Chicago Tribune, 24 Jun 1891.
- “By the laying of hands.” Pittsburgh Daily Post, 10 Oct 1891.
- “Healed by faith.” Pittsburgh Dispatch, 5 Nov 1891.
- “Dowie winds up.” Pittsburgh Dispatch, 10 Nov 1891.
- “Latter day miracles.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 8 Apr 1894.
- “Wrought by faith.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 16 Apr 1894.
- “Dies in Dowie’s den.” Chicago Tribune, 27 Apr 1894.
- “The year closed.” Poughkeepsie (NY) Eagle-News, 15 May 1894.
- “Begging letter from the ‘Divine Healer’ John Alexander Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 27 May 1894.
- “Two men thrown out.” Chicago Tribune, 4 Jun 1894.
- “He dies at Dowie’s.” Chicago Tribune, 24 June 1894.
- “Health board investigating Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 27 Jun 1894.
- “Was it faith cure?” Chicago Tribune, 24 Dec 1894.
- “John Alexander Dowie, the ‘Faith Healer,’ is arrested.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 6 Jan 1895.
- “Visit Dowie’s homes.” Chicago Tribune, 8 Jan 1895.
- “Courts of record.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 24 Jan 1895.
- “He will call it Zion.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 7 Jun 1895.
- “Dowie in the toils.” Chicago Tribune, 14 Jun 1895.
- “Dowie roasts his persecutors.” Chicago Tribune, 24 Jun 1895.
- “Dr. Dowie heavily fined.” Chicago Chronicle, 19 Jul 1895.
- “More woe for Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 22 Jul 1895.
- “To build a new Zion.” Chicago Chronicle, 4 Jan 1896.
- “Dowie’s lace industry.” Princeton (IL) Bureau County Tribune, 15 Jun 1899.
- “Riot at Dowie lecture.” Chicago Tribune, 19 Oct 1889.
- “Run Dowie out of town.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 28 Oct 1899.
- “Dowie’s proposed temple, to be copied after Mosque of Omar.” Chicago Tribune, 5 Jan 1900.
- “Dowie preaches by machine.” Chicago Tribune, 22 Jan 1900.
- “To build a modern Zion.” Kenney (IL) Gazette, 2 Feb 1900.
- “Dowie charges a plot.” Chicago Tribune, 26 Feb 1900.
- “Is tarred by mob.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 22 Jul 1900.
- “John Alexander Dowie leaves Chicago for his journey to Europe.” Chicago Tribune, 10 Aug 1900.
- “Son dies despite prayers.” Mansfield (OH) News-Journal, 8 September 1900.
- “Bars out Dowie colony.” Chicago Tribune, 14 Nov 1900.
- “Dowie demands free water.” Chicago Tribune, 17 Nov 1900.
- “Voliva here to aid Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 12 Apr 1901.
- “The dreaded dropsy.” Zanesville (OH) Times-Recorder, 25 Apr 1901.
- “Dowie uses a new ceremonial.” Chicago Tribune, 21 Jan 1901.
- “Would investigate Zion City Bank.” Chicago Tribune, 17 Feb 1901.
- “Riches in Dowie’s house.” Chicago Tribune, 20 Mar 1901.
- “Labor jabs at John A. Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 20 May 1901.
- “Law hits Zion; Dowie is held.” Chicago Tribune, 24 May 1901.
- “Dowie’s father shuns overseer.” Chicago Tribune, 26 May 1901.
- “Dowieites see promised land.” Chicago Tribune, 31 May 1901.
- “Zion elders pelted with eggs and chased out of Evanston.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 27 Jun 1901.
- “Zion City lots bring $150,000.” Chicago Tribune, 16 Jul 1901.
- “Stale eggs for Dowie disciples.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 22 Aug 1901.
- “Cry ‘Get a rope’ as Dowie talks.” Chicago Tribune, 23 Sep 1901.
- “Dowie’s brother-in-law tells a queer story of intrigue.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 24 Nov 1901.
