I wonder what went through Sister Aimee's mind in the days after she drowned., when she realized she had to go back to Los Angeles. I do not believe for one second her story of being kidnapped. But that leaves the question, not of what she was doing for the five weeks of her mysterious disappearance - we can assume she was doing the everything not allowed by her self created religion - but rather how she conceived the story she came up with. Like everyone else who does something stupid, Sister Aimee had no trouble justifying her fabrication. The great Catholic thinker St. Thomas Aquinas defined a lie as a statement at variance with the mind, meaning truth is anything you believe in, a philosophy useful for every saint caught sinning. At least for awhile.
“Oh, have you heard the story of Aimee McPherson?
Aimee McPherson, that wonderful person,
She weighed a hundred eighty and her hair was red
She preached a wicked sermon, or so the papers said.”
Ballad of Aimee
Aimee's story never wavered, once she walked out of the desert and into Agua Pietra on Wednesday, 23 June, 1926. She always repeated it verbatim, always refusing to allow questions to interrupt the flow of her story. “I sent my secretary to the hotel to phone the temple” she began, adding she then went into the 50 degree water for another swim. As she was rising out of the surf a couple named Rosie and Steve approached, saying they had a dying child in a car nearby, who needed Sister Aimee's ministrations. She went willingly, and was guided to a parked car near the Ocean Park Bathhouse (above), where the minister was violently shoved inside and drugged. When she awoke several days later Steve told her, “You've taken enough of our girls from us, so turnabout is fair play.” After several days of waiting for a response to their half million dollar ransom note, they took Aimee for an all day drive, ending in a little adobe desert shack, where they were joined by a large Mexican man named Felip.
“Now, Aimee built herself a radio station
To broadcast her preaching to the nation.
She found a man named Armistead who knew enough
To run the radio while Aimee did her stuff.
After briefly releasing their frustrations by torturing their victim with a lit cigar butt, the men disappeared. Then Rosie - or so the story ran - left to buy cigarettes. Once alone, Aimee spotted an opened can of varnish in a corner of the shack. She “wormed” her way over (above) and “commenced the awkward endeavor of cutting the rope on the can's edge.” Aimee said she figured it was about 11:30 in the morning when she was finally free. Outside, she ran until she collapsed, rested and then ran again. She kept running until she reached Agua Prieta, over twelve hours - and twenty miles - later. Or so Aimee said.
“Now, they had a camp meeting out at Ocean Park
Preached from early morning 'til after dark.
Said the benediction, then folded up the tents,
And nobody knew where Aimee went.”
Later that morning, while a cab was driving Sister Aimee the few hundred yards across the border to the Calumet Hospital (above) in Douglas, Arizona. the Agua Pietra Police Chief, Silverrio Villa, followed Aimee's trail four miles, where he found “a small shack...Tracks made by her shoes were found all around the shack but not beyond, though a search was made as far as Gallardo, nine miles away.” Doctors told the Arizona Daily Star there were burn marks on her fingers, binding marks on her wrists and ankles, and there were blisters on the bottoms of her feet..
“Now, Aimee McPherson got back from her journey,
She told her tale to the district attorney.
Said she'd been kidnapped on a lonely trail.
And in spite of all the questions, she stuck to her tale.”
Told her mother and daughter would be arriving by train in the morning, Aimee responded, “Won't it be grand when my mother gets here. I can hardly wait to see her.” Then she suddenly asked, “Do you think I will be welcomed back?” She need not have worried. There were thirty thousand cheering believers waiting for her arrival (above) at Los Angeles Union Station two days later. The L.A. Fire Department showed up in their dress uniforms, an airplane flew overhead and dropped rose petals. Hearst Gossip columnist Louella Parsons lead a large press contingent. Perhaps a hundred thousand of the devout lined Glendale Boulevard (renamed the “Avenue of Triumph”) to welcome Aimee back to her temple (below).
“Well, the Grand Jury started an investigation,
Uncovered a lot of spicy information.
Found out about a love nest down at Carmel-by-the-Sea,
Where the liquor was expensive and the loving was free.”
However, the cops were suspicious about Aimee's story, even before they heard it. When word of her suspected drowning broke, an off duty Culver City police officer reported he had seen Sister Aimee riding in the front passenger seat of a sedan, heading away from the beach, just half an hour after she supposedly drowned. His wife backed up his story. Acerbic L.A.historian Louis Adamic, who regularly called the evangelical preacher the “Queen Aimee of Moronia.” reacted to tale of desert survival by writing, “Aimee was no more kidnapped than I am an incognito shah of Persia.”
“They found a little cottage with a breakfast nook,
A folding bed with a worn-out look.
The slats was busted and the springs was loose,
And the dents in the mattress fitted Aimee's caboose.”
The reporters noticed that the colors on Sister Aimee's dress (above), in the closet of her room in the Calumet Hospital, had not faded in the sun, despite her half day hike. Nor did the corset bear any sweat stains, nor the dress scars after stumbling for hours (half in the dark) through a desert populated with plants covered in hypodermic sharp needles and stiff oily razor sharp leaves. The dresses' collar and cuffs were as pure and white as if they had just come from a laundry. She was not sunburned, her lips were not cracked, and the hospital was not treating her for dehydration. And then there was the watch. When they interviewed the miracle woman reporters standing two feet from her bed could see none of the alleged bruises on her wrists or ankles. Her feet may have been covered with blisters, as she claimed, but her shoes (below) were not even scuffed. In fact, closer inspection revealed grass stains on the insteps. Residents confirmed there was no grass within a hundred fifty miles of Douglas, north or south of the border.
“Well they took poor Aimee and they threw her in jail.
Last I'd heard she was out on bail.
They'll send her up for a stretch, I guess,
She worked herself up into an awful mess”
When newsreels of Aimee's home coming appeared in Los Angeles movie theaters, they were greeted with cat calls and loud booing. A beat up model T Ford was spotted around town with a message scrawled across the back in chalk, “I ain't Aimee, so I'm still missing.” Also missing was the one legged married gentleman (below) who had been the chief engineer at the Aimee's temple.
"Now, Radio Ray is a going hound;
He's a-going yet and he ain't been found.
They got a description, but they got it too late.
'Cause since they got it, he's lost a lot of weight."
Kenneth G. Ormiston had been hired in February of 1924 to help Sister Aimee set up her new radio station, KFSG, (for 'Kall' Four Square Gospel), at the Temple on Glendale Boulevard. In addition to all the technical work required, Kenneth also spent hours in the isolated third floor radio room, coaching the 35 year old Aimee on transferring her impassioned theatrical performances into the confines of radio. She was often heard giggling to Ken's quick and irreverent wit during pauses in her broadcast sermons. He had left the station in January of 1926, amid rumors of a romantic entanglement with "the world's most pulchritudinous evangelist". After her drowning, naturally the cops wanted to speak to him, but it was two weeks before he came in for an interview. Then he had immediately disappeared again. And the feeling among the cops and the press was, there was a connection between these two vanishing people.
"Now I'll end my story in the usual way,
About a lady preacher's holiday.
If you don't get the moral then you're the gal for me
Cause there's still a lot of cottages down at Carmel-by-the-Sea."
Pete Seager “The Ballad of Aimee Mcphearson” 1926
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