With one week to go before my scheduled talk at the Wynnefield Library I embarked on a journey to learn more about the real Father Divine. When I was writing my novel I relied on publicly available pictures of the past and online accounts of the history to try to add some historical details to the story.
For my talk at the library I wanted to bring something to the table that can’t be found online. In order to do that I decided to visit his home, and the place where he is interred.
My children went with me as we set off to find Father Divine’s pristine Gothic Mansion, tucked back away from the road, behind iron gates in Gladwynne, Pennsylvania. The three story house sits atop a hill which is at the apex of the 73 acre property. It holds a library which will soon be open for study, several outbuildings and a shrine where Father Divine’s body rests. His followers speak of him in the present tense as they say he only sacrificed his body on earthy. His shrine is protected by two heavy metal doors adorned with bronze sculptures. Inside the building are quotes from Father Divine set in stone on the walls, under a ceiling of golden tiles.
The sky was blue as we pulled up the house and slowed to a stop to take in the scenery. I immediately snapped a picture of the breath taking estate which Divine referred to as “The Mount of the House of the Lord”. The home is open to visitors in the spring and summer and we were welcomed to visit by The Peace Mission Movement. The house is surrounded by lush green grass and beautiful gardens. The tulips in the gardens outside the house were immaculate. Set amongst the country setting, with a group of horses running nearby it was easy to forget we were just a stone’s throw away from Conshohocken, the Schuylkill and Philadelphia.
We were greeted within seconds of opening the car door with the word, “Peace.” I'll explain that more at the talk. A woman, who said she was in training with the movement, greeted us and took us to the main house. On the way she told me a story of how Father Divine had saved her mother when she was just a baby and had taken her mother in at his home on Long Island. She said that after her mother passed away she found her way back to the Peace Mission Movement. I quickly identified myself as the author of a book which focused on Divine’s Hotel in Philadelphia. I was worried that I would be turned out, but the woman was cordial and even excited, and they kindly showed me around the grand manor. They said anybody is welcome to all, not just those seeking to know more of the movement, the home is open to many types of visitors among them are some students of architecture who want to know more of the French Gothic Style of the home.
During our tour we saw that the tables had been set with fine china and silver in preparation for a Sunday Afternoon Banquet. From the dining room I had a clear view of Conshohocken. I was also given a tour of their atrium and of Divine’s office, which has a clear view of his shrine a few hundred yards off.
As we looked at the beautiful home I asked his followers, many of whom knew him, about his life, history and his legacy. Their information was fascinating. I learned right away that some of my scenes and assumptions in the book were not quite accurate, such as the locations of dining rooms within the hotel and my idea of Woodmont was not accurately described in the book. I’m okay with both of these facts as Woodmont is Mother Divine’s home and I had no intention of invading her privacy. I also learned that some ideas I had in other ares of the book were spot on.
The followers provided me with a book authored by Mother Divine, written for the Montgomery County Federation of Historical Societies, which shed a great deal of light on the movement and its history. I have outlined some passages from the book to share at my upcoming talk. I can’t wait to share what I learned on this visit and to read a passage from the Novel Divine Hotel. If you want to know more please come to the Wynnefield Library for free talk on April 11, at 6:00 p.m.
If you wish to purchase a copy of The Divine Hotel please click here: Purchase a copy.