- “Chicago to gain Dowie’s absence.” Chicago Tribune, 30 Dec 1901.
- “Dowie pleads for cash; asks deposits of $100,000.” Chicago Tribune, 14 Jan 1902.
- “Dowie is scored; receiver named.” Chicago Tribune, 1 Feb 1901.
- “Dowie exodus to wilderness begins.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 16 Mar 1902.
- “Smallpox scares Dowie into respect for doctors.” Chicago Tribune, 30 Mar 1902.
- “Dowie as a ‘world power.'” Chicago Tribune, 7 Apr 1902.
- “Dowie to serve as Gabriel’s aid.” Chicago Tribune, 9 Jun 1902
- “Why Dowie hates Santa.” Chicago Tribune, 22 Jun 1902.
- “Mohomedan after Dowie.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 16 Nov 1902.
- “The Dowie crusade.” Rock Island Argus, 7 Mar 1903.
- “Dowie is challenged.” Mattoon (IL) Daily Journal, 24 Jun 1903.
- “Dowie finds fault with ‘Old Glory.'” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 10 Aug 1903.
- “Dowie’s legions on way to sinful east.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 15 Oct 1903.
- “Dowie in anger at New Yorkers.” Chicago Tribune, 19 Oct 1903.
- “Dowie is the whole of Zion.” Chicago Tribune, 2 Dec 1903.
- “Dowie leaves for tour of the world.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 2 Jan 1904.
- “Dowie’s wrath arouses a mob.” Chicago Tribune, 3 Apr 1904.
- “Dowie cheers up Zion.” Chicago Tribune, 14 Mar 1905.
- “Dowie says he’ll clear out false prophets from Zion.” Chicago Tribune, 24 Apr 1905.
- “Stroke lays Dowie low.” Chicago Tribune, 1 Oct 1905.
- “Dowie ill, to give up duties.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 16 Dec 1905.
- “Dowie’s abdication denied by overseer.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 20 Jan 1906.
- “Declares Dowie fails of success.” Chicago Tribune, 5 Feb 1906.
- “Dowie’s head man here.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 13 Feb 1906.
- “Zion repudiates Overseer Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 2 Apr 1906.
- “Dowie’s riches and offices now muths.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 3 Apr 1906.
- “Charge colony idea was Dowie’s ruse to get seven wives.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 6 Apr 1906.
- “Hoosiers to help save Zion City.” Indianapolis News, 04 Dec 1903.
- “Dowie in Sydney.” Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Feb 1904.
- “Dowie prosecutions.” Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Feb 1904.
- “Dowie elects his successor.” Champaign (IL) Daily News, 8 Feb 1906.
- “Would use club in Zion.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 15 Feb 1906.
- “To save Zion City $40,000 in money and gems given.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 19 Feb 1906.
- “Zionists to hold title to property.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 8 Mar 1906.
- “Zion must raise $250,000.” Chicago Tribune, 8 Mar 1906.
- “Zion repudiates Overseer Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 2 Apr 1906.
- “Sketch of New Zion Leader.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 3 Apr 1906.
- “Dowie down, out; faces a charge.” Chicago Tribune, 3 Apr 1906.
- “Harem in Mexico dream of Dowie.” Chicago Tribune, 6 Apr 1906.
- “Await in wrath Dowie’s arrival.” Chicago Tribune, 9 Apr 1906.
- “Dowie crushed; Zion passes into hands of Overseer Voliva.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 19 Sep 1906.
- “Zionist revolt; Voliva is forsaken.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 10 Dec 1906.
- “‘I am it; admit it, or I go, — Voliva.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 1 Apr 1907.
- “Voliva ousted from power in Zion; new officers in charge.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 24 Jun 1909.
- “Voliva is supreme over Zion today.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 1 Oct 1910.
- “Smoking creates riots in Zion City.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 23 Apr 1912.
- “Workmen rout 200 Zionites with clubs and stones.” Chicago Tribune, 30 Apr 1912.
