James Bernard Schafer

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James Bernard Schafer

Master Metaphysician[1]
Born1896
Died (aged 59)
Cause of deathSuicide
NationalityAmerican
Other namesThe Messenger
Alma materUniversity of Michigan Medical School
OccupationCult leader
Known forImmortal Baby hoax
Criminal chargeGrand larceny
Criminal penaltyc. 5 years prison
Spouse(s)Cecilia Lawrence Schafer
Children1

James Bernard Schafer (1896 – April 26, 1955) was a man primarily known as the founder of a cult known as the Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians and by an attempt to raise an "immortal baby".[2]

Early years[edit]

Schafer was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He earned a medical doctor's degree at the University of Michigan.[3] He also joined the Ku Klux Klan.[4]

Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians[edit]

The group was founded in the 1920s and had attracted thousands by the 1930s, most being middle-aged women. An inner circle of male members was known as "The Storks", who made layettes.[5]

In January 13, 1938, the group purchased the 24-acre William Kissam Vanderbilt Estate in Long Island as a retreat. Schafer renamed the mansion "Peace Haven".[6][7]

The retreat was open only to paying members, who were charged $100 (equivalent to $1,801 in 2018).[8]

Pepperidge Hall, former mansion of Christopher R. Robert, was nearly purchased by the group in 1939.[9][10] However, the sale later fell through.[11]

A building at 217 W. 57th Street, built by Jay Gould as a stable, was purchased by the group in February 1940 as the location for an auditorium.[12] The group also purchased the Adelphi Theatre, changed its name to the "Radiant Center", and put on metaphysical plays there.[13]

The immortal baby[edit]

In November 1939, he announced his intention to bring Baby Jean, whose mother, a waitress named Catherine Gauntt,[14] was too poor to raise her, into the mansion and prepare her for everlasting life through metaphysics and a special vegetable diet.[15] It was intended that she eventually become the group's immortal leader. However, the experiment terminated early, in December 1940 when they returned Baby Jean to her parents,[16][17] citing both her parents' wishes and the cost.[18] Later, her mother filed suit. Grand larceny charges were also filed by the Attorney General, John J. Bennett, Jr.[19][20]

Questions centered on various lawsuits filed by others against the group and also Baby Jean's property, which included a diamond ring supposedly valued at $50,000 (equivalent to $894,181 in 2018).[21][22]

The group encountered financial difficulties during the trial and Peace Haven was foreclosed and auctioned off.[23]

On March 24, 1942, Schafer pleaded guilty and was sent to Sing Sing on May 5 for a term of at least 5 years.[24] During that time, he lost Peace Haven, which is now part of Dowling College. Upon his release, he opened a correspondence school in metaphysics in upstate New York and published a magazine devoted to metaphysical issues.

Later years[edit]

On April 26, 1955, Schafer and his wife Cecilia were found dead in their car on the grounds of his school.[25] There was a suicide note on the seat beside them, detailing instructions for their daughter on how to continue operating the school. It also stated that they had "no other way out." Schafer was 59. His wife was 55.

Works[edit]

  • Schafer, James B.; William M. Evers; Éliphas Lévi. 20 Lectures on Truth.
  • ———————— (1939). The Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians: Student Class Work. Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians. 720 pages.
  • ————————. Mental Magic: The Miracle Power for Producing. Metaphysical Service Bureau.
  • ————————. The Treasure Chest. 64 pages.

References[edit]

  1. ^ E. J. Kahn (March 16, 1940). "A Reporter at Large". The New Yorker: 50. I called up Mr. Schafer, who is probably the only man in the New York telephone directory with an M. M. (Master Metaphysician) after his name...
  2. ^ "James Schafer and the Master Metaphysicians". Museum of Hoaxes. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  3. ^ "Started On 'Immortality' Road. Baby Jean Just Coos At Idea". Fitchburg Sentinel. Fitchburg, Massachusetts. 6 Jan 1940. p. 11 – via newspapers.com.
  4. ^ "Cultist Who Claimed Secret of Eternal Life Found Dead". Lubbock Evening Journal. Lubbock, Texas. 26 Apr 1955. p. 10 – via newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "'The Storks', a Diaper Brigade, Bared as Offspring of Cult Head". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 26 Dec 1940. p. 3 – via newspapers.com.
  6. ^ E. J. Kahn; Harold Ross (February 5, 1938). "Haven". The Talk of the Town. The New Yorker: 9.
  7. ^ "Metaphysicians Seek Truth in L.I. Mansion". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Brooklyn, New York. 5 Jul 1938. p. 5 – via newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Vunck, Gladys (30 Jul 1939). "Oakdale Taxpayers Hit Removal Of Peace Haven From Tax Rolls". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. p. 19 – via newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Thinkers to Convene In Old L.I. Mansion". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 3 Sep 1939. p. 2 – via newspapers.com.
  10. ^ Hill, Edwin O. (1 Oct 1939). "The Human Side of the News". Montana Butte Standard. Butte, Montana. p. 4 – via newspapers.com.
  11. ^ "METAPHYSICIANS BAR DEAL; Purchase of Pepperidge Hall Is Dropped in Contract Dispute". The New York Times. December 10, 1939. p. 67.
  12. ^ "Peace Cult to Take Over Gould Stable". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 29 Feb 1940. p. 5 – via newspapers.com.
  13. ^ "Pickets Put Reality Into 'Radiant Center'". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 29 Jan 1941. p. 3 – via newspapers.com.
  14. ^ "'Immortal' Baby has Natural Taste for Easter Finery". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 22 Mar 1940. p. 3 – via newspapers.com.
  15. ^ "Adopt Baby To Prove Theory". The Daily Mail. Hagerstown, Maryland. 25 Nov 1939. p. 1 – via newspapers.com.
  16. ^ Holliday, Diane; Chris Kretz (2010). "Idle Hour and the Crazy Years". Oakdale. Arcadia. p. 84. ISBN 073857239X.
  17. ^ "Baby Being Trained For Immortality Is Returned to Parents". Freeport Journal-Standard. Freeport, Illinois. 18 December 1940. p. 13 – via newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "Just an Ordinary Mortal Once More". Mount Carmel Item. Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. 19 Dec 1940. p. 13 – via newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "'Immortality' Probe opens" (PDF). The Poughkeepsie Eagle-News. December 20, 1941. p. 18. Retrieved 6 April 2013 – via newspapers.com.
  20. ^ "Peace Haven Cultists Probed By Bennett". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 19 Dec 1940. p. 1 – via newspapers.com.
  21. ^ "Cult Probed By Bennett". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 19 Dec 1940. p. 2 – via newspapers.com.
  22. ^ "Donor Belittles Value of Baby Jean's Ring". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 20 Dec 1940. pp. 1, 21 – via newspapers.com.
  23. ^ "$1,500,000 Home of Immortality Baby at Oakdale is Auctioned Off for $22,000". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 18 Sep 1941. p. 1 – via newspapers.com.
  24. ^ "Sentence "Spiritual Leader" for Swindle". The Bakersfield Californian. 5 May 1942. p. 13. Retrieved 15 October 2013 – via newspapers.com. [..] sentenced to from two and one-half to five years in Sing Sing for swindling a woman follower of $9000. General Sessions Judge Owen W. Bohan [..]
  25. ^ "A Double Suicide Recalls Odd Cult; J. B. Schafer, Found Dead in Car With Wife, Once Ran Metaphysical Order". New York Times. April 27, 1955. p. 24. Retrieved 6 April 2013.

External links[edit]