Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Slain By The Lord: Shirley Tapp's Awakening

Weathering the harsh winters in northern climes is as much a mental tribulation to the adaptability of the human spirit as it is a physical one. Detroit in January is an especially brutal, sunless affair fraught with swirling snow squalls and bitterly cold median temperatures in the 20s. The winter of 1935-36 was no exception. According to The Windsor Daily Star from February 3, 1936 the "automatic sunshine recorder at the airport" showed that the sun hadn't shone a full day since the previous November, so it was no wonder that 17 year old Shirley Tapp, a Dearborn high school girl, awoke having dreamed of being on a cloud hovering over fields full of flowers. Except this was no ordinary flight of fancy, unconscious or otherwise, but rather a return from a religiously induced auto-hypnotic