Most people think of Pennsylvania
as the state of Quakers
, quaint Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign
s, and maybe Ben Franklin
. Or, you may think of Philadelphia
, which is actually one of the weirder cities in the U.S. How weird, you say? Well, to begin with, we had one of the earliest apocalyptic cult
s in the "New World."
In 1683, William Penn established Pennsylvania (and Philadelphia) as a haven for Quakers, with an emphasis on tolerance for those who were not mainstream--Jews, Catholics, even freed blacks. Among some one of the stranger groups to settle in Philadelphia was a Rosicrucian sect who built a compound in what is now Fairmount Park, along the Wissahickon Creek.
In 1694, Johannes Kelpius arrived from Germany, ready for the end of the world. He and his followers picked a hillside overlooking the Wissahickon, where he could sit and wait for the apocalypse to unfold, something he prophecied was soon to occur. He took to living in a cave--which, frankly, was not unusual in Pennsylvania at the time, the soil being well-suited. This cave became associated with the "Mystic Brotherhood."
When the apocalypse failed to materialize, the group disbanded around 1700. Kelpius died in 1708, at the age of 35.
Supposedly, he and his followers then built a 40' by 40' square tabernacle as a communial residence, but it has since disapperred, as far as I know, likely built over by a later resident, who built the Hermitage Estate which stands there now.
The colonists in Philadelphia proper called them "the Hermits of the Wissahickon," "The Society of the Woman in the Wilderness" and the "Mystic Brotherhood." They would seek out these mystics, who had a very hand knowledge of herbalism and were apparently good musicians. They are also credited with naming the area "Roxborough"--Kelpius used the name "Rocks-burrow" in a letter dated May 25, 1706.
Today, the cave where Kelpius lived can be found--with a certain amount of difficulty--just off Hermit Lane (so named for the sect) in Fairmount Park. To go there, take Henry Avenue; cross the Henry Ave. Bridge. On your left is Hermit Lane. Walk about 200 yards, past a house on your left. There is a fence with a gap. Follow the path to a granite monolith, errected by the Rosicrusians in Kelpius' honor.