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Rochester Democrat Chronicle, May 30, 1933
CHICAGO (United News) — Wilbur Glenn Voliva’s institutions and industries in the town of Zion fell today into a receivership.

Federal Judge James H. Wilkerson granted the receivership at the request of the Lansit Corrugated Box Company on an obligation of $3,100. Assets were listed at $2 million and liabilities at $300,000.

A bankruptcy petition also was filed against Voliva, the religious leader who preached that the world is flat like a saucer despite the fact he has traveled around it. Voliva has ruled the Town of Zion for years like a czar. All his church followers are deeply religious. Swearing and smoking are both punishable in the town by jail sentences.

Judge Wilkerson appointed Fred Hummell and Ralph Pibi of Zion as temporary receivers.

Wilbur Glenn Voliva (1870 -1942) was an evangelist who was born on a farm in Indiana and graduated from Union Christian College, a small, church-affiliated coed institution in Merom, Indiana. (It closed in 1924.) Voliva became a disciple of John Alexander Dowie and joined his Christian Catholic Church in Zion City, Illinois.

In 1906, the congregation revolted against Dowie's leadership and elected Voliva head of the church, which Voliva renamed to the "Christian Catholic Apostolic Church." He tried to maintain dictatorial control on the town and his church members.

Voliva is credited with diversifying Zion Industries, which, not surprisingly, paid substandard wages.

The overseer gained notoriety for saying the earth was flat and offering $5,000 to the first person to prove otherwise. Church schools in Zion taught the flat earth doctrine. He offered a novel description of a stationary Earth, ignoring the obvious change in the position of the sun, in relation to Zion City, as it went from darkness to daylight and back again into darkness at the end of another day.

Serious problems for Volva began in 1921, though he managed to hold on to his position for several more years. But women, even in Zion City, were beginning to assert themselves. And it was in 1931 that Voliva tried to tell Zion City women how to dress.


Syracuse Journal, May 21, 1921
ZION CITY, Ill., May 21 – Consternation reigned today in Zion. Overseer Wilbur Glenn Voliva summoned his aldermen and spoke thusly:

“While I did find there is a city ordinance which regulates what may be exposed by a woman’s gown from up downward, I find there is nothing which stipulates what may be exposed from down upward.”

As the trend of the times and of women’s dresses seems to be to expose “ankles, legs and knees from down upward,” Voliva commanded his faithful lawmakers to "immediately prepare a statute to meet the situation.”

Voliva obviously liked to cover all the bases, what with his distinction between "up downward" and "down upward."

However, his fashion sense wasn't the only thing that had Voliva raving in 1921. Before the year was finished, he'd qualify more as the village idiot than an overseer, though he would demonstrate that a person who has an opinion about everything may be proven correct now and then.

But while he momentarily survived the uprising described below, you couldn't help but notice the ice upon which Voliva was skating was getting dangerously thin. You knew how his story would end; the question was how long could he keep skating?

Syracuse Journal, June 9, 1921
By R. J. GIBBONS
ZION CITY, June 9 – The holiest town in America is divided in a fierce struggle.

Opposing each other are the rival factions of Chief Overseer Wilbur Glenn Voliva and an independent group who have banded into a vigilance committee of 1,000 members.

Heading the vigilantes is the Rev. Thomas B. Nelson, pastor of the Grace Missionary Church, whom Voliva has ordered out of town.

The vigilantes have a woman’s auxiliary directed by the Misses Helen Peters, Jessie Upp and Mary G. Wheelock. They want removal of style restrictions imposed by Voliva, with freedom to wear silk hose, sheer waists and short skirts, if they desire. The male vigilantes have this platform.

1. Ousting of Voliva.
2. State investigation of his administration of city finances.
3. Control of the public parks by the people.
4. Right to worship as they choose and recognition of property rights.
5. Refusal to recognize the Zion flag of gold, white and blue.

Zionists Lead “Blue Law” Life
Zion City was incorporated in 1903 by John Alexander Dowie, a religious leader who settled with his followers on a tract 11 miles square.

Today the town numbers close to 6,000, half of whom profess allegiance to Voliva and have the edge on their independent neighbors by a majority of 400 voters.

All true Zionists lead a plainly severe life. The Bible is their strict and only code.

Voliva, as successor to Dowie, is absolute dictator. He boasts that all municipal officers “are my men, and do as I wish.”

Friction started about a year ago when the independents increased their number through the arrival of new residents.

