Where, oh where, has Sister Aimee gone?

Aimee Semple McPherson with worshippers in the midst of a service.
Aimee Semple McPherson with worshippers in the midst of a service.

MEN ALONG THE SHORE at Venice Beach, Los Angeles, stood straining in the suffocating heat. The sun was beating down on their felt-hatted heads. The ocean breeze was pleasant but did not do much to alleviate their discomfort. They had gathered with what binoculars and opera glasses they could find. Women nearby wept and fanned themselves with lace handkerchiefs. One woman collapsed and fell in the sand.

The men scanned the blue ocean waters for signs of a human form.

“I think I have spotted her!” One young man began stripping off part of his clothing. The nearby women turned away in modesty and hid their eyes. The men continued to aim their glasses at the tiny dot in the surf as the young man ran up to the sea and dove in. It was a stinging belly flop, but that did not seem to deter him. He swam with fury towards the spot where he and seen the dot. The men watched and waited, their glasses focused on the young man. He was struggling against rip tides.

Suddenly he disappeared beneath the waves. He appeared again, for a split second, then, he was gone for good, halfway to his destination.

The men were disappointed to see that the dot in the surf was not human at all, but a seal. The beast seemed to rise up a time or two. The witnesses then saw that the seal was dead and merely floating on the surface. They called to the young man to return to shore, but he did not hear them. He was drowned. The women on the beach could not be consoled. Where was Sister Aimee? And now the young man, a Good Samaritan, indeed, had slipped beneath the unforgiving waves.

They lingered there for several hours, waiting for a miracle to happen. There would be one. When the body of the young man washed ashore, the men herded the women inland, while authorities moved in with a stretcher.

“We must go now, brothers and sisters. We must rest, take water and nourishment, but we shall return.”

“Amen!”

“Amen!”

“Amen!”

“Amen, Brother Jonas.”

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“Let us bow our heads here for a moment and say a prayer for Sister Aimee and for the soul of the young man.”

“Amen!”

“Amen!”

“Amen!”

Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson had built her famed domed church, Angelus Temple in Echo Park, Los Angeles, three years earlier, in 1923. She was so intriguing and famous as a preacher and faith healer that people would not leave her alone. They followed her everywhere. She had to build a private retreat on a rock over Lake Elsinore to escape the madness.

On the May day in 1926 that she disappeared, Aimee Semple McPherson went to Venice Beach to swim and write a sermon. When her faithful assistant stepped away for just a few moments to take a phone call, McPherson vanished. Nearby followers were convinced she had been swallowed up by the sea. As late as 1926, people were speculating about sea monsters and this was offered as one possibility for her absence.

Even with all of the gloom and doom surrounding her disappearance, her followers were convinced that she would be resurrected. They were not disappointed.

Farther south, near the border at Agua Prieta, a woman knocked on a door, a month or so after these events. She was covered with the dust from the road and said to the family inside that she had been walking for hours. She further explained that she needed help because she has been held captive in a hut. She had been on Venice Beach and was asked to go help a child that was ill and living in the back of a car. As she approached the car, she was chloroformed and taken captive, winding up in the strange little hut. Sister Aimee has now been resurrected.

A McPherson biographer has another theory for her disappearance. It seems that McPherson’s sound engineer, Kenneth Ormiston, disappeared at the same time. He was a married man, but there were definitely some sparks flying between them. The biographer, Matthew Sutton, believes that they went off together to have an affair. When Sister Aimee read the newspapers, all of the drama surrounding her disappearance, she decided she had to go home. There was a grand jury investigation concerning her disappearance when she returned, but it was such a circus of confusion that nothing ever came of it. What exactly happened is a matter of wide debate to this day.

Who was Aimee Semple McPherson? She was born in Ontario, Canada in 1890. As an adolescent, she went to see Robert Semple, and Irish Pentecostal preacher. After a proper courtship, they got married and traveled far and wide preaching the gospel. Robert Semple died of malaria in Hong Kong. Aimee survived but was pregnant. She felt she had gotten the calling and traveled America preaching and faith healing, by laying on hands. She was a glamorous sensation, wearing long beautiful gowns. Her second marriage to Harold McPherson probably failed because her popularity exploded, and he found it difficult to take a part in the mere background. After she built Angelus Temple, she incorporated theater-quality productions into her sermons, with make-up, costumes lighting and music. In these productions, biblical stories came to life. She then bought a radio station to broadcast her sermons to shut-ins. She even used Charlie Chaplin as an advisor with the dramas. Reno Sweeney, the sensuous sermonizer in the musical Anything Goes was supposedly Cole Porter’s version of Aimee Semple McPherson.

The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel has a membership of eight million people worldwide. It was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson on January 1, 1923 and the term Foursquare Gospel comes from the book of Ezekiel.

On September 27, 1944, McPherson was found dead after ingesting too many sedatives. Her followers are convinced that her death was an accident as she was a known insomniac. She was fifty-three years old.

Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her books.

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