Cults around the World: Heaven’s Gate

Front page of Newsweek Magazine: 'Follow Me', Inside the Heaven's Gate Mass Suicide, April 14, 1997. Source: CS 287-3, Heaven's Gate collection.

Front page of Newsweek Magazine, 1997. Source: CS 287, Heaven’s Gate.

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

In the blog series finale of “Cults around the World”, cults develop because of an ideology or by a charismatic leader(s). Just like the previous cults, Heaven’s Gate, is no different, from beginning to end.

Heaven’s Gate began in 1972, when founders, Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, met in a psychiatric institution because they believed to be “… the two ‘endtime’ witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11” (Melton, 2013). In the mid-1970’s, Heaven’s Gate formed as a small group and more members joining in Southern California, Oregon, and Colorado. After Nettles’ death in 1985, the group grew secluded from the public; however, due to the advancement of the World Wide Web, Applewhite used this to spread his message (Hafford, 2017).

Front page of People Weekly: Personal stories from Heaven's Gate; Before the Cult; How 39 ordinary people left families behind for a journey to death, 1997. Source: CS 287-3, Heaven's Gate.

Front page of People Weekly, 1997. Source: CS 287-3, Heaven’s Gate.

Hafford (2014) states one of the core beliefs in Heaven’s Gate was “Applewhite told his acolytes that was the second coming of Jesus Christ, that God was an alien, and that they were living in the end time”. The group continued to move around to Texas and back to California. By 1995, Heaven’s Gate began to believe after the discovery of the Hale-Bopp comet, believing aliens were coming back to Earth. Finally in 1996, when they permanently located to San Diego ( Staff, 2010; Melton, 2013).

In March 1997, the unthinkable happened: thirty-nine members were found died! What happened? Due to Hale-Bopp comet passing by the Earth, Applewhite and his thirty-eight members committed suicide, in a similar fashion to People’s Temple. Staff (2010) mentions, “… as Hale-Bopp reached its closest distance to Earth, Applewhite and 38 of his followers drank a lethal mixture of phenobarbital and vodka and then lay down to die, hoping to leave their bodily containers, enter the alien spacecraft, and pass through Heaven’s Gate into a higher existence”.

At the University Archives and Special Collections, the Heaven’s Gate collection is located inside of our communal studies collections. Inside of the communal studies collection, there are over 18,000 images and documents combined from the Communal Finding Aids collection and Communal Studies gallery.


Hafford, M. (2017, March 24). Heaven’s Gate 20 years later: 10 things you didn’t know. Retrieved from Staff. (2010). Heaven’s gate cult members found dead. Retrieved from

Melton, J. G. (2013, October 7). Heaven’s gate. Retrieved from

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Cults of the World: Synanon

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

The Synanon Story. Volume 4, Issue 1. January, 1976. A bewildered Vietnamese orphan is comforted by Synanon doctor Mario Milch upon the child's arrival at Travis California after a flight across the Pacific. Over 100 Synanon residents plus the Foundation's staff of six physicians made the trip to Travis last spring to accompany the children to the Army Presidio in San Francisco and to provide them with medical attention.

The Synanon Story brochure, 1976. Source: CS 563, Synanon collection.

In part four of “Cults of the World”, some communal groups begin with good intentions. Charles Dederich wanted to help others with substance abuse, after he successfully overcome his alcohol addiction with his community, Synanon.

Synanon began in 1958 by Charles Dederich, as “… a residential recovery community for ‘dope-friends’” in California (Miller, p. 42). The name, Synanon, is a combination of “seminar” and “symposium”; moreover, Dederich used Alcohol Anonymous’ (AA) model without using religion; however, the structure of Synanon focused on being “… a tough, disciplined, drug-free environment with a dash of tender loving care” (Gelder, 1997).

In the mid-1960’s, Synanon grew tremendously. Addicts and non-addicts were welcomed to join the community and joined by the thousands; however, Synanon changed in the 1970’s (Gelder, 1997). In 1974, Synanon “… reorganized itself as a church” and membership numbers began to drop (Miller, 2001). This trend continued through up to the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The Synanon Prayer: Please let me first and always examine myself. Let Me be honest and truthful. Let me seek and assume responsibility. Let me understand rather than be understood. Let me trust and have faith in myself and my fellow man. Let me love rather than be loved. Let me give rather than receive.

