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
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.
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.