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That No Man Take Thy Crown

the rise and fall of the Harmony Society (1803-1905), the richest communists in the world [Part 2]

This is part two of a two-part story. You might want to read part one, “Hold Fast What Thou Hast”, first.

What Measure Ye Mete (1847-1868)

After Rapp’s death, the Harmony Society’s Council of Elders realized that the Society would need to reorganize in order to survive. Looking back, they realized their community was at its absolute best when leadership had been split between George and Frederick Rapp. They decided from now on the Society would be managed by two trustees, and chose Romelius Baker to manage the Society’s business interests and Jacob Henrici to tend to their spiritual needs.

Romelius Baker was a lifelong member of the Society, and one of their most zealous and devoted members.

Jacob Henrici, on the other hand, was a convert. In 1825, newly-arrived in Baltimore from Germany, he heard of the Harmony Society and their holy mission and resolved to walk to Indiana to join them. When he arrived in Pittsburgh, he learned that the Society had moved back to Pennsylvania and rushed to Economy to present himself. He was soon employed as a teacher, educating the children of Society members and their hired hands. The community was swayed by his gentle spirit, piety, and devotion and soon he was soon granted membership in the Society and became one of George Rapp’s closest friends and advisors.

Henrici was also deeply in love with Gertrude Rapp, George’s granddaughter, and she with him. Their faith, though, was so strong, that during their seventy year friendship neither violated their vows of celibacy.

Baker and Henrici’s co-trusteeship got off to a rocky start. Henrici felt he should have the ability to preach as he saw fit, just as Rapp did. Baker and the Council of Elders felt differently. Not that they thought Henrici was going to go off the reservation, mind you. They just wanted to approve an outline of his sermons in advance. An indignant Henrici nearly quit the Society then and there, but he was eventually persuaded to stay on. The incident made it clear that, although there were two trustees, Baker was in charge. He quickly proved to be an able manager.

The Panic of 1837 and the resulting depression made it difficult for the Society to obtain capital and loans to upgrade their increasingly obsolete industrial machinery. Additionally, Society members were aging past their prime working years and were having difficulty working the existing machines. Completely staffing the mills with outsiders did not sit well with the Society’s stated goal of self-reliance, and by the late 1850s the textile mills of Economy were silent.

Baker’s solution to this crisis was to redirect Society’s energies from industrial production to investment. The Society invested heavily in businesses throughout western Pennsylvania, including manufacturing, mines, railroads. They were even involved in the Pennsylvania oil rush, establishing some of the earliest wells near Titusville. 

These investments proved to be lucrative and soon the Society had more money than it knew what to do with. Locals would even use the phrase “rich as an Economite” to refer to the very wealthy. The astronomical returns meant that few of the Society had any reason to work, though most of them still did household and agricultural chores simply to stay busy. Though of course their advancing ages meant that many of them just did the easy chores, while outside hands did most of the strenuous tasks.

As usual, it was baffling to outsiders. The Society had money to rival the richest Wall Street tycoons, but its individual members lived like humble peasants. Or perhaps, were play-acting as humble peasants.

Though Baker was a wise investor, he was also a zealot, harsh and unforgiving by nature. The trials and tribulations of the previous two decades had forged him into a sharp weapon to be aimed at the Society’s enemies.

A number of New Philadelphians readmitted to the Society in 1848 were forced to sign contracts allowing the Elders to discipline them with corporal punishment if they strayed in the future. For those who did not rejoin, well, Baker made their lives a living hell. Take the cases of Jacob Wagner and Joshua Nachtrieb.

Jacob Wagner had left the Society to join the New Philadelphians because he wanted to have a family. He also had a rich uncle, John Huber, who died and left generous bequests to his nieces and nephews. Huber did not like George Rapp or the Harmony Society, and had expressed a desire that the money should not be paid out to anyone who was still a member. Wagner, as the executor of Huber’s will, tried to honor his uncle’s wishes and withheld the money from the other heirs, putting it in a trust for safe keeping.

Unfortunately, Huber had died intestate and so his desires were not legally enforceable. The money technically belonged to the other heirs, or rather, to the Harmony Society, to which they assigned all personal property. Baker ambushed Wagner in a Pittsburgh courtroom, and had the ex-member arrested and thrown in jail until the bequests were paid out. 

Now, Baker was within his rights to demand the payments, but he had chosen the most aggressive and hostile way to assert those rights. Wagner, justifiably upset, started badmouthing Baker to anyone who would listen. Baker upped the ante by suing Wagner for libel, eventually winning a $900 judgment.

