Monday, October 23, 2006

The Grasseaters (The Halloween Series)

(AKA as Societas Fraterna)
(GPS: N33 53.445 W117 52.525)
Since we are close to Halloween I thought I would have a few entries that are a little on the “creepy” side. In fact, some of the action took not too far from where I live most of the year.

In the year 1876, George Hinde thought he was being led by “spirits” to a new paradise. He purchased 24 acres on the corner of what is now Placentia Ave. and Palm Drive. He built a two story, fourteen room mansion. This was no ordinary mansion though because the plan was unique to the area. It had a tower on top of it. It is said that all the rooms were circular to keep bad spirits hiding from the corners, but it was reported that only the tower’s rooms were circular. Here is how it looked:In 1878, a Dr. Louis Schlesinger arrived and joined up with Hinde. They intended to create a great society called Societas Fraterna. Their beliefs consisted of a diet of fruits and vegetables that were eaten raw. Cooking was not allowed because it destroyed the spiritual essence and nutrition of the food. This is why they were known as the Grasseaters. People came from long distances to purchase the fruits and vegetables they raised. Dr. Schlesinger also believed that marriage was unnecessary and they were accused of practicing “free love”.
The community was not pleased with the local spiritualist cult. In May, 1879 a report got out that a baby starved to death because the only food given to the child was the diet of a scraped apple. The baby did not die, but was in a weak state. After much controversy and a court case the charges against the society were dropped since there had been no intent to murder. Still Dr. Schlesinger agreed to modify their way of life.

Schlesinger eventually moved a way a few years after this incident. The society continued even after Hinde and family died until the early 1920’s. In 1931, the house was knocked down and the property sold. John Nenno purchased some of the land and his house still stands today:

The area where the Hinde house would have been is just across the street from the Nenno House. Just across the street in the upper middle of this picture.
The only trace left in Placentia that we have of these people is this plaque which shows the oldest Macadamia tree in California. This is where the gps cords point to in this little residential area south of where the original house was at. The used the macadamia trees to produce nuts for their diet.

Of course, these things are the only material things left of these people. I forgot to mention that it was revealed that they buried their dead in the backyard of their land. Skeletons were dug up on the property before they tore it down. They did have séances at this house. Dr. Schlesinger did believe he could converse with the dead. An investigation took place over a missing man, Ross Weiderhold, a former society resident who went back to get his brother. His brother had already died in Long Beach, but Ross was never seen or heard of again. And, there are folk tales of ghosts, and the Placentia Ghost in the area which originates with these stories.

The best source of information on this cult is the book Placentia: A Pleasant Place by Virginia L. Carpenter.