By Sue Moore
The Israelite House of David was a celebrated religious commune in the early part of the 20th century, located down the road from Vicksburg in Benton Harbor. It had a famous semi-pro baseball team that played the local boys, and won. The Israelites sported long locks, flowing beards and players with major league talent.
A former Vicksburg resident, Henry M. Yaple, VHS class of 1958, has compiled a bibliography listing the thousands of works printed by the Benton Harbor House of David and Mary’s City of David as re-organized by Mary Purnell. According to promotional material from the publisher, Couper Press of Hamilton College located in Clinton, NY, Yaple’s bibliography should materially assist future research and scholarship into the two Israelite communal societies and their founders, Benjamin and Mary Purnell.
It has taken Yaple over 30 years to compile the bibliography. Much of it was done in retirement as Librarian Emeritus from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Yaple began his professional life as a librarian/bibliographer at Michigan State University Libraries. He obtained a B.A. at Kalamazoo College, an M.A at the University of Idaho and all but his dissertation at the University of Toronto.
Yaple returned to Vicksburg to attend Western Michigan University’s School of Librarianship after having been to the Universite d’Aix Marsaille as a Rotary Fellow – he had been nominated by the Vicksburg club.
Yaple’s father, Henry, served many years as the clerk of the village and his mother, Pauline, was a respected elementary school teacher in Vicksburg. The family lived in the 100 block of Michigan Avenue and he loved sledding on the Washington Street hill with childhood pals Gary and Jan Hollenbeck, Patti and Corky Brown. “I’ve always loved winter. There is something magical about snow and the sheer pleasure of skiing through deep powder snow in the trees.”
Yaple felt the urge to ski early in life, so headed west to Vail, Colorado where he met his wife, Marilyn. At Whitman, he completed Ski Bibliography: A Complete List of English Language Publications on Skiing, 1890-2002. In retirement, he has also completed Never A Bad Year For Snow, a history of the first 75 years at Lost Trail Pass Powder Mountain, located on the border of Montana and Idaho.
The idea for researching and compiling a bibliography stemmed from his studies as a librarian. The sect headed by Benjamin and Mary Purnell, who had only an eighth grade education, realized that it could attract converts with written material outlining its beliefs. They didn’t attribute or date most of their works but published thousands of titles. The published works helped to attract large numbers of men and women to become members, some from as far away as Australia.
According to Mary’s City of David web site, the sect published The Star of Bethlehem and by 1910 it was in its third edition, having circulated around the world to the churches and followers of the former six Israelite messengers. Their “Eden Springs Park” was in its second successful season in 1910 and on its way to become America’s premiere pre-Disney theme park. The House of David schools would provide education and recreational activities for its children, who soon developed into legendary barn storming baseball teams, known to Satchel Paige as “Jesus boys”, and traveling jazz bands that would catch the attention of America in sweeping nationwide vaudeville circuit tours throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1920s, and in spite of the worldwide economic depression, the Israelite House of David and Mary’s City of David would come to dominate southwestern Michigan’s economy, tourism and agricultural industries.”
Yaple’s only payment for the years of work is ten copies of the bibliography, he said. He will send one to the Vicksburg District Library for its authors’ collection in February.