Aimee's Message
AIMEE'S LIFE

Aimee Semple McPherson was born a traditional farm girl in Ontario in 1890 to a "tambourine thumping Salvation Army" mother. From birth Aimee was devoted to religion—but when news of Darwin's evolutionary theory entered her school, she was left in a panic of disbelief. Struggling to reconcile her mother's Christian ethic with an opposing evolutionary theory, she began attending the sermons of Robert Semple in 1907.

Quickly Semple helped Aimee reaffirm her faith in Christianity and at the same time the two fell in love. After burning her ragtime sheet music, novels, and dancing pumps, the two left as missionaries for China once they were married. Once in China Semple died of dysentery, and Aimee was left with a one-month old baby.

Aimee made her way back to New York, where she decided to set off on the road as a traveling evangelist. With her mother and children, she traveled up and down the Atlantic Coast pitching a tent, playing piano, and perfecting her very personal evangelist technique. She traveled in a 1912 Packard touring "Gospel Car" with the words: "Jesus is Coming Soon-Get Ready" on one side, and the question "Where Will You Spend Eternity?" on the other side.

In 1918, like many other Americans at the time, Aimee traveled West. It is believed that she and her mother are the first women to have traveled alone across the country in an automobile (Liberty Harbor).

Aimee restores a blind man's site at a healing service in Boston. (Photo From Storming Heaven)
By this time, Aimee's name was spreading across the country, and people were flocking to her sermons. But true fame came in 1921 when Aimee helped a crippled woman in the audience rise from her wheelchair, and the audience proclaimed her a "faith healer." She modestly refused any credit, saying, "I am not a healer…Jesus is the healer. I am only the little office girl who opens the door and says, 'Come in.'"

In June 1923, Aimee opened the $1,500,000 Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. A huge white dome-like structure, the Temple could accommodate 5,000 worshipers and came to serve as the "Western center for evangelism." Topped by a rotating, illuminated cross visible for fifty miles, the Temple had a huge choir, a brass band, and a pipe organ. A broadcasting station, KFSG sent the Foursquare Gospel messages beyond the Temple in 1924, and a "Miracle Room" displayed stacks of crutches, wheel chairs and braces from faith cures.

Over the next few years, Aimee created a crusader magazine called Bible Call (monthly) and the The Foursquare Crusader (weekly). She reorganized the church as a "Salvation Navy," establishing over 400 branch churches, or "lighthouses," and sponsoring 178 mission stations throughout the world. Throughout her lifetime she traveled on over 250 foreign missions. In 1925, the LIFE (Lighthouse of International Foursquare Evangelism) Bible College was opened to train young men and women for service in ministry.

In 1929 Aimee cuts her birthday cake in the shape of Angelus Temple. (Photo From Storming Heaven)
But the climax of Aimee's public sensation came on May 18, 1926, when she mysteriously disappeared after she had been swimming in the ocean.

Immediately her followers plunged into a state of panic, camping on the shore of the beach where they believed that she had drowned in the ocean. Her mother, Minnie Kennedy, received a ransom note from "kidnappers," demanding $500,000 for Aimee's return. Minnie, however, was convinced her daughter was dead, and she discarded the note. Boats patrolled the water, one heartbroken girl dove into the water after Aimee and killed herself, and scuba divers searched for her body underwater-one even died of exhaustion.

Just when everyone had assumed Aimee lay dead on the ocean floor, Aimee knocked on the door of a cottage in Agua Prieta, Mexico 32 days after her disappearance, claiming she had been kidnapped and taken to a shack in the Mexican desert. But skeptics thought Aimee had staged one of the most clever—and successful—scams in history: she had faked her own kidnapping. Although she said she walked across the burning sands, her shoes were unscuffed. And coincidentally, Kenneth G. Ormiston, the engineer for her radio station, had not been seen during Aimee's absence—and many believed the two were having an affair.

On June 23, 1926 a crowd of at least 50,000 people gathered for her homecoming, which was the largest crowd that had ever gathered to greet anyone arriving in Los Angeles—including sports figures, presidents, politicians or movie stars.

Further investigation into her disappearance revealed that chambermaids, room clerks, hotel registers, and scraps of paper in her handwriting indicated that Aimee and Ormiston met over several months in a seaside cottage during the month she claimed to be a prisoner in the desert. The evidence, however, was inconclusive, and the investigation ended in 1927. Nevertheless, her disappearance produced "a turmoil that convulsed Los Angeles, divided the state of California, and enthralled millions of onlookers who watched the unfolding extravaganza turn the medium of the press and radio." (Lately 1970) (Click Here to read a story from the Los Angeles Times about the mood of Aimee's desperate followers waiting for her return on the beach.)

In 1926, a deep-sea diver prepares to search for Aimee's body after she mysteriously disappears into the ocean. (Photo From Storming Heaven)
Aimee's mysterious—and still unresolved—disappearance was not the only source of controversy in her life. Battles between her mother, Minnie Kennedy, and daughter Roberta over control of the church in the 1930s were widely publicized in the press, and Aimee ended up ousting them from the church and not speaking to them at the end of her life. There were several rumors that she had her face lifted and her legs slimmed. Aimee was married three times, widowed once, and divorced twice. A total of 55 suits were entered against her for a variety of damages. But regardless of these controversies, the public continued to come to her Temple, listen to her radio broadcasts, and attend services around the world. As Aimee once said, "I have the passionate devotion of thousands. If the papers tomorrow morning proved that I had committed eleven murders, those thousands would still believe in me." (Lately 1970)

Throughout the 1930s, Aimee launched a series of relief efforts including soup kitchens, donations, and free clinics. On September 27, 1944, she was found unconscious in her hotel room after speaking the night before to a crowd in Oakland, California. The coroner's verdict was an "overdose of barbital compound," or sleeping pills, which was ruled to be "accidental."

Aimee's church ministry continues today with foreign missionaries in over twenty countries, and two periodicals. In the United States, membership numbers over 100,000.

Also see...

This page was constructed in 1999 by Anna Robertson, an undergraduate American Studies student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. To contact Anna, please send e-mail to asr4c@virginia.edu or check out her home page.