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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 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 the "Christian Catholic Apostolic Church." He tried to maintain dictatorial control on the town and his church members. He 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.

Serious problems for Voliva 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 1921 that Voliva tried to tell Zion City women how to dress. He gathered the city aldermen and told them he'd discovered a loophole in local laws.

“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.”

No doubt aldermen were confused by Voliva's phrasing. He said the fashion trend of the times was to expose “ankles, legs and knees from down upward,” and he wanted a new ordinance to deal with the situation so that ankles, legs and knees would be covered, and that any woman defying the law could be arrested. There was an immediate backlash.

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." And a mighty wind it was that ripped through Zion City on August 19, 1921, blowing the roof off Voliva's tabernacle, while the Rev. Mr. Nelson's church was untouched. Signs put up by Voliva attacking the other church were blown away, while posters put up by Nelson's supporters remained in place.

This was a month after a Zion City jury of married men ruled that a garment worn by a 19-year-old local woman was "perfectly proper." Mrs. Sarah Johnson had been arrested for wearing a garment that exposed her elbows and some of her neck. She wore the item — described as a waist — to court and told the judge, “I have no time to read your silly old laws.” She said she bought the waist at Voliva's store.

Voliva then ordered the store not to carry "peekaboo waists", and called a meeting of all females 14 years old and older to instruct them how to dress. He announced he would establish a fashion bureau, where clothes would be designed to cover the body from the collar bone to the ankle.

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

“I have no objection to a young man buying a plain band ring,” Voliva said, “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!"

If girls want to let the world know they are engaged, he suggested they wear a sunflower on their sleeve. He added, " A girl who won’t marry without a diamond ring is no good.”

Despite his denials, Voliva's lifestyle became increasingly lavish, alienating 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, and 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, which was 48 years short of the 120-year lifespan he'd predicted for himself (thanks to his diet of Brazil nuts and buttermilk). That was a strange prediction, considering he'd said several times in the early 1930s the world would be destroyed by its creator in 1935.

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.

Amsterdam Evening recorder, March 23, 1948
ZION, Illinois, March 23 – (AP) – The Zion city council, which earlier this year 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 on the shore of Lake Michigan was founded by John Alexander Dowie about 40 years ago.

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.
 

It 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 came 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 organized 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. There would be places of employment, schools, and recreational facilities, all controlled by Dowie.

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

Dowie died in 1907, living out his life at Shiloh House. He is buried in Lake Mount Cemetery in Zion.

 
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