Voices from the Grave: The Church Triumphant
By Kathi Kresol
George Jacob Schweinfurth was born in 1853 in Marion, Ohio. He had a typical childhood though his mother would later claim that she knew from the day he was born that God had a special plan for her son.
That special plan would eventually involve hundreds of followers, numerous scandals, and a 600 acre farm named Mount Zion.
George would become involved with a religious movement started by a woman named Dorinda Beekman, a wife of a preacher. The Church Triumphant was originally based in Byron, Illinois but Dorinda’s claims soon had her followers ostracized from that community. George met Dorinda in December of 1877 and they soon became kindred spirits.
George was a gifted speaker. He was very handsome, some would even claim that he looked just like Jesus Christ, and he was very persuasive. Young women were especially drawn to George and he was very quickly ordained a Bishop to the church.
Dorinda became sick and died and though she claimed she would rise after death, her body was ordered to be buried by officials after a week. That might have been the end of the Beekmanites and the Church Triumphant if George hadn’t stepped forward to accept the role of leader.
George began to claim that he was the risen Messiah and that as such, he had unlimited powers. He could perform many miracles including curing those afflicted with disease and even, just like Christ himself, raise people from the dead. When asked by a reporter if he really believed himself to be Christ, Schweinfurth replied, “I am more than that. I am the perfect man. I am God.”
George drew more people into the faith and began to search for a place for the center of what was quickly becoming a religious movement.
It was at this time that a loyal follower, Spencer Weldon offered his lovely 600 acre farm and home to George. In 1880, the Weldon family consisted of Spencer and his wife Agnes Kelley and their six children.
George gladly accepted the generous offer and mortgaged the farm to expand the buildings and house to better fit the expanding congregation. The men worked the land and handled the livestock while the women worked in the house and tended the gardens. The farm grew very prosperous and George eventually expanded into horse breeding. He proved to be a keen businessman and was soon raking in the profits.
Inevitably, the word began to spread about this “Mount Zion” as the congregation called it and new followers came from all over the country. In order to live in “Heaven”, a person needed to surrender all of their worldly possessions to the church, which in turn took care of all their needs. Most of the men lived in dormitories in the barn and the women stayed in the house with the prophet. Marriages were no longer acknowledged and this caused many conflicts.
The Church Triumphant numbers soon grew to several hundred. The social status of the majority of these people was surprising. These were not country bumpkins but highly educated, high society that included the wives of business men, lawyers, and doctors who brought their husbands into the fold.
Certain young women who were all very beautiful soon became the favorites of the self-proclaimed Messiah. One of these “Angels” was the oldest daughter of the Weldon’s, Mary Louise. She was around 25-years-old when the family home became Heaven. She was very beautiful and one of George’s most devout followers.
One of the fundamental beliefs of the Church Triumphant was the immaculate conception of Mary with the child of the Holy Spirit. It was such a vital part of their belief that when certain “Angels” became pregnant all believed that they, like the Virgin Mary carried the “Children of God”. Though the exact number of these children has been lost, at least four were born in Heaven. Two children were born to the head angel, Aurora Tuttle, one to Mary Teft, and one to Mary Weldon.
Needless to say, this caused quite a controversy and the newspaper reporters soon flocked to the farm. The stories spread until they were nationwide. When one of the reporters asked Spencer Weldon what he thought about his daughter becoming pregnant, he replied that he was overjoyed that she carried the child of God.
The controversy continued and charges were brought against the three Angels and George for immoral behavior. In order to quiet some of the rumors, George married Aurora in the late 1890s though this proved to be a case of too little, too late. Finally, in 1900 George left Heaven behind and brought Aurora and their two children to Rockford before changing his name to Furth and moving to Chicago to become a realtor. He died there in 1915 still shrouded in scandal and controversy.
The Weldon Farm in Winnebago still belongs to members of the family and has been returned to the red color that it wore in the most prosperous days of the Church Triumphant. Angel and daughter, Mary Weldon stayed on the farm after the prophet left. She raised her daughter with the assistance of her family.