by Buckley Jensen
This tiny woman, who stood less than five feet tall, garnered world-wide attention and fame. Her fascinating story as told by the world’s press is extraordinary. The notoriety that came with some of the events of her life was something she did not seek. For the first 28 years of this writer’s life, she was a powerful role model.
Marie Margaret Snyder Ogden was born May 31, 1883 in Newark, New Jersey.
She was a precocious child, a gifted musician and a highly educated scholar. She married Harry Ogden, a successful insurance executive, and had a daughter named Roberta. She had many honors, including becoming President of the Federated Women’s Clubs of New Jersey. Harry’s untimely death in 1929 had a profound affect on Marie. She began to search for the answer to spiritual questions. Her intellect and her leadership abilities won many converts to her way of thinking.
For four years after Harry’s death she traveled the country, teaching, lecturing and establishing reading societies and reading groups. Her teachings included a prophesy that terrible times were ahead for the country and she started looking for a safe place where she and her followers would be able to weather the ravages to come.
She said she was led to Dry Valley, 15 miles north of Monticello, in a vision. In 1933 she arrived in San Juan with her little band of 30 followers to begin building homes, drilling wells, and planting gardens. They called their settlements the “Home of Truth.”
The layout of the Home of Truth consisted of three distinct clusters of buildings. The one which was closest to present day U. S. Highway 191, was a half mile west of the highway. It was called the Outer Portal, and it is completely gone today. The Middle Portal was 1.5 miles further west, and was the largest of the three clusters. A few of the those buildings still stand. Marie and her daughter and a few favored members lived at the Inner Portal which sits just north of State Highway 211 at Photograph Gap two miles west of the Middle Portal.
Marie Ogden’s teachings and writings included reincarnation, a spartan lifestyle, conversations with the dead, resurrection, and other astro-esoteric ideas. She claimed to communicate with the Divine, and she wrote thousands of pages recording those communications. One of her declarations was that Jesus Christ’s second coming would occur on the Blue Mountains, southwest of the Home of Truth, and that His coming was imminent.
Most of the people of Monticello did not agree with her theology, but they admired her grit, talents and intelligence. They also remembered the struggles most of their progenitors had experienced in trying to find a place where they could live in peace.
While there was not much interaction between those at the Home of Truth, (except normal commerce as they purchased supplies in Monticello) the people of the area left Marie and her followers alone to practice their religious beliefs as they wished.
Marie was always on the lookout for new converts. Beth Summers, who ran the Hyland Hotel in Monticello for many years, said that they had a lot people from all over the country, as far away as New York, who stayed at the Hotel while visiting and deciding whether or not they wanted to be part of the Home of Truth.
Mrs. Summers went on to say that those who did decide to stay often did not stay long because they found Mrs. Ogden too dictatorial about the way they should live their lives.
Dawn Boyle remembers Mrs. Ogden as a very “cultured, sincere person. We thought in many ways she was a great lady.”
In 1934 Marie purchased the San Juan Record and was the editor for the next 15 years.
The incident that received world-wide attention, and was the undoing of the Home of Truth, happened in 1935. One of the colony members, Edith Peshak died of cancer. Marie hurried to the Peshak home and assured Edith’s grieving husband that indeed she was not dead; that she would live again.
During the next several weeks, Marie and her helpers worked daily to keep the body “alive.” Every day they bathed the corpse twice in salt water and covered it with clean blankets.
They fed the cadaver a mixture of milk and eggs through injection. According to press reports later, Mrs. Ogden repeatedly assured Elmer Peshak that blood still flowed in his wife’s veins.
Eight months after Edith’s death, someone notified authorities. State officials demanded to see the corpse and have proof of its proper disposal. After a tense standoff, Dr. Bayles from Moab, Leda Young, a nurse from Monticello, and the San Juan County Sheriff were allowed to see the corpse. What they found was a body that was completely mummified and no danger to public health.
Meanwhile, the world-wide press was having a field day with this sensational story. The Home of Truth was named “The Cult of the Living Dead.” One of the members of Ogden’s group later testified that he secretly cremated the body while Ogden was communing with unseen spiritual advisers.
The case was finally closed in 1937, but the Peshak incident and the attendant sensational publicity was the death knell of the Home of Truth. At it’s peak, the colony had almost 100 members. Many left after 1937 and the place was never the same.
To make matters worse, the San Juan Record building in Monticello burned down in the middle of the night. It appeared to have been arson although no one was ever charged.
But despite all, Marie carried on. She was determined to succeed. She rebuilt the San Juan Record and continued to send out information to anyone who expressed interest in her spiritual views.
In order to support herself, Marie taught piano lessons to scores of children in Monticello and continued to publish the newspaper. Giving up or giving in was simply not in the lexicon of this determined woman.
When she sold the newspaper in 1949 she moved back to The Home of Truth where she lived for the rest of her life. She owned a l947 purple Studebaker. At precisely 10 a.m. every Thursday morning, she and her entourage arrived in Monticello to do their weekly shopping. Other than that weekly occurrence, she and her followers had little contact with the outside world. On March 4, 1975 she passed away at the San Juan Nursing home at the age of 91.
In September of 1977, her earthly possessions were auctioned off. Things like classical sheet music, records of classical music and a Steinway Grand Piano. Her grand piano was the only luxury she ever allowed herself. It almost filled her tiny living room.
That huge wonderful piano and the little lady who went with it blessed the lives of many Monticello children over a quarter of a century.
Her tiny home, which had no insulation, no power and no plumbing and today sits silent and alone on the ridge at Photograph Gap, is a lonely reminder of one of San Juan’s most memorable women.
Sue Adams Halliday purchased the Home of Truth property after Mrs. Ogden’s death and has made an effort to preserve the Inner Portal. The property is today known as “Marie’s Place” and is visible from State Highway 211 which goes to the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park.
For the “rest or the story” on Marie Ogden, please see Buckley Jensen’s Life is Good Column in today’s paper.
(Editor’s note: This is the first is a periodic series of articles about the “Giants in San Juan”.)