The Ogdenites

This episode originally aired on KCPW August 24, 2007.
This episode’s audio file may be found at http://www.utahhumanities.org/BeehiveArchive.htm.
© 2007 Utah Humanities Council

The Script:

74 years ago, the followers of Marie Ogden arrived in San Juan County’s Dry Valley and began to create their version of God’s kingdom.  Ogden had dabbled in the occult and lectured on spiritual subjects around Boise, Idaho, before making the shocking announcement that she had established a direct link to heaven through her typewriter.  She claimed the typewriter, under God’s direct control, had commanded her to move to the wild lands of southeastern Utah and take a small band of eager disciples with her.  Followers who made the move to Dry Valley had to renounce all worldly goods, become semi-vegetarian, and swear allegiance to the supposedly divine word that came from Ogden’s typewriter.

At first Ogden and her followers were mainly treated as a curiosity by the San Juan County locals.  But then, in 1935, an Ogdenite by the name of Edith Peshak died of cancer at the religious settlement believers called the Home of Truth.  Ogden, however, claimed Peshak wasn’t dead at all and was only in a state of spiritual purification Peshak, Ogden declared, would eventually return to life.  People from the Home of Truth bathed the body in salt brine three times a day and even fed it.  When health officials investigated they found the body in a perfect state of preservation.

Soon, however, followers of Ogden began leaving the community, perhaps because their leader’s predictions about a resurrected Edith Peshak never panned out.  When it was discovered that Ogden ordered a follower to burn Peshak’s body on the sly, what little credibility she had left evaporated and she drifted from public notice.  Years later, the contents of Ogden’s office, presumably including her typewriter, were sold at auction.

Content for this episode of the Beehive Archive was provided by the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah Statehood Centennial Commission.

The Rest of the Story:

According to writer Wallace Stegner, it was Tommy Robertson, a follower of Marie Ogden, who did the actual burning of Peshak’s body.  In Stegner’s words, Ogden had ordered Robertson to wrap Peshak’s corpse “in two sheets and a thin mattress” and then carry the mummy on his back to a dry wash “about a quarter mile southwest of the Peshak cabin.”  When he got to the wash, Robertson built a four-foot-high pyre, laid the body on it, doused it in oil, and set it ablaze.

Stegner reports that Ogden watched the entire cremation from a distance.  When the body was finally consumed she supposedly revealed to Robertson that he should gather up the scattered bones around the pyre and bury them.  What Ogden didn’t know, however, was that Thompson hadn’t hidden all of the evidence: he later claimed to have dug a couple of vertebrae out of the corpse before following Ogden down into the wash.

Sources:

See the April 1995 collection of the History Blazer, a joint project of the Utah State Historical Society and the Utah State Centennial Commission.  The History Blazer can be found on the Utah History Suite CD available from the Utah State Historical Society.  Also see Wallace Stegner, Mormon Country (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970), 331-343.

Advertisements

5 responses to “The Ogdenites

  1. Must have been incredibly disappointing for Ogden’s followers to come to the conclusion that she had no unusual relationship with God. Has to be devastating to lose your connection to the divine, even if it does involve something as strange as a magical typewriter.

    On another note, who wouldn’t love to be the owner of that typewriter now? Talk about a conversation piece!

  2. Stan Thayne, MA student in history at BYU, is writing his thesis on Marie Ogden.

  3. Thanks, Christopher. Maybe I’ll have to contact him and see what he knows that I don’t.

  4. Wow, another person has discovered Marie Ogden! She’s quite an obscure figure.

    Marie purchased the San Juan Record, the local newspaper in San Juan County, and published a weekly column on her colony. Though I have not gotten thru nearly all of it, I’ve read enough to see that she really didn’t like the portrayal of her that journalists constructed. She claimed that Wallace Stegner never actually visited the community himself–though she was not there at the time either–but that he sent a “cub reporter.” She really resented his chapter on the Home of Truth in Mormon Country.

    I’ve read the accounts that play up the tyepewriter; Marie definetly receieved many spiritual communications, or messages, as she called them, and typed them out, but she didn’t seem to attach any special signicance to the typewriter as a medium, as far as I can tell. It was all mind. The typewriter bit is just some of that clever journalistic flair she resented so much.

    She is a fascinating figure, and her community was quite a confluence of theosophy, astrology, New Thought, and nearly everything else (except free-love; she was celibate) that would come to characterize the New Age.

  5. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Provender.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s