If Baker treated Jacob Wagner poorly, he treated Joshua Nachtrieb abominably. Nachtrieb had been a loyal Society member for years. At one point, he was selected for jury duty. During his travels, he ran into some old friends who had left the Society with the New Philadelphians and wanted to talk about what was going on back in Economy. Nachtrieb gave them a polite brush-off, but agreed to meet them again later for a friendly chat. In a small community like Economy, word gets around. George Rapp soon learned what had happened, and tried to expel Nachtrieb for talking to outsiders without prior permission.

Nachtrieb did not want to leave, but was eventually convinced to leave by the Council of Elders under false pretenses. He was led to believe that it was only a temporary leave from absence and not a total withdrawal from the Society. But the Elders also made him sign a binding legal document without giving him a chance to properly review it. It clearly stated he was resigning from the Society and would get a one-time payment of $200. 

When Nachtrieb found out he’d been deceived, he was furious. He sued the Society, claiming he had been forcibly expelled, and deserved to be readmitted. Or at least get a larger payout.

The Society had a three-pronged defense. First, they said, we didn’t expel him. We have an affidavit he signed saying that he left voluntarily, and which was not at all obtained under fraudulent pretenses. Second, so what if we did expel him? We are a religious trust, and as such, our property is indivisible and he’s only entitled to what we have given him out of the goodness of our own hearts. And finally, even if we’re not a trust, that dirty deserter is only entitled to a share of what the Society was worth when he joined, not what it’s worth now.

Pennsylvania courts were not persuaded by the Society’s arguments, which though clever were unbecomingly vindictive. They found for the plaintiff, awarding him $3,890 plus legal fees. 

Baker would not let that stand. He appealed the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, who in 1856 reversed the Pennsylvania courts on the grounds that well, Nachtrieb signed a piece of paper and let’s not interfere too much with the free exercise of religion.

It was a bad decision. But what was more galling was that the Society’s legal defense cost more than it would have cost to pay off Nachtrieb. Baker, once again, could have resolved matters amicably but chose to be as vindictive as humanly possible. He wanted his enemies defeated and humiliated and cost was no object.

The case did force the Society to produce one of the first complete accountings of their finances, and revealed that they held about $1 million in assets (about $32 million in today’s money).

Of course, there was also the Benjamin Feucht incident.

Benjamin Feucht was the son of Conrad Feucht and Hildegard Mutschler, who you may remember from the previous episode. Feucht was the Society’s physician, and had long been groomed to assume a Trusteeship. In 1865, he disappeared for a few days, only to return with a brand new wife. It seems Benjamin had fallen to the same carnal impulses as his parents, and like them, he expected to be forgiven and welcomed back. 

He had miscalculated badly. When his parents had been readmitted to the Society, celibacy was a relatively new custom, but by 1865 it had been established for over half a century. His father and mother had George Rapp personally pleading on their behalf, and the effort taxed even the prophet’s powers. Anyone who would have been inclined to forgive Benjamin for his transgressions had left with the New Philadelphians decades before. Anyone remaining was a hardliner, like the unforgiving Romelius Baker.

The Society did not want to forcibly expel Feucht. The Nachtrieb incident was still too fresh in everyone’s minds. First, they politely asked him to resign. When he refused, they made life in Economy so uncomfortable for the Feuchts that they had no choice but to resign. And not just Benjamin, but his mother, brother, and sister.

It would be the last major incident of Romelius Baker’s trusteeship. He passed away on January 13, 1868. At the time of his death, the membership of the Harmony Society stood at 140. Baker’s zeal had protected the Society through dark days, but even he could not save its members from the ravages of time.

Wise in Their Own Sight (1868-1890)

With Baker’s death, Jacob Henrici was promoted to Senior Trustee, and Jonathan Lenz was promoted to Junior Trustee.

Lenz had ben born in Harmony PA in 1807, and was the only surviving Society member who had lived in all three settlements. Lenz was a good man, but he was a caretaker, not a leader. It was Henrici’s Society now.

Benjamin Feucht thought Henrici’s ascension was the beginning of the end. He wrote:

Now Baker has died and the entire direction of the Society still depends on Henrici, and as soon as he dies the entire Society will dissolve because no one will be found who knows anything, especially since the entire Council of Elders consists only of fools and blockheads.

He probably should have added Henrici to his list of fools.

