• U.S.

Religion: Heavenly Gates

4 minute read

At U. S. colleges, pious students are known as “Christers.” It is their martyrly lot to be ribbed occasionally by their irreverent fellows. At Dartmouth College a Christer who did not take ribbing calmly was Harrington Kenneth Gates, nicknamed “Heavenly.” Once, in the college library, Heavenly Gates with powerful fists ripped up a copy of Freethinker Tom Paine’s Common Sense which someone handed him. Once he turned in tortured fury on a football player who said: “Say, Heavenly, if you’ve got any pull with God, tell him to stop this rain.”

Beefy, intense-looking Harrington Gates, the only one of their ten children that a family in Saugus, Mass. could afford to educate well, was Dartmouth quarterback, a hard-hitting blocker trained at Dean Academy by Coach Daniel (“Dirty Dan”) Sullivan. Last year Heavenly Gates played on the Dartmouth team all season. Last September, Gates, a senior, did not show up for practice. Football, he told his friends, was commercialized, godless; the players swore too much.

Last fortnight Christer Gates entered upon a spiritual scrimmage, a gridiron Golgotha which last week would have attained a “Stover at Yale” quality but for the fact that practically everyone at Dartmouth—the dean, the football team, the coach, the college publicity office—behaved toward Gates with the utmost sympathy. In his room, a few nights before the Yale game, had appeared a white-clad figure who said: “I am the Lord, and I command you to play football with Dartmouth.”

Whether or not Heavenly Gates knew he was being ribbed by a student, he went next day to Coach Earl Blaik, began practicing. In the Yale game he helped Dartmouth win, 24-to-6. But next day he scribbled a note of resignation from college, departed for a farm near Amherst, 90 miles away in the New Hampshire hills. Dartmouth’s Dean Lloyd Kellock Neidlinger, who knew where Gates had gone, went after him. On the farm was a branch of a famed old New England cult—the Holy Ghost and Us Society (or Legion of God).

Some 45 years ago in Durham, Me. “Rev.” Frank. W. Sandford, a magnetic little man who had been an able baseball player, founded the Holy Ghost and Us Society, built some gilt-domed frame houses on a hilltop which he called “Shiloh.” He named himself “Elijah,” claimed he had the ear of the Holy Ghost, collected money in abundance from 1,000 followers.

Sandford staged cures and claimed he raised the dead, but at least 20 people died without medical care at Shiloh, and “Elijah” was thrice tried for manslaughter. He was convicted of nothing, however, until 1911, when he returned from a world voyage on a leaky schooner. Six followers had died of scurvy, exposure or starvation. Tried for manslaughter, Sandford was sentenced to ten years in Atlanta Penitentiary, was released after six, then disappeared from public sight.

Amherst villagers declared last week that Sandford, now a bearded prophet of 76, was to be seen of moonlit nights near the cult’s farm. Neither Dean Neidlinger, however, nor a sheriff, nor newshawks who visited the farm saw him. Heavenly Gates declared: “I have found the peace I have been looking for.” Dean Neidlinger, satisfied there was “no monkey business” about Gates’s trip to the farm, departed announcing that Gates was still free to return to Dartmouth. At length, after four days of wrestling with what by week’s end had become the most publicized young conscience in any U. S. college, Harrington Gates returned. Dean Neidlinger recorded his absence as “excused,” said that Dartmouth was “content with his decision to give up football.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com