The Zionists resented what they termed “an encroachment upon holy ground by non-believers in Zionism.”

During the year, they have enacted a number of blue law ordinances, all sponsored by Voliva, which prohibit:

• Smoking within the city limits.
• Public use of the parks, which Voliva claims are his.
• Modern dress by women, including wearing of short skirts.
• Vaccination against communicable diseases.
• Moving picture shows, dances and even sociable games of cards.
• Baseball, sale of ice cream and confections and operation of restaurants on Sunday.
• Operation of drug stores within the city.

Following promulgation of these edicts, the independents raised a $75,000 defense fund, and put the Rev. Nelson in charge of an offensive against Voliva.

The Rev. Nelson says more than $40,000 has been expended paying fines and court costs for vigilantes who ran counter to Voliva’s police.

Voliva Defies His Assailants
Voliva himself, in his executive headquarters atop the Zion home, where he lives with his wife and daughter, Ruth, hurled this back at his attackers:

“I’m ruler here! Those who do not want to obey me will have to get out.

“This city and every inch of its land is consecrated to God, in the name of our good leader, Dr. John Alexander Dowie, and I am his appointee to carry on the work by consent of Providence.

“These insurgents who are causing so much mischief are all poachers. The ground their homes stand on belongs to me. All their property is held under leases, and I as overseer of Zion, hold title to the land.

“They’ll never drive us out,” he continued. “Zion is an eternal city. It will always endure.

“But all this agitation is a sign of the times – the unrest of sex and nations.

“Women are at the bottom of it. They have stepped from their place in the homes where they rightfully belong as a helpmate of man, and their wild play is bringing disaster.

“Why, see their immoral clothes. Those frightful dresses those shameless silk stockings, and all those other disgusting lures which they use to drag men to their ruin!

“We do not want such in Zion. We will not have what is unclean. That’s why tobacco was banned. That’s why we will have no medicine, no doctors, no amusements that corrupt.

“My police are on the guard. Every dissenter shall be thrust back into the world of sin. Zion does not belong to the world.”

Independents Deny Voliva’s Claim
Regarding Voliva’s assertion that he owns the town and all its land, the independents rise in a body, and put in heated denial.

In addition to claiming the entire town as his rightful possession, Voliva does own, and in his own name, all the principal industries of the city.

These include a bakery with a road force of 18 salesmen, two newspapers, a printing and publishing plant, a hotel, a candy factory, a bank and several minor establishments engaged in the production of aprons and miscellaneous wearing apparel.

“Yes, I’m a multimillionaire, if you want to call me that,” Voliva said. “And I take just an honest pride in having accumulated all this wealth from a jumping-off spot with 83 cents.

“Some rise, eh?” he questioned.

Despite all his claims to riches, Voliva maintains he lives the simple life with a big “S” and uses only $250 a month to keep himself and family.

While he talked, the overseer cast frequent nervous glances toward the door. Once or twice he inspected the heavy array of bolts and locks.

“I’ve got enemies – many of them,” he explained. “They’d like to kill me, if half a chance slipped along. Therefore, I’m careful.”

Voliva’s precautions against assassination keep him locked almost continuously in his chambers. A “personal attendant,” fully armed, is his constant bodyguard.

Declares An End to Tyranny
“Voliva is a tyrant,” said the Rev. Mr. Nelson. “He wants us to believe Zion is not part of these United States. We want to worship here as guaranteed under the Constitution.

“If he lets us alone, we’ll let him alone. But we’re not going to be tyrannized by him.

“Zion is a beautiful little community. We want it to be an American city where life and liberty are pure and free.”

On a corner opposite the Rev. Mr. Nelson’s church the overseer had erected a billboard which notifies passersby that the Rev. Mr. Nelson’s church is a “goat house.”

On rival vantage points the independents have erected billboard posters espousing their own cause “for liberty and freedom."

In the summer of 1921, some folks said, Wilbur Glenn Voliva received a message from God, but chose to ignore it. As Bob Dylan might have described the event:

"How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind."

Syracuse Journal, August 20, 1921
ZION CITY, Ill., Aug. 20 – Old Nick himself was at work in Zion, Overseer Glenn Voliva declared today after he had given the wreckage wrought by a storm of last night the “once over.”

The wind blew the roof off Voliva’s tabernacle, while the opposition church across the street was untouched.

Signs put up by Voliva attacking the other church were blown to pieces by the wind. Posters erected by the opposition stood the gale.