Henrici was, at least, a holy fool. Anyone who ever met Jacob Henrici knew that he lived as Christ commanded. He was warm-hearted, trusting, kind, and forgiving. A man who practiced what he preached. And generous to a fault, a man who would give you the shirt off his back and the shoes off his feet. Indeed, Henrici rarely saw a charitable cause that he could refuse. He gave so freely to to worthy causes that every religious order and group thought he might secretly be one of their own. 

One thing Henrici was not, though, was a businessman. He did not keep careful accounts or understand basic economic principles. He was happy to do deals with a gentlemanly handshake, and to forgive debts rather than insist upon their repayment.

Probably the best example of this was the case of Beaver Falls Cutlery Company.

The Society had purchased the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company in 1867 and re-tooled it to mass produce cutlery on a grand scale. Perhaps too grand, as unsold inventory started piling up in warehouses. When the company’s managers approached Henrici about halting production until they could work through the backlog of unsold goods, Henrici chided them for depriving workers of their livelihood. A beautiful sentiment, to be sure, but also foolish. Much of the cutlery ultimately proved unsalable and sat in storage, slowly rusting and racking up enormous warehousing fees.

Still, the company kept plugging away and managed to eventually turn a profit, at which point the workers decided to strike for higher wages. The company managers fired them all, and brought in two hundred Chinese workers to take their place. That was an unpopular move, and to make matters worse the people of Beaver Falls met the Chinese workers with violence.

Though the Society had little to do with the day-to-day operations of the company, their reputation was now being severely tarnished by the association. In the end, the Society made huge donations to charity to offset the bad publicity. They also wound up withdrawing their investment from Beaver Falls, damaging its economy.

Had Henrici been a hands-on investor or a better businessman, the entire tragedy might have been avoided.  Thankfully, the Rapps and Bakers had left the Society’s finances in a solid place that enabled it to survive Henrici’s missteps.

The most solid financial footing, though, was no defense against old age. In December 1899, Gertrude Rapp died. Trustee Jonathan Lenz died soon after in January 1890. At the time, the Society had only twenty members.

He Who Does Not Love His Brother Cannot Love God (1890-1893)

After Lenz’s death, Ernst Woelfel was promoted to  be the Junior Trustee, but he passed away unexpectedly in July 1890. At the time, the Society had thirty eight members. How had they nearly doubled their membership in under six months?

It had been obvious to all for some time that the Society needed new blood. Henrici, in particular, wanted to ensure that the Society would endure to shepherd the good works he had begun. He turned to someone who had been groomed for years to lead the Society into the future.

He turned to Benjamin Feucht.

In February 1890, the Feucht family was readmitted to the Society. It was not a popular move. Other members of the Society viewed the Feuchts with suspicion. They thought the Feuchts could not be trusted to uphold the Society’s principles, that the Feuchts were only interested in gaining access to the Society’s money, and that the Feuchts held the rest of them in contempt. 

Those suspicions were correct: the Feuchts did hold the other Society members in contempt. Benjamin had once written in his diary that the other Harmony Society members were nice people, but that they “did not live, but vegetate.” He and his mother had flagrantly violated the Society’s principles, and escaped the consequences each time. And later events would show, they were only in it for the money.

And now the Feuchts were being brought back, and being groomed to take over the Society’s leadership. Well, that could not stand. A faction within the Society violated custom by admitting several new members in January, a month before the Feuchts. These new members were a small group of the Society’s long time associates who were carefully chosen to balance out any influence the Feuchts could exert on the Trustees and Elders, and included Moritz J. Friedrichs, J. Jacob Niclaus, Herman Fishern, and John S. Duss.

Since moving to Economy the Society had always had numerous employees and hangers-on living nearby. They often outnumbered the Society members by a significant margin, and were so integrated into the community that it was hard for outsiders to know who was a Society member and who wasn’t.

The Duss family were long-time hangers-on. John S. Duss was born in 1860. His father had died during the battle of Gettysburg, and his mother found employment with the Society as a nurse. John had been educated in the Society’s schools, but left after reaching adulthood to marry Susanna Creese and start a farm in Nebraska. Though Duss would later claim that the farm was successful, records seem to indicate that it was kept afloat primarily by the boundless largesse of Jacob Henrici. 

The Dusses had tried several times to join the Society, but Henrici did not think they were a good fit. He correctly intuited that they were less interested in the religious mission of the Society and more in the creature comforts that the Society’s wealth could provide. But the Dusses were charming and persistent. In 1888 Duss’s mother was ultimately admitted to the Society, and later that year John was brought back from Nebraska to teach at Economy’s school. 

