In his later years, Harrison Gray Otis rode in an armor-plated, 1910 Franklin Model H. The headlights protruded like cannons; a bronze horn stretching across the molded, deep-green hood resembled an elephant gun. General Otis — his official name — called the vehicle his “war machine.”
As editor-in-chief of the Times-Mirror Company, Otis drew lines in the sand. You were either with him or a sworn enemy. Democrats were “hags, harlots, and pollutants”; organized labor, “skunks, gas-pipe ruffians, and anarchists.” A large man with a walrus mustache and goatee, twice-wounded in the Civil War, Otis ran the Los Angeles Times and the weekly L.A. Mirror with two mottos: “People want their names in the paper” and “Everybody likes to see somebody else kicked, preferably below the belt.”
One of his enemies, California governor Hiram Johnson, said Otis “sits in senile dementia with gangrene heart and rotting brain, grimacing at every reform, going down to his grave in snarling infamy.”
Otis helped organize the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and was a major booster of Southern California.
Carey McWilliams: Otis believed “he owned Los Angeles, in fee simple, and that he alone was destined to lead it to greatness.”
On May 3, 1899, the Los Angeles Times had a circulation of almost 29,000. Otis ran an exposé about Madame Katherine Tingley’s Theosophical colony at Point Loma. Instead of relief for “destitute Cubans,” the story alleged that she put the funds “to her own use.” After many cables to Cuba and affidavits gathered, Tingley refuted the charge.
On September 16, 1900, the Los Angeles Herald ran a long feature, “Weird and Wondrous City of Esotero. Strange Things are Going on in the Home of Mystery.” The “doings” made “the honest country folk on the Point Loma hillside whisper ‘SPOOKY,’ while citizens across the bay in San Diego town echo ‘spooky.’ How spooks, in their phantom souls, must revel in their eerie power!”
“Intensely Jesuitical and unjust,” Madame Tingley is “She-who-must-be-obeyed.” Her “absolute will” makes her “the most powerful and dangerous hypnotist in the world.” Question her infallibility, or her divinity, and she’ll cast your soul to the “Black Lodge” with the “dark forces against which the loyal are ever battling.”
“Unlike the creature of [H. Ryder] Haggard’s fantasy, this She does not dwell in a cave, though Loma has great caves in which waves of the ocean might hide to whisper secrets too dark for sunlight.”
In September, 1901, when an Emma Goldman–inspired anarchist assassinated President McKinley, General Otis turned his sights on, to him, an equally dangerous woman. A series of L.A. Times articles — adopting the Los Angeles Herald’s rhetoric — alleged that, instead of practicing theo-sophia — “divine wisdom” — at Lomaland, “vile spookery” ran rampant at the “crank institution.”
In December, 1901, Tingley filed a lawsuit against the Times-Mirror Company: $50,000 in damages for libel. The trial began a year later. In the interim, it appeared that her claim of a “gigantic conspiracy” might be true. Outright attacks by rival Theosophists, by ex-members of her group, captains of industry, and General Otis testified to a many-pronged attempt to destroy the “City Beautiful” on a hill.
On March 25, 1902, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a letter by Dr. Jerome A. Anderson, a former member of Tingley’s cabinet and vice president of the Theosophical Society of America. While practicing medicine in San Francisco, Anderson made several visits to Lomaland. Tingley, he discovered, did things that would horrify “the founders of the order.”
“I have seen men and women of wealth, education, and high social position, humble themselves before her in a way that sensible people can hardly conceive of.” Having to wear “long gowns and ridiculous hats,” he tried to take part in “the foolish ceremonies, with some belief that they might have meaning. But I knew…that pretty soon we would have to crawl into Mrs. Tingley’s presence on all fours. It grew worse with every visit.”
Under Tingley’s management, “the organization has gone all to pieces” in America. Of the original 140 lodges, “not more than a dozen exist today.” She uses Theosophy “to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars” to equip and maintain “this freakish Oriental court of hers at Point Loma.”
“I stood by Mrs. Tingley just so long as I could and retain my manhood and my belief in the real tenets of Theosophy.”
Anderson later sent a circular with more allegations to Tingley’s enemies. When Dr. Loren Wood, the head physician who built the colony’s first hotel/sanitarium, complained that newborns weren’t eating enough, Tingley said they could “more quickly kill out the animal nature…if starved at first.” Tingley also made boys at the onset of puberty wear a “special jacket” — their hands strapped to their sides — to prevent self-abuse.
According to Anderson, Tingley confessed that if she weren’t so occupied with “trifling details,” she could attend to “planetary things.”
Tingley’s response: she would refute all allegations in court.
Two weeks before the trial began, Tingley’s general secretary, F. M. Pierce, the former head of a New York engineering firm, sent an urgent note to the board of police commissioners. Lomaland needed “two or more mounted policemen” to patrol outside the grounds. “Suspicious characters” had been spotted peering over the six-foot walls at the homestead and the children’s school. Agents from the Los Angeles Times?
“This condition of affairs [might] increase until after Mrs. Tingley’s libel suit is terminated,” Pierce warned. “If a child should disappear from this institution or a dead body found upon our premises, it may be thought that such an occurrence would powerfully influence the case.”
Until the assaults cease, the San Diegan-Sun reported, Lomaland must suspend all construction. Madame Tingley regrets “she cannot ward the good and faithful workmen from the effects of the hostile attacks now being made upon her by the common enemies of humanity and progress.”
Whether true or just canny public relations, the board denied Pierce’s request. The city needed its four mounted police downtown, not “the sage brush at Point Loma.” The Theosophists “tend to exaggerate,” a board member told the Sun.
Part one | Part five