The musical references continue. Several weeks earlier the scene in town could have been from a Voliva-themed version of "The Music Man" in which the overseer tried to rally the citizenry with this refrain:

"We got trouble, right here in Zion City, trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for ... pulchritude!"

But in Voliva's court battle over fashion, it was a feisty young Zion City woman who prevailed.

Syracuse Journal, July 2, 1921
ZION CITY, Ill., July 2 – Wilbur Glen Voliva, overseer of Zion City, has lost his first decision to modern feminine style.

A jury of married men ruled that the “low cut waist” of Mrs. Sarah Johnson, pretty 19-year-old Zionite, was “perfectly proper.”

Mrs. Johnson was arrested June 20 for wearing a waist that showed her elbows and some of her neck, much to the discomfiture and dismay of that holy place where a woman is supposed to be bundled up like a bag of oats.

She still wore the waist in court. “I am going to keep right on wearing this waist and others like it,” she declared. “When Voliva buys my clothes, he may have something to say about what I shall wear, but not before that.”

“But you have violated our ordinances posted on every tree and sign post, saying such waists are forbidden,” said Prosecutor Bishop.

“I have no time to read your silly old laws,” snapped Mrs. Johnson, who is quite pretty and has a spirit of her own.

“He’s picking on me. There were other girls at the station from Kenosha who wore rolled down stockings, knee skirts and flimsy waists. I bought this waist at his own store. I don’t care. I never read any of his silly old laws.”

The jury apparently felt the same way and held that this disposed of the case, as the city could not sell any garment and then forbid the purchaser wearing it.”

As expected, Voliva made the necessary changes at his department store and again went on the attack:

Syracuse Journal, July 21, 1921
CHICAGO, July 21 – Wilbur Glenn Voliva, overseer of Zion City, has called a meeting of all girls and women more than 14 years old to tell them how to dress. He plans to establish a fashion bureau, where styles for women will be designed that will not reveal any portion of the anatomy between the collar bone and the ankle.

The Zion Department Store has been ordered not to buy any more peekaboo waists or stockings.

A few weeks later Voliva spoke out on a different subject. Clearly, he was a man who would never go to Jared:

Syracuse Journal, August 27, 1921
ZION CITY, Ill., Aug. 27 – War was declared on diamonds by Overseer Voliva today.

“I have no objection to a young man buying a plain band ring,” Voliva told the girls, “but this thing of buying diamonds has got to stop. Diamonds – what are they? Like as not a piece of window glass dug up in some barnyard. Away with them!

“You girls, if you want to let the world know you are engaged, wear a sunflower on your sleeve. How much cheaper that will be.”

Then Voliva advised the boys:

“And you boys,” he said, “don’t buy diamond rings. Money can be put to better use. It is nice to have a few hundred dollars when you get married, but not necessary. I have known couples to start out in one room and make good.

“If your girl won’t have you because you have not a diamond ring, tell her to go to grass. A girl who won’t marry without a diamond ring is no good.”

Despite his denials, Voliva's lifestyle became increasingly lavish, which alienated followers, especially during the Great Depression when Zion industries went under and the town had its first taste of unemployment.

Voliva continued to hold on, but in 1937 a disgruntled Zion citizen torched the overseer's Shiloh Tabernacle. Soon afterward Voliva went bankrupt. He might not have trusted doctors or their medicine, but in 1942, he sought help, but was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This triggered a tearful public confession that he had misappropriated church funds. For the people of Zion, this was too little, too late.

Voliva died on October 11, 1942, well short of the 120-year lifespan he had predicted for himself (thanks to his diet of Brazil nuts and buttermilk).

So what happened to Zion City? Well, it's pretty much known simply as Zion, grew to about 20,000 people, and looks a lot like the rest of the places north of Chicago. But it has some Lake Michigan beaches and a lot of interesting history.
Welcome to Voliva's world
Wilbur Glenn Voliva pictured the Earth and sun as they are shown in the above illustration. The sun was just 3,000 miles from a flat Earth, and somehow moved in a rather tight orbit overhead. Ships were prevented from sailing off the edge of Earth by an ice rim. The North Pole was actually in the center of Earth, according to Voliva, and there was no South Pole, which was news to Admiral Richard Byrd.

Binghamton Press, October 4, 1921
CHICAGO, Oct. 4 – The story of “The Village That Voted the Earth is Flat” has an earnest adherent in Wilbur Glenn Voliva, overseer of Zion, the religious community that Alexander Dowie founded at Zion City, a little north of Chicago.