Duss used that position to worm is way into Henrici’s inner circle. When Woelfel died suddenly in July 1890, the “Duss faction” used John’s three weeks of seniority over Benjamin Feucht to elect him as the new Junior Trustee. Due to Henrici’s declining health, Duss was effectively in charge.

The next three years were a bitter battle between the Dusses and the Feuchts for control of the Society, or rather, for control of the Society’s money since neither group cared a whit about the religious side of the Society. 

Duss, though, had secret allies in the Society’s lawyers and business partners. For years they had observed how poorly Henrici had managed affairs, and dreamed about what they could do with the Society’s land, business holdings, and financial resources. They brought Duss in as a useful idiot who thought himself to be their equal. With him on the board, they could finally strip the Society for parts and make a fortune with its underutilized assets.

He also had secret allies in the form of Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed. Teed had founded a cult called the “Koreshan Unity” which also believed in celibacy and communal living. The Koreshans also believed that God was a hermaphrodite, Teed was the Messiah, and that the Earth was hollow and we lived on the inner concave surface.

Like other communes before them, the Koreshans were interested in merging with with the Harmony Society — only they were prepared to be bring it about by subterfuge. Teed sent agents to insinuate themselves into Economy’s community, join the Society, and influence the Elders to turn its wealth over to Teed. These agents included Teed’s brother Oliver and long-time supporter Henry Silverfriend. And they may have included John S. Duss, who had known Teed for years.

When Koreshan defectors outed the plan in late 1891 there was a huge uproar. Teed’s agents were eventually run out of town and the proposed merger never came to pass.

Years later, Duss would defend himself against the charges of collaboration in his biography. He claimed that he had given money to Teed’s communes in the spirit of unity and charity, which had likewise motivated his predecessors had to support movements like the Shakers and Zoarites. He did not believe that Teed was the messiah or fully understand the Koreshan religious beliefs, but he absolutely 100% supported their amazing scientific discovery that the Earth was hollow and we’re on the inside.

Let’s give Duss more credit than that, though. It’s likely that he never had any intention of turning the Society over to Teed. But by working with Teed, Duss could keep the other members of the Society focused on a non-existent external threats while he worked on more important long-term goals. Like getting rid of the Feuchts.

On April 25, 1892 Duss and his allies hastily called a meeting of the Council of Elders and voted to 8-1 to expel Henry Feucht from the Society. The only “nay” vote was cast by Henrici, who had been dragged out of his sickbed to attend the meeting. In fact, the mild-mannered and genteel Henrici became visibly upset when he learned why he had been summoned, angrily castigated the other Elders and stormed out of the room.

The Duss faction retaliated by making an attempt to oust Henrici himself on June 13. They had overplayed their hand, though, and the motion failed. Even the Duss’s own lawyers told him to cut it out. On July 28th the Elders reversed themselves and readmitted Henry Feucht, thanks in part to Henrici’s heartfelt pleadings and the threat of a lawsuit.

The Feuchts would not have Jacob Henrici to shield them for much longer. Henrici was sick, and his profligate charity and lackadaisical business practices had left the Society short of ready cash. The trustees even had to mortgage the entire town of Economy for $400,000 ($11 million today) to meet their financial obligations obligations.

To accomplish this, the other Society members signed a legal document giving the Trustees sole power of attorney over financial affairs, rendering the Council of Elders entirely superfluous. Thirty-three Society members signed. Only three did not — all of them Feuchts. 

In December 1892, Henrici died. Samuel Siber was elected the new Junior Trustee, but he was a non-entity whose primary qualification was that he was not a Feucht. From here on out, sole control of the Society rested in the hands of John Duss.

The Feuchts decided to strike immediately. In February 1893 they filed a suit in the Beaver County Courts asking for the Harmony Society to be put in receivership. Their suit alleged a number of disturbing things:

  • That the Society was mismanaged both financially and spiritually.
  • That the Society was no longer being run as a religious organization, but as a weird combination of an investment club and a tontine.
  • That Henrici’s signature had been forged on documents while he was in ill health.
  • That Samuel Siber had been made a member and a trustee in violation of the Society’s laws and traditions.
  • That the Society’s principles of equality had been abolished and Duss was living in luxury while the other members continued to live like peasants.
  • That Duss had sold some of the Society’s stocks and assets and pocketed the money for himself.
  • That John S. Duss had fallen under the sway of heretics like Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed and Prince Michael K. Mills.

