This game script—the big-name pitcher working the first two innings or so and then yielding to a reliever—was followed not only with Alexander but with such other hurlers as Babe Didrikson and Elmer Dean, brother of Dizzy and Daffy. As another gate attraction, the colony helped pioneer night baseball by traveling with a portable lighting system borrowed from the Kansas City Monarchs, an unwieldy rig consisting of poles, lights and generator. "Whenever a fly ball went above the lights, you couldn't see it," says Ernie Selby, who is now a plumbing contractor in Benton Harbor. "You just looked up and prayed, dear Lord, bring it here. And the generator in center field was so loud you couldn't hear a thing."
Another distraction was "donkey baseball," which the House of David played on the backs of donkeys as a side attraction to the team's regular game. It was never quite as rollicking as its name seemed to promise, and if something else killed vaudeville donkey baseball was certainly one of the death convulsions of House of David baseball. With many of the old ballplayers gone, the colony's various clubs now had far more ringers than ringlets, and the payrolls were rising accordingly. In the late 1930s Judge Dewhirst quietly folded the traveling baseball operation.
The City of David's team continued to struggle along, even after the loss of the crowd-pleasing John Tucker, who dropped out of the colony in 1946, and the formidable Doc Tally, who died in 1950 at the age of 54 while getting ready for another season. The club was kept alive by bewhiskered George Anderson, who every spring took an assortment of hired ballplayers around the country to meet competition wherever it could still be found. During the 1940s and 1950s, Anderson also assembled a House of David basketball team, which toured for a while with the Harlem Globetrotters. One featured performer was Bill Spivey, the 7-footer from the University of Kentucky who had been banned from pro basketball for allegedly shaving points in college. With the cagers, as with the baseballers, there was little shaving of any kind. In basketball, though, the beards could be a disadvantage, since opposing players occasionally found it an effective defensive tactic to grab themselves a handful of whiskers.
Not until 1955 did the baseball enterprise come to an end. The last couple of seasons, during which the baseball team traveled in Ford station wagons, had been fraught with financial trouble and beset by an unusual number of rained-out games, which traveling teams can seldom hope to make up. Anderson, the playing manager, decided to call it quits. As the only remaining colony member on the club, he thus became the last of the House of David ballplayers. Lean and quick-handed, he was a pretty fair third baseman on that final team. He was 45 years old.
Instead of going out on the road to play baseball as he had for three decades, Anderson soon had to face up to the prospect of life in the cloistered confines of the City of David. He shaved off his beard and left the colony. "I still believed in the faith," says Anderson, now transportation supervisor of public schools in Benton Harbor's twin city of St. Joseph, "but I realized that the life there just wasn't for me. I'd been moving around all those years, and now I felt lost. I had to get out."
During the early years some House of David members quit in the belief that the colony, steeped in business and eventually tainted by scandal, had become too worldly. With later dropouts like Anderson, the problem, in effect, was that it was no longer worldly enough. Either way, all these defections, along with death and accelerated attrition brought on by the practice of celibacy, have combined to erode the membership rolls. Today the two rival factions together probably have no more than 150 members, most of them past 60, and it is a rare day when a new member joins.
The bitter feelings that rent the colony in 1930 have pretty much subsided. Judge Dewhirst died in 1947 at 66, Mary Purnell in 1953 at 91. As for Benjamin, most colony members seem to believe his remains still reside in the Diamond House, but Tom Dewhirst is evasive on the subject. As Dewhirst knows only too well, Benjamin is remembered by outsiders less as God's seventh messenger than as some sort of King of the Harem Haven, as a paperback biography published in 1960 put it. A shrill, partially fictionalized account based loosely on transcripts of the 1927 trial, the book was subtitled "the amazing true story of a daring charlatan who ran a virgin love cult in America." It sold 135,000 copies, 5,000 in Benton Harbor.
Ask Dewhirst directly whether Benjamin's embalmed body is still in the Diamond House and he becomes defensive. "No, it s not," he says testily. "That's one of the lies people have told without bothering to get the facts straight."
"Then is the unembalmed body there?"
"That's none of anybody's business."