Declaring that there is no proof whatsoever of the sphericity of the earth or that the earth has any motion, Overseer says he is “prepared to refute modern astronomy, scientifically as well as from the standpoint of the Bible.”

Here are some of the points he advances:

Water Is Level
“All standing water is level. Let anyone disprove it if they can. They cannot disprove it. This is conclusive evidence that the old Pythagorean-Copernican system of the sphericity of the earth id false.

“A man stood at Kingston, Jamaica, and saw the lighthouse at Havana harbor, 82 miles distant, which is another conclusive proof that the sphericity of the earth is a fake.

“The midnight sun has been seen hundreds of times, but it would be absolutely impossible to see it on a sphere. You would have to look through hundreds of miles of earth and rock.

“There is a railroad in South Africa 2,000 miles long that is almost perfectly level. The Suez Canal is 100 miles long without locks and scarcely any rise at all. Where is your curvatures of the earth? There is none.

“No wonder higher critics and modern believers in the Copernican system of astronomy laugh at the flood and say that such a thing as a flood could not occur on a globe of spherical earth – and I agree with them. They are perfectly right. That is what the devil intended when he invented the modern astronomical theory – to destroy the word of God.

"They say that eclipses are caused by the earth passing between the moon and the sun, causing the shadow, but how can you have an eclipse with both the sun and the moon above the horizon? It is a matter of record that they have been a number of eclipses with both the sun and the moon above the horizon. No one knows what causes eclipses.

“They tell you that the sun is 92,000,000 miles away. I laugh at that,, not only as a mathematician, but also as a student of God Almighty’s word.

“Did God Almighty create the earth and then create a light to light it up and put it 92,000,000 miles distant and make it a million times larger than the earth? What kind of a fool would build a house up in Kenosha and erect a light 100 miles from it to light up the parlor?"

 

Amsterdam Evening Recorder, February 1, 1922
ZION, Ill., Feb. 1 – Wilbur Glenn Voliva, successor to John Alexander Dowie as overseer of Zion and that of the Christian Apostolic Church, has completed the fixing of discussions of his flat world, existence of which is now taught in the Zion schools.

According to Mr. Voliva’s latest pronouncement, the sky is a vast dome of solid material, from which the sun, moon and stars are hung like chandeliers from a ceiling. The edges of the dome, he explained to the congregation of Shiloh Tabernacle, rest on the wall of ice which surrounds the flat world to keep foolhardy mariners from tumbling over the edge into oblivion. “That is the plain teaching of the whole word of God,” Mr. Voliva said.

At the time he announced the world was a flat plane surrounded by ice, Mr. Voliva also fixed the sun as being a small body about forty miles in diameter and located only 3,000 miles from the earth.

 

Brooklyn Daily eagle, September 29, 1922
ZION, Ills., Sept. 29 – With a book, a toy balloon, a brick and a feather, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, overseer of Zion, last night demonstrated his disbelief in Newton’s theory that objects fall because they are pulled by gravity toward the center of the earth.

“There is no such thing as the ‘law of gravitation,’ “ declared the successor to Alexander Dowie, who recently proclaimed the world flat and had no motion in his Wednesday night address in Shiloh Tabernacle.

“They write books on the ‘law of gravitation,’ " Voliva said. “There is no such thing. How is it that the ‘law of gravitation’ can pull up a toy balloon and cannot pull up a brickbat?

“I throw this book up. Why doesn’t it go on up? That book went up as far as the force behind it forced it, and it fell because it was heavier than the air. I cut the string off a toy balloon. It rises to a certain height and then it begins to settle. I take this brickbat and a feather. I blow the feather. Finally it begins to come down. The brickbat goes up as far as the force forces it up through the air and then it comes down. That is all.”

He held fast to his beliefs, despite his travels, as indicated in this blurb from nationally syndicated columnist Arthur Brisbane in 1933.

Syracuse Journal, August 11, 1933
Today / by Arthur Brisbane
Mr. Wilbur Glenn Voliva, “Zionist cult leader,” has important news.

He is one who investigates for himself. Returning from a trip around the world he announced that the world is not round. On the contrary, it is flat all the way. Now he tells you, “The age is dying.” Also, “The great battle of Armageddon is coming.” After that the millennium, under the rule of the Son of David, will begin, “about 1935 or 1936.”

