The House of David was a religious community formed in 1903 in Benton Harbor
. Its leaders, Benjamin
and Mary Purnell
, espoused vegetarianism
, long beards, and complete devotion to the group. They founded an amusement park, including a zoo and aviary
, and were very prosperous in the early 20th century.
In the 1920s, people began to leave the group, and several charges of abuse and imprisonment were levied at "King Ben" Purnell. He divorced Mary, who went on to form her own group in 1930, the City of David. Purnell died in 1927, a few days before the conclusion of an enormous lawsuit against the group. The House of David continued, however, under the leadership of H. J. Dewhirst, and stayed prominent until after World War II.
The House of David Baseball Team
Ben Purnell was a big sports enthusiast, and formed a baseball team for the group in 1908. The House of David baseball team became the group's ambassadors, travelling across the country and becoming one of America's best known barnstorming baseball teams.
The team was originally managed by Francis Thorpe, a loyal member of the House of David, and played games against other local teams. By 1920, the team had become well known as much for their appearance (long hair and beards) as for their play, and they began playing teams across the Midwest. Around this time, they began to recruit both amateur and professional players from outside the House of David to boost the team's performance.
In the mid 1930s, they were managed by Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, and were sometimes joined by Satchel Paige and Babe Didrikson Zaharias (wearing a fake beard). The team toured all over the US, Mexico, Canada, and Cuba, winning most of their games. Many of the games were played against the better Negro League teams of the time, including the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, Newark Eagles, and Kansas City Monarchs.
Though the House of David team stopped touring in 1937, several related teams and imitations played until the mid-fifties. The City of David team, founded by Mary Purnell's offshoot of the original group, was almost as good as the House of David team, and toured until 1956.