The Synanon Prayer, n.d. Source: CS 563, Synanon collection.

By the late 1970’s and 1980’s, there was serious charges against Synanon and Dederich, leading to the community’s demise. Dederich, a recovering alcoholic, fell back into alcohol in 1978 and allegations came out against him and the community (Miller, p. 42). In 1980, Dederich faced charges of conspiracy of murder with two of his security force.  They were accused of trying to kill a lawyer who was suing them because they placed a rattlesnake in the lawyer’s mailbox. Gelder (1997) stated there were reports of violence such as “… forced vasectomies[,] mandatory abortions[, and] divorces”. Soon after the allegations, Dederich was stripped of his power in 1987 and Synanon disbanded in 1991, after losing their tax-exempt status; however, Dederich passed away in 1997 (Miller, p.43; Gelder, 1997).

In the University Archives and Special Collections, there are over six hundred and fifty collections relating to communal studies from the Center for Communal Studies. The finding aid inventory for Synanon is available for viewing on the online digital gallery. To view this collection, please email for more information.


Gelder, L. V. (1997, March 4). Charles Dederich, 83, Synanon founder, dies. Retrieved from

Miller, A. X. (2001). Community values. Nation, 273(21), 40-44. Retrieved from

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Cults of the World: Lundgren Cult

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

In part three of “Cults of the World”, cults are remembered for multiple reasons, whether their ideology, demise, or leader(s). That is what happened in Kirtland, Ohio as Jeffrey Lundgren and his cult committed an unspeakable act, leaving Kirtland in fear and horrified.

Transcript: 13 charged in human sacrifice By The Associated Press KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Authorities charged 13 former members of a religious commune with murder or conspiracy after the bodies of a family of five were found buried at an Ohio farm in what a prosecutor Friday called a human sacrifice. Seven of those charged were arrested in the the Kansas City area by Friday afternoon, said George Rodriguez of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Kansas City. Six others were being sought. "Two of those arrested have confessed to their participation the mass murders," Rodriguez said at a news conference. In Cleveland, Lake County prosecutor Steven C. LaTourette said the indicted cult members "are not crazy. They are the coolest, most inhuman people this town has ever seen." He said the Dennis Avery family apparently was killed because of commune leader Jeffrey Lundgren's interpretation of a prophecy that members had to be sacrificed before the group could relocate to the wilderness. Rodriguez said the defendants will be extradited to Ohio to face state charges. Five of those in custody waived extradition at a Jackson County, Mo., court hearing Friday afternoon. The bodies were found Wednesday night and Thursday at a farm near Kirtland, Ohio, a ' suburb of Cleveland near Lake Erie. The dead were identified tentatively as Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 42; and their three daughters, Trina, 13; Rebecca, 9; and Karen, 5. Rodriguez said the family, originally from Independence, had lived off and on at Lundgren's farm in Ohio and were killed sometime in mid-April. Rodriguez said the Averys were members of a splinter religious group led by Lundgren, a former lay minister of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is based in Independence. The Lake County coroner's office said they had been shot. The Plain Dealer of Cleveland quoted a police source as saying cult members had to perform a sacrifice before traveling west "where they would be cleansed and could search for a 'golden sword,' " which was not further characterized. A neighbor said the group apparently left the farm in April. Lundgren, 39, and his wife, Alice, 38, were among those charged and were being sought Friday. Also being sought is the Lundgrens' 19-year-old son, Damon. Dave True, a spokesman for the ATF in Kansas City, said Jeffrey Lundgren was thought to be somewhere in Missouri. "At this time at least, we don't have anything that tells us there's bodies anywhere else,'' True said. Lundgren left the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1988 after his ministry credentials were revoked arid formed his own religious group, said Dale Luffman, president of the northeast Ohio chapter of the RLDS. "He was silenced for ethical reasons,'' Luffman said. "He would have been expelled from the church on the basis of un-Christian conduct had he riot withdrawn his membership. They formed a radical splinter group. Their activities were very far outside the traditional church." The new splinter group apparently disbanded late in December after members became disgruntled over "sexual indiscretions," according to a report Friday in The Kansas City Times. An ATF agent received a tip about the bodies Dec. 31 from someone who was not part of the commune. Source: Evansville Courier newspaper, CS 089-1, Lundgren Cult.

