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Sunday, February 09, 2014

HAVING FAITH Part Six TESTING

I can say only one thing with certainty about the mystery of Aimee Semple McPherson, and that is that the evangelist’s rumored romantic partner, radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston, was having no trouble locating sexual partners. When he first talked to the cops in early June of 1926, Ormiston denied having run off with Sister Aimee. Yes, he admitted sharing various hotel rooms with an attractive young woman during a holiday drive up the California coast, beginning in Santa Barbara. But that woman, he insisted, was not Sister Aimee. But, he added before he disappeared again, chivalry prevented him from identifying his companion by name. The press wasted little time tagging the mystery woman with the sobriquet of “Miss X”, which inspired a whit to say, “What made the McPherson case so interesting was its “X” appeal”.
Listen, Christ,
You did alright in your day, I reckon-
But that day’s gone now.
As the newspapers recounted the salacious details uncovered in Carmel, Aimee's Antics became the grist for vaudeville comedians across the nation. A “swell” would sidle up to a chorus girl and say, “ “I'm a radio man. Are you Aimee-able?”. Aimee's sermons at her Four Square Gospel tabernacle in Echo Park, were said to have “sects appeal”. The general populace was even getting into the spirit of the thing. One morning the empty “love nest” cottage on Scenic Drive was discovered to have a sign planted in the front lawn, that read, “Aimee Slept Here.” It had not been up long before it was modified to read, “Aimee Slipped Here.”
They ghosted you up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible-
But it’s dead now,
The popes and the preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.
About the only person not laughing, was Sister Aimee's mother, Mildred “Sister Minnie” Kennedy (above, left). From the beginning of their ministry, this Salvation Army warrior had scheduled her daughter's revivals from the back seat of their 1912 Packard “Gospel Car”. And during the six years of hand to mouth existence Sister Minnie had handled what little money there was. And now, just when it looked as if “Sister Minnie” and Sister Aimee were finally standing on solid financial ground, a tide of bad press was threatening to wash it all away. That is why I think it was Mildred who asked the criminal lawyer Roland R. Wooley to plug the hole in her dike.
“They’ve sold you to too many
Kings, generals, robbers, and killers-
Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,
Even to Rockefeller’s Church,
Even to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.
You ain’t no good no more.”
Ideally, Wooly would have merely gotten a sworn deposition from Kenneth Ormiston (above) to answer more questions, but after his statement in early June the radio engineer had disappeared again, and the police, the District Attorney's office, not even the mob of newspaper reporters swarming over the case, could find him. So Wooley invented the witness he needed, by reaching out to an old college classmate from Salt Lake City, Mrs. Lorraine Wiseman-Sielaff.
“They’ve pawned you
Till you’ve done wore out.
Goodbye,
Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,
Beat it on away from here now.”
Lorraine had fallen on hard times, and been reduced to working as a seamstress. She had even spent a few weeks in a sanitarium. At a meeting on 15 August, at the law offices of a friend in Salinas, and for the promise of $5,000 in cash, Lorraine agreed to say she had been the private nurse to “Miss X”, Ormiston's shy companion. Lorraine was even willing to hint that “Miss X” might have been her own twin sister, who was willing to play along for her own payoff. The ruse would be helped because, the twins  (below) resembled Aimee Semple McPherson. And that was the way, her story was presented in late August to the headline hungry newspapers, who gobbled it up.
“Make way for a new guy with no religion at all-
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME-
I said, ME!
Go ahead on now,
You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.”
It might have worked, except that a few days later, Lorraine (above) was arrested in Los Angeles for bouncing checks. And when payments from Sister Minnie Kennedy dried up after just a couple of $50 "donations", and "Sister Annie” refused to pay Lorraine's $1,500 bail on her bad check charge, the seamstress called the District Attorney. And on 13 September, she reversed her story. Now, Lorraine told about the meeting in Salinas, and blew up the entire fantasy, meant to distract the newspapers. And worse, by confessing her play acting, Lorraine now provided the one thing the District Attorney's office had been unable to find before: intent
“And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,
And Saint Pope Pius,
And Saint Aimee McPherson,
And big black Saint Becton
Of the Consecrated Dime.”\
District Attorney Asa Keyes now indicted for conspiracy Lorraine Wiseman-Sielaff , her twin sister, Sister Aimee, her mother Mildred Kennedy, and Kenneth Ormiston. Also indicted were the two unknown kidnappers, identified as “Richard Roe and Sarah Moe” - just in case there had actually been a staged kidnapping. The criminal code provided the same punishment as, “provided for the punishment of the commission of the said felony or act.” In other words, by successfully covering up their crime, the conspirators were now subject to the punishment they had avoided. Said one magazine, “Like the melodramas of old, or the slam - bang movie serials of today, the McPherson case, puzzling an avid public' month after month, burst into new and startling climaxes whenever there seemed a possibility of the story fizzling out.” .
“And step on the gas, Christ!
Move!
Don’t be so slow about movin?
The world is mine from now on-
And nobody’s gonna sell ME
To a king, or a general,
Or a millionaire.”
Langston Huges
Published in “Negro Worker” (Nov.-Dec. 1932)
- 30 -

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