Rick had to take his car in for service. Rather than sit in the waiting room, reading crumpled newspapers and year-old magazines, we decided it would be more fun wandering around Healdsburg. This is one of my favorite towns in Northern California and was the inspiration for Haven. I mixed things up a bit, moving theaters and schools, diners and hair salons, but the river is right where it belongs and so is the bridge spanning the Russian River.
We drove up and down the streets with their eclectic mix of architectural style and ended up at the local museum to see their new exhibit on Utopian Communities that started (and ended) in our area. Northern California is beautiful and attracts all kinds of interesting characters.
The Icarians, an egalitarian commune based on the French utopian movement found by Etienne Cabot, spent a few years here before members awakened and drifted away. Another short-lived Christian-socialist community (Altruria) was inspired by William Dean Howell’s 1894 novel, A Traveler from Altruria. A third, the Preston Colony, was formed by Emily and Hartwell Preston. Madam Preston did a booming business in mail order allopathic medicines. She claimed she read from walls of light, when she wasn’t reading mystical messages from the sky. Her most famous “cure” was blistering. She rubbed iodine liniment into your skin in order to raise a blister that grew into a running sore which was, of course, evidence of bodily impurities coming forth. People came by the droves, and thousands wrote letters asking for her medical advice. First things first: read Price of Medicines and How to Use Them. Plenty of people did, and Madam Preston ended up with an 18 room Italianate mansion and 20 room sanitarium from all that love.
The fourth interesting character was Thomas Lake Harris, a bearded spiritualist-prophet-poet, and founder of the Brotherhood of the New Life who gathered a few orthodox clerics, twenty Japanese from the Satsuma Province, some American ladies of prominence/wealth, and one member of British Parliament, Laurence Oliphant, author of Piccadilly, who brought his mother and newlywed wife with him. Harris brought them west 1885 to established Fountain Grove. Life was simple. Give all your money to Harris. Work hard. Make lots of wine. Use tobacco. Don’t have sex, even if you’re married. Oh, and practice his mode of respiration which will bring on the divine (light-headed) you. When accusations of immorality and fraud arose, Harris sold his share of 1500+ acres of prime land to his inner circle and ran east, leaving his followers convinced he had discovered the secret of immortal life on earth. His first lieutenant, Kanaye Nagasaw, took over Fountain Grove and ably managed the wine-making enterprise until his death in 1934.
Where cults abound, the lost are found. There will always be self-proclaimed gods, goddesses and prophets. Eventually their lies come to light. Truth remains: Only Jesus saves. Only Jesus unlocks the gate to Heaven. When you believe in Him, you don’t have to wonder or worry about where you’ll be killing time.