- “Voliva invokes divine wrath on enemies.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 12 Aug 1912.
- “Voliva is victor in Zion election; balloting quiet.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 16 Apr 1913.
- “Voliva’s faction defeated at Zion.” Chicago Inter-Ocean, 1 May 1913.
- “Voliva can’t stop smoking in Zion City.” Belvedere Daily Republican, 21 Feb 1914.
- “Kin shuns rites for Mrs. Voliva.” Chicago Tribune, 5 Feb 1915.
- “Voliva to wed Zion teacher.” Chicago Tribune, 3 Apr 1916.
- “And the brother of Voliva went even unto jail.” Chicago Tribune, 16 Apr 1916.
- “One smoke costs $50 in Zion City; Voliva in action.” Chicago Tribune, 18 Jul 1917.
- “Expect end of world.” Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph, 14 Oct 1918.
- “Illinois report on state inquiry decries Voliva.” Chicago Tribune, 5 Jun 1919.
- “Charges Voliva rules by ‘mimic Teuton spy band.'” Chicago Tribune, 9 Apr 1920.
- “Enforcing blue laws in Zion City.” Mattoon (IL) Journal_Gazette, 18 Jan 1921.”
- “Voliva sweeps all opposition away in fight on blue law enforcement.” Belvedere (IL) Daily Republican, 20 Apr 1921.
- “Holy war.” Mt. Vernon (IL) Register-News, 10 Jun 1921.
- “Heretics burn Voliva’s signs in Zion City.” Freeport (IL) Journal-Standard, 5 Aug 1921.
- “Illinois children are taught that the world is flat.” Mt. Vernon (IL) Register-News, 19 Oct 1921.
- “Voliva denounces world in general in sermon Sunday.” Woodstock (IL) Daily Sentinel, 1 Sep 1922.
- “Billboards barred, Voliva uses plane.” Decatur (IL) Herald and Review, 17 Oct 1922.
- “Overseer of Zion City found guilty.” Mattoon (IL) Journal-Gazette, 21 Feb 1923.
- “Voliva to start radio programs.” Moline (IL) Dispatch, 22 Jun 1923.
- “Voliva to build 5,000 watt super sending station.” Palatine (IL) Enterprise, 1 Aug 1924.
- Bache, Rene. “Did the army flyers encircle the globe?” Edwardsville (IL) Intelligencer, 25 Oct 1924.
- “Voliva calls evolution one of the most dangerous theories ever propounded.” Moline (IL) Dispatch, 28 May 1925.
- “Voliva says he will die at 106.” Rock Island (IL) Argus, 23 Apr 1931.
- “Christ coming again in 1935, Voliva states.” Rock Island (IL) Argus, 15 Aug 1931.
- “Voliva’s Zion Industries put in receivership.” Chicago Tribune, 30 May 1933.
- “Voliva closes Zion schools after defeat.” Alton (IL) Evening Telegraph, 17 Apr 1934.
- “Voliva blasts foes; boasts of 2-gun days.” Chicago Tribune, 19 Apr 1934.
- Mitchell, Vincent. “Voliva dusts off dirge of doom to meet chaos in warring Zion.” Chicago Tribune, 3 Jun 1934.
- “Government places lien on property of Voliva.” Freeport (IL) Journal-Standard, 15 Jun 1934.
- “Lord will come to Zion Sept. 10, predicts Voliva.” Moline (IL) Dispatch, 16 Aug 1934.
- “Tabernacle at Zion City burns today.” Dixon (IL) Evening Telegraph, 2 Apr 1937.
- “Boy confesses he burned Voliva’s big tabernacle.” Murphysboro (IL) Daily Independent, 5 Apr 1937.
- “World may not be flat, but Voliva is — flat broke.” Freeport (IL) Journal-Standard, 28 Apr 1937.
- “Wilbur Voliva, ruler of Zion 35 years, dead.” Chicago Tribune, 12 Oct 1942.