These are disturbing allegations… if you’re writing an op-ed condemning the state of the Society. They are not legal arguments. The Feuchts produced witness after witness, affidavit after affidavit, trying to sway public opinion. But they were unable to present a clear argument as to what the courts were supposed to do to rectify the situation, or why they should be involved in the first place.

For Duss’s part, he had one resource he could use to shut down the Feuchts: access to the Society’s accountants. He produced records showing that the Society had $600,000 in debts and only about $800,000 in assets. That spooked the Feuchts, who settled out of court on June 30 in exchange for $28,000 and plot of land in nearby Stowe Township. In doing so, the Feuchts proved what their critics had said all along: that they were only in it for the money.

What the Feuchts did not realize is that the accounts Duss presented were highly selective. They excluded many of the Society’s assets, including their highly valuable real estate holdings and their secret stash of bullion. When those were factored in, the Society was still worth millions.

That didn’t mean the Society wasn’t in trouble. It wasn’t bankrupt, though accounts often present it this way. What the Society had was a liquidity crisis. Most of their money was tied up in stock, real estate, and other assets. They could have easily sold off some of those to eliminate their debts, but Henrici had stubbornly refused to do so.

Duss, on the other hand, had no such scruples.

Claiming to be Wise (1893-1905)

Throughout 1893, thirteen people left the Harmony Society. By the end of the year, there were only 21 members left.

The Feuchts were gone, obviously. A number of old-timers passed away. But a shocking number of the departures were seat fillers who had been admitted along with Duss in 1890. Since Duss held supreme power, he didn’t need them on the Council of Elders any more, and most were happy to take a $5,000 payout to withdraw and go on their merry way.

That meant more lawsuits, this time filed by members who withdrawn from the Society earlier and hadn’t received such generous payouts.

Duss also had to deal with an international lawsuit launched by George Rapp’s relatives in Germany, who didn’t seem to understand the concept of incorporation and thought the Society’s property had been owned by Rapp personally.

Dealing with these suits put the Society in unusual legal position. At times they presented themselves as a corporation, at other times a trust, and in still others as a charity. Those are not interchangeable under the law. As opposing council George Shiras III noted:

Either the retiring members have no right to take large sums of money, and Trustee Duss has no right to give it to them, or if he and them have such rights, no trust exists. That is plain. If there is a trust they cannot divide up, and if there is no trust then the property should be divided up among all those living who were members of the trust and all the heirs of dead members.

These cases went all the way to the U.S. Supreme court, which ultimately held that the Society was not a trust, and upheld lower court rulings that members had indeed proactively signed away all their rights to any share of the Society.

John S. Duss decided to celebrate by going crazy — Broadway style!

Duss had always loved music, and played in Economy’s band. When he took over the Society, he appointed himself conductor, re-christened the group as the “Duss Concert Band,” and packed it with some of the finest musical talent Pittsburgh had to offer. He even got them to play some of his own compositions, like a musical rendition of the Battle of Manila Bay. The Duss Band came to the attention of impresario R.E. Johnston, who offered them a contract for a New York engagement in the summer of 1902.

Duss kicked off the season with a concert at the Metropolitan Opera House, before moving to the St. Nicholas Gardens. It was an elaborate show, featuring a full orchestra, flower girls, perfume fountains, and scantily-clad showgirls. (Well, at least until Mrs. Duss objected.) He spent over $100,000 promoting his shows, which included lavishly bribing reporters and critics, hiring a dwarf and two giants to wander around Times Square handing out handbills, and even ginning up fake lawsuits. He drew huge crowds, most of them attracted by the spectacle rather than the music.

After the summer, the Band went on a whirlwind tour of Utica, Syracuse, Toronto, Buffalo, Jamestown, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Newark, and Boston. Outside the New York area, the Duss Band shows weren’t nearly as well-attended, mostly because he couldn’t saturate the local market with advance media.

You also started to get honest reviews of Duss’s talents, which were not flattering. It turns out he was a sub-par conductor who fancied self-aggrandizing Victor Borge theatrics. The orchestra essentially had to conduct itself. Thankfully, it was packed with top-flight talent and could cover for Duss’s shortcomings.

In April 1903, the remaining eight members of the Society met. They signed a document reaffirming Duss’s supreme powers. Then three of them immediately resigned for a nice fat withdrawal payment of $75,000.

