Friday, February 3, 2012

Too, Too Divine

The news from dear JoeMyGod that things have gotten even odder in the world of That Somewhat Different Bishop, Eddie "Muscles" Long, got me thinking. Why I love the Internet is that what I was thinking about was, more or less, this very wallpaper. And therein lies a tale.

The paper, you see, is from a longtime Philadelphia institution that I've only just discovered disappeared seven or eight years ago. It was a place called the Divine Tracy Hotel, a name that only hints at the bizarerie within. The DT, you see, was run by the International Peace Mission, better known locally as the Church of Father and Mother Divine. Theirs is a saga that reads like fiction (think Sinclair Lewis meets Nathanael West), but it was just part of the background weirdness of living in the City of Brotherly Love back then.

The Tracy was, even thirty years ago, more than a shade down at heel, but it had its standards. Actually, it was entirely a creature of its standards, which followed the particular diktats of Father and Mother and ranged from a vegetarian diet (served in the actually rather cosy Keyflower Restaurant) to a strict dress code (no shorts, please!) to a total segregation by sex (men on one floor, women on another, and no mixing allowed). It was way eccentric, but it was cheap and cheerful.

Why, then, the wallpaper revery? Well, you see, once upon a time one was a student 'round about those parts. From time to time it was extremely inconvenient not to have a quiet place uninterrupted by roommates, houseparents, or worse. Where better, then, for a young man of Artistic Tastes to repair with a friend for a quiet evening of, um, studying, than a quiet and almost laughably inexpensive hotel that ruthlessly enforced a single-sex setting? As long as you kept things quiet, the very patient (except with short sleeves and lamb chops) staff (who all had noms d'hôtel, or I suppose du Divine like Sweetness Peaceful and Cheery Faithfulness) were none the wiser. Actually, I have to admit that after the fourth or fifth consecutive weekend I took up residence in one of their $15 doubles (with, I also have to admit, varying study pals), I think Mr. Faithfulness might just have had a clue.

In any case, that's wallpaper I've seen from all sorts of angles, none of them strictly kosher, as it were, by Divine Tracy house rules.

Sadly, the glory days of the International Peace Mission have long ago come and gone. The Tracy is now student apartments, and its grander sister, the Divine Lorraine, lies derelict in North Philadelphia. Amazingly, though, Mother Divine lives on. Here she is, pictured in the Main Line mansion that is now the focus of the movement:

The snap's from a few years ago, but I picture her still there, just a shade more Miss Havishamy, waiting either for the return of Father Divine or for Mr. Faithfulness to bring in her doubtless meat-free dinner.

So in any case, Bishop Eddie may now claim to be a king, but he's still a piker by Father Divine standards - he after all, convinced not a small number of people that he was God incarnate, and got rather a fascinating life out of it. What Mr. Faithfulness and his fellow church members got out of it is less clear, but they all seemed serene enough. Maybe he tries on Mother's stoles when she's not looking...

The wallpaper comes courtesy of Katbert's very festive Flickr photostream.


  1. What? It's not all Liberty Bells and scrapple, you know. I'ts not Baltimore, but Philadelphia weirdness is nothing to sneeze at...

  2. I'm headed to that fair city on Friday. A bit of slleuthing may be in order.

    And a movie about Mother Divine seems the perfect vehicle for Streep's next role in the flickers.