Newspaper clipping from the Evansville Courier newspaper, 1990. Source: CS 089-1, Lundgren Cult.

Born on March 3, 1950 in Independence, Missouri, Jeffrey Lundgren joined the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Lundgren was actively involved with the church due to his strict upbringing. Later on, he served as a lay minister in Kirtland, Ohio until his dismissal by the church in 1988 (, 2014; Grasier, 2014).

As an adult, Lundgren became a religious lunatic: he began to tell people he was “… the self-professed prophet” (People, 2006) and preaching on the apocalypse and upcoming war. In 1984, Lundgren and his family moved to Kirtland, Ohio. In 1987, one of his followers, Dennis Avery, also moved to Kirtland. After Avery’s arrival, Lundgren went dark and mysterious by buying a large amount of guns (Biography, 2014; Glasier, 2014). Little did anyone know, Lundgren was about to conduct a murder plot on four of cult members.

Duncan Scott/News-Herald Jeffrey Lundgren watches a prospective juror come in for questioning by Judge Martin O. Parks and the prosecution and defense teams in Lake County Common Pleas Court on Aug.13, 1990, for his trial on capital murder charges. Source: News-Herald Newspaper, 2015.

Jeffrey Lundgren watches a prospective juror come in for questioning by Judge Martin O. Parks and the prosecution and defense teams in Lake County Common Pleas Court on Aug.13, 1990, for his trial on capital murder charges. Source:

On April 17, 1989, Lundgren invited the Avery family over for dinner: Dennis, 47, Cheryl, 46, and three daughters, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13, and Karen, 7 (Associated Press, 2006). Lundgren devised a plan to kill the entire family “… as a sacrifice to God for man’s sin” (, 2014). After he murdered the family, Lundgren buried them in a pit in his barn and fled Ohio. The bodies were not discovered until January 3, 1990. Larry Johnson, former cult member of Lundgren, told the ATF about the murder, in revenge, because his wife left him for Lundgren (Associated Press, 2006; Grasier, 2014).

Arrest warrants were issued on January 5, 1990: Lundgren, his wife, and son were all arrested just before fleeing toe Mexico (Glasier, 2014). In all, thirteen cult members along with Lundgren and his wife, were arrested and convicted of the murders of the Avery family. Lundgren received the death penalty in 1990; however, Lundgren was not executed until 2006 (Glasier, 2014; People, 2006).

At the University Archives and Special Collections, we maintain the communal studies collection and the Center for Communal Studies. The Center’s focuses on contemporary and historic communal groups. The communal studies collection finding aids are available online at


Associated Press (2006, August 24). Cult leader who killed 5 sentenced to death. Retrieved from (2014, April 4). Jeffrey Lundgren. Retrieved from

Glasier, D. (2014, December 31). Kirtland cult killings: timeline of events. Retrieved from

People. (2006). Christian Century, 123(23), 19. Retrieved from

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Firefly Party in New Harmony Celebrates Indiana’s New State Insect!

*Post written by Meagan Patterson, collections assistant for New Harmony Historic Site, (812) 682-3702 or

Check out New Harmony’s Cool Historic Ties to Fireflies

Logo of Say's Firefly: Indiana's Official State Insect, 2018.

Logo of Say’s Firefly: Indiana’s Official State Insect, 2018.

New Harmony, Ind.—Say’s Firefly Party is a town-wide celebration honoring Indiana’s official state insect and the New Harmony entomologist it was named for, Thomas Say. The public is invited to celebrate in New Harmony, Monday, July 2, 2018 from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. Festivities begin at Thrall’s Opera House (612 Church St.).

Thomas Say, considered the Father of North American Entomology, moved to New Harmony in 1826. Among the various projects Say worked on here, he named approximately 1,500 insects including Say’s Firefly (pyractomena angulate), an Indiana native species.

The firefly celebration in New Harmony caps off a four-year mission to finally give Indiana its own official state insect. That successful mission was led, in great part, by a group of seven-year-old Hoosiers.

In 2014, West Lafayette teacher Maggie Samudio was asked by her 2nd-grade students at Cumberland Elementary why Indiana was one of three states with no state insect. That discussion sparked a serious mission among those students, with leadership from second-grade student Kayla Xu, to help give Indiana an official state insect.

