Portfolio > Utopia Remains

Spirit Fruit Society
Spirit Fruit Society
Ultrachrome print, text panel
20.75 x 28.5 inches

Location: Columbiana, County, Center Township, Lisbon, Ohio

Duration: 1901-1930

Affiliation: Influenced by Spiritualism, Theosophy, Divine Science, Hinduism, and Christian Science

Size: 24 members

“Redeem man and woman from selfishness and all the work that needs to be done in this world is finished.” – Jacob Beilhart

Founded by Jacob Beilhart, The Spirit Fruit Society was based upon the belief that it is society’s role to encourage the blooming of a person’s soul. According to Beilhart, "... as yet, man is an underdeveloped 'plant' which has not manifested the final fruit, which he is to produce." Beilhart attracted followers through his publications Spirit Fruit and Spirit Voice and through lectures given around the Midwest. The group believed in communal housing, living a life of selflessness, and taking responsibilities for one’s actions. There was a strong support of individual freedom for both genders, and it included the idea that consenting adults had the right to have more than one partner over a lifetime or at one time. This practice lead to a public misconception that they promoted “free love,” especially after a child was born to unwed parents.

In 1903, a Chicago teenager named Katherine “Blessed” Herberson visited the group to escape her parent’s divorce and custody battle. Her father, lawyer Stewart B. Herbeson, told the Chicago Evening American (a Hearst publication) that his daughter had been brainwashed by an “awful free-love nest.” The press descended upon the small town of Lisbon in June of 1904 to follow Blessed’s rescue by her father, his brother-in-law Charles L. Grise, and the local Sherriff A.J. Johnson. When they arrived at Spirit Fruit Farm, Blessed was summoned to appear and came down to meet her father “attired in negligee costume.” Herbeson shouted with a clenched fist, “This is my daughter, and I am here to take her away, and will kill the first man who attempts to interfere.” Newspapers across the country carried this sensationalized story, but it was the local Buckeye State newspaper that went on a crusade to rid the people of Lisbon from this group. Encouraged by the Buckeye State’s editorials, Lisbon Reverend Mr. Anderson called for vigilante violence with suggestions of tar and feathering. Instead of ignoring the growing publicity and local animosity, Jacob Beilhart invited Columbiana County to visit Spirit Fruit Farm on June 26, 1904 for an open house and to hear the principles guiding Spirit Fruit. The day was highly successful, easing tensions between the group and the town. The result was an assurance by the Columbiana County attorney that no charges against the group would be filed. By early October 1904, the Spirit Fruit Society decided they had had enough with Ohio, and they decided to move to Ingleside, Illinois, where they prospered.

Reason for Demise: The Spirit Fruit Society proved to be highly resilient, persisting after the early death of their charismatic leader from acute appendicitis in 1908. Virginia Moore took over leadership shortly thereafter. In 1915, the remaining 12 members purchased 80 acres of land in Soquel, California. Since the beginning, Beilhart had not recruited new members, believing a small group would be more viable. Unfortunately, as the original members aged there was no one to sustain their farm. By 1928, only six members remained, and financial issues forced them to sell the land and move into the village of Soquel. The group finally disbanded in 1930 when Virginia Moore died of cancer.