The American West is littered with ghost towns — abandoned communities that fell on the wrong side of prosperity. But very few of them fell into ruin because of an attempt to resurrect one of their residents.
Marie Ogden, a wealthy widow from Newark, New Jersey, found comfort in the world of spiritualism after the death of her husband in 1929. Previously a volunteer and philanthropist, she formed an occult group called the School of Truth, partly to find a way to communicate with her husband. Claiming that she could channel God through writing on her typewriter, Ogden started gaining followers and toured the country as a lecturer.
While on tour, she announced a revelation that she was to establish a religious colony in a wilderness area, far away from city life. Through friends, Ogden learned that an area of San Juan County, Utah, north of Monticello, fit the bill. A group of 21 disciples — mostly from Boise, Idaho — joined her at the location in southeast Utah to establish the “Home of Truth” in 1933. She claimed that it would be the location of Christ’s second coming, the exact center of Earth’s axis, and the only place where people would survive the tribulations of the end times.
The settlement was built with three areas a few miles apart: The Outer, Middle, and Inner Portal. The Outer Portal has a dormitory and communal house; the Middle Portal would have had a chapel if it was ever built; and six houses, including one belonging to Ogden and her daughter Roberta, and a barracks made up the Inner Portal. Altogether, there were 23 buildings. Residents were not allowed to own personal possessions, drink alcohol or smoke, and eventually had to conform to a pescatarian diet — though they also were not allowed to plant their own gardens, which, you know ... makes sense.
Ogden claimed she was the Virgin Mary reincarnated and some of her followers were reincarnated religious figures including the prophet Nathan and Brigham Young. To continue spreading her ideas, Ogden bought the San Juan Record, the local newspaper, and published the column “Metaphysical Truths.” (Note to self: Look into using this magazine to start a cult.) Despite living with few material comforts that they didn’t make themselves or electricity or running water, the community grew to about 100 people by 1935.
That year, Edith Peshak, a member of the group who joined when she was promised a cure for her cancer, succumbed to her illness on Feb. 11, 1935. Ogden, however, claimed that it was just temporary and Peshak would be revived pretty soon. On April 4, she wrote a column about the conversations she was having with Peshak’s spirit. The residents of the Home of Truth were injecting the woman’s corpse with milk and eggs and washing it three times a day. The county sheriff visited in June to investigate and found the body well preserved. Authorities felt that they couldn’t really do anything because people were allowed to keep Native American mummies found in the region, and Peshak, by that time, fell into that general category.
Word started to spread about the goings-on at the settlement, and people began to think that Ogden’s followers might be a dangerous cult. Meanwhile, the followers grew disillusioned, even when Ogden wrote in February 1937 that Peshak would come back to life at any minute. Investigators came back in May of that year to have Ogden sign a death certificate for Peshak and learned that the body had been cremated just after their first visit in 1935. By August, only seven people were still living with Ogden at her site. She was eventually put in a nursing home in Blanding, Utah, where she died in 1975. People continued to live in the town until 1977, after it had been sold a couple times.
The ghost town is on private property, but the owner has maintained the Inner Portal, now called “Marie’s Place.” It can be spotted on State Highway 211, which leads to the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park.