Governor Eric Holcomb (center) at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette, Indiana to present Indiana's state insect, 2018.

Governor Eric Holcomb (center) at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette, Indiana to present Indiana’s state insect, 2018.

Over the four-year letter-writing project, students collected 768 petition signatures and generated more than 800 letters of support, which helped motivate the introduction of six bills in the Indiana General Assembly. The West Lafayette second-grade class finally achieved their goal March 23, 2018, when Governor Eric Holcomb signed the bill designating Say’s Firefly as Indiana’s Official State Insect. The law goes into effect July 1. Say’s Firefly Party in New Harmony, July 2, will celebrate the occasion and honor Thomas Say where he lived and worked.

The party begins at 5:00 p.m. at Thrall’s Opera House with firefly-themed snacks, merchandise, crafts, and complimentary firefly-catching kits. From there, firefly fans can get decked out in glow accessories before they venture out on foot or catch a golf cart shuttle to other locations in town.


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Sara’s Harmony Way will offer a firefly-themed craft beer. Pick up your official firefly cup at the Opera House for 10% off your firefly-themed beer. Party-goers can also participate in kite flying around town or stay at the Opera House for a glow yoga session hosted by Patty Beagle at 5:30 p.m. (bring your own mat).

As the sun sets, everyone is invited to check out favorite firefly viewing spots around town.

This event is free to the public (craft beer available for a charge for patrons over 21). All ages are welcome, and the party will happen rain or shine.

For more information call 812.682.3702 or visit

Posted in animals, Entomology, New Harmony | Leave a comment

Passing the Torch: Dr. Linda Bennett

Inauguration ceremony of Dr. Linda Bennett (left) alongside Dr. David L. Rice (middle) and Dr. H. Ray Hoops (right), 2009. Source: Photography and Multimedia.

Inauguration ceremony of Dr. Linda Bennett (left) alongside Dr. David L. Rice (middle) and Dr. H. Ray Hoops (right), 2009. Source: Photography and Multimedia.

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

In our blog series finale of “Passing the Torch”, upon the retirement of USI’s second president, Dr. H. Ray Hoops, the naming of USI’s third president was in order. Finally, after an intense search for the next president, the USI Board of Trustees named then-Provost Dr. Linda Bennett became the first women to serve as president of USI (Grundhoeffer, 2008).

Dr. Bennett started her academic career at the University of Cincinnati, receiving her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the University of Cincinnati. Her career began at Wittenburg University (1983-1996) as a professor in political science, then at Northern Kentucky University (1996-1999) as chair and professor of political science, and Appalachian State University (1999-2003) as a college dean. Dr. Bennett arrived at USI in 2003 and served as provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs (Office of the President, 2018).

Dr. Bennett (center) at the Founder's Day celebration, 2017. Source: Photography and Multimedia.

Dr. Bennett (center) at the Founder’s Day celebration, 2017. Source: Photography and Multimedia.

Dr. Bennett’s inauguration occurred on October 15, 2009. With former presidents, Dr. David L. Rice and Dr. H. Ray Hoops in attendance (Palmer, 2009). During her tenure, Bennett established USI’s first strategic plan, creation of new academic programs, celebrated USI’s 50th anniversary, and many more accomplishments. Dr. Bennett announced her retirement in August 2017 stating, “… I believe it is a good time to think about the next chapter of my life. The University of Southern Indiana is well-positioned for a transition, and this is the right time” (Farless, 2017).

Dr. Rice, Dr. Hoops, and Dr. Bennett have left their mark on USI through creation of new academic programs, buildings, and so many more achievements. They have done an incredible job of shaping and leading USI. If USI had a version of “Mt. Rushmore”, they all would be on it.

Available at the University Archives and Special Collections, the President’s Office collection (UA 001) is available. If you are interested in viewing the collection, contact the University Archives and Special Collections via email at


Farless, J. (2017). USI president Linda L. M. Bennett announces retirement. Retrieved from

Grundhoeffer, S. (2009, February 9). Bennett named USI’s third president. The Shield, p. 1.

Office of the president, USI. (2018). Former presidents. Retrieved from

Palmer, D. (2009, October 9). USI will celebrate presidential inauguration with week full of events. The Shield, p. 1, 3.

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