Because most of his pronouncements were so outrageous, it's likely no one paid much attention when Voliva issued this warning:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 7, 1922
CHICAGO, Oct. 7 – Wilbur Glenn Voliva, overseer of Zion City, today pronounced a prophecy gleaned from between the lines of Scripture, he said, of a forthcoming world war in which England and the United States will succor the Jews from the ravages of all other people.

There will be three alliances of nations, according to Voliva. Russia, Japan, China and Germany, under the leadership of Trotsky, will form one; 10 nations of western Europe, appearing as the 10 horns that Daniel saw in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, will compose the second, and the United States and Great Britain hand in hand with Jehovah, the third.

Periodically throughout his days as the Zion City religious leader, Voliva would predict the end of the world. Life went on for everyone else, but his world officially ended in 1937, though he had lost his grip on Zion City a few years earlier. As several newspapers put it, Voliva was flat broke in his flat world.

Amsterdam Evening Recorder, August 28, 1937
CHICAGO, Aug 28 – (AP) – Wilbur Glenn Voliva, who believes the world is flat, was declared “flat broke” yesterday. Federal Judge Charles G. Briggie confirmed a bankruptcy composition taking all the property of the former business dictator and religious leader of Zion City, Illinois.

The decree an imposed landmark in voliva’s self-guided career, requires him and his wife, Ida, to turn over property valued at between $600,000 and $800,000 to the First National Bank of Waukegan, Illinois.

The property, mostly real estate, was ordered liquidated over a period of ten years for the benefit of creditors with claims of more than $1,000,000.

Voliva bought the 6,500-acre site of Zion City on the installment plan, became overseer of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church and rules the town’s industries for some twenty years. The court order today relegated him to the position of co-trustee with two other men.

It's ironic that in 1946 folks finally were able to smoke while driving through Zion City, which, for some, was cause for celebration. Voliva wasn't correct about many things with his blue laws, but he was spot-on when it came to tobacco, although his reasons were more about religion than health.

Amsterdam Evening recorder, March 23, 1948
ZION, Illinois, March 23 – (AP) – The Zion city council, which earlier this approved the opening of a public motion picture theater, yesterday repealed another of its blue laws.

The council voted to permit the sale of tobacco within the city limits, forbidden since the community of 7,000 on the shore of Lake Michigan was founded by John Alexander Dowie about 40 years ago.

The ordinance was one of the blue laws drawn as a living rule for the late Wilbur Glenn Voliva’s religious colony – where tobacco and alcohol, as well as mixed dancing and movies were forbidden.

In the early part of the century, under the strict rules of the Christian Catholic Church which made the city an international curiosity, visitors were required to surrender any tobacco they admitted having in their possession.

Since 1930 theocracy has been disappearing gradually and many of the restrictive ordinances have been abolished.

It all began with John Alexander Dowie
John Alexander Dowie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1847 and emigrated to Australia at 13 with his parents. After returning to Scotland for awhile to study at Edinburgh University, he was ordained as a Congregational minister back in Australia. He began to preach divine healing and formed the International Divine Healing Association in 1886.

Two years later he went to the United States, to conduct healing missions on the West Coast. In 1890, Dowie attended a divine healing convention in Chicago where he felt he received a sign from God to remain.

In 1893, Dowie opened Tabernacle Number One across from the entrance to the World's Fair. On Sundays he preached in the afternoons to avoid conflict with mainline churches. Dowie's sermons developed a loyal following and in 1896 he took the next step, organizing the Christian Catholic Church in Zion.

Next he wanted to establish a city where his congregation would be free from the evils of the world. His search for a location took to an area just north of Waukegan, where he secured options on 6,600 acres of land. All of his Zion City was laid on on paper before any ground was broken. There would be places of employment, schools, and recreational facilities, all controlled by Dowie.

The people would share in the profits of the industries, and the profits, tithes, and offerings would be sufficient for the support of the church.

The first house was built in August 1901, Dowie and his wife moved into theirs, Shiloh House, a year later. His dream would be short-lived. There were financial problems almost immediately. And in September 1905 Dowie suffered a stroke and went to Jamaica to recover.

To take his place. Dowie recalled his disciple, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, from Australia. Voliva concluded immediately Zion City wouldn't survive without a permanent change of leadership.

Dowie would not resign, so the matter went to court where it was decided the people should choose their overseer. Voliva won.

Dowie died about 16 months later, living out his life at Shiloh House. He is buried in Lake Mount Cemetery in Zion.

 
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