Duss accepted this vote of confidence… and then on May 12th, he resigned from Society to focus on his music career full time. He was paid $500,000 to withdraw. He didn’t really care about the Society any more, and why should he? He was the Justin Bieber of 1902! Besides, his wife Susie was the new Trustee, so he still had access to all of the Society’s assets should he need  them.

Duss returned to Broadway in 1903 and took advantage of internal chaos in the Metropolitan Opera to hire away their entire orchestra. He engaged the services of celebrated soprano Lillian Nordica. He booked Madison Square Garden for the entire summer and filled the interior with a replica of Venice made out of paper-mache. The spectacle was once again the talk of the town, but it was still obvious that Duss was just gesticulating wildly and wasn’t actually calling the shots on stage. It was an apt metaphor for his life.

Righteousness Endures Forever (1905-1916)

Meanwhile, the Harmony Society was winding down. In 1902 an agreement was reached to sell most of Economy to the American Bridge Company, who rechristened the community “Ambridge” and turned it into a company town. The Society’s other real estate and business holdings had been liquidated long before.

In 1904, Christina Schoenemann died, and in December 1905 Barbara Boesch died. That the Society with just two members: Susie C. Duss and senile old Franz Gillman. On December 13th, Duss and Gillman formally dissolved the Society, splitting the remaining assets between them. And then Gillman immediately gifted his half of the Society back to Susie, on the condition that she take care of him for the rest of his life.

And that would have ended the story, if it weren’t for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It declared that a religious institution can’t have heirs, and so all of the money and land left at the time the trust was dissolved belonged to the state.

Their argument had some precedent. The Harmony Society had long since expressed similar sentiments. In 1886, Jacob Henrici publicly declared:

If our belief is a mistaken one and death should wipe us out before the glorious Second Coming, it is highly probable that the State of Pennsylvania would be glad to employ our savings as an aid in the payment of her heavy debt.

Jonathan Lenz and other members had written letters expressing similar beliefs, and the sentiment was also noted by Richard Owen of New Harmony in his writings.

The Dusses’ defense was simple: the Harmony Society was not a religious organization. And, gallingly, they were right. Though the Society’s articles mention religious instruction, they do not explicitly establish the Society itself a religious institution. That was implicitly understood by all involved, and even recognized by the United States Supreme Court, but now that it was no longer convenient Duss was happy to hide behind the letter of the law and discard its spirit.

Eventually, the matter was settled out of court. The Dusses kept the money, but Pennsylvania got the property that had been left at the time of dissolution, which included the central core of Economy. They preserved it as Old Economy Village, which is still open today as a curious time capsule.

The Dusses and Franz Gillman relocated to New Smyrna, Florida. The Duss Band returned to Broadway a few more times, but once John realized he was pissing away his own, no longer limitless money he put a stop to that. The Society’s fabulous wealth was gone forever, lining the pockets of Gilded Age lawyers in Pittsburgh.

Franz Gillman died in 1921. Susie Duss died in 1946, and John Duss in 1951. 

That was the end of the Harmony Society. For a hundred years they had weathered extreme hardship and every test of their faith to endure and prosper, only to fall prey to greed, pettiness, and internal dissent. They thought they knew what was to come, but no man knows the hour or the day.

The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.

Obadiah 3:4
Old Economy historical marker

Connections

In 1890 Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed and his Koreshan Unity tried to take over the Harmony Society from within, but were foiled when the plan came to the attention of Jacob Henrici. We went into great details about Dr. Teed and the Koreshans in Series 4’s “We Live Inside.”

In the Harmony Society’s later years, they were contacted by a number of other communal and celibate societies seeking financial help. One of these groups was the Order of the Crystal Sea, which was an elaborate scam set up by notorious fraudster Ann O’Delia Diss Debar, who we discussed in Series 3 episode “Spirit Princess.”

One of John S. Duss’s most popular compositions was a musical rendition of the Battle of Manila Bay. One of the heroes of that battle was Charles Vernon Gridley, subject of our series 1 episode “He Fired When Ready.”

Sources

  • Arndt, Karl J.R. George Rapp’s Harmony Society (1785-1847) Revised Edition. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1972.
  • Arndt, Karl J.R. George Rapp’s Successors and Material Heirs (1847-1916). Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1971.
  • Duss, John S. The Harmonists: A Personal Remembrance. Harrisburg: Telegraph Press, 1943.
  • Millner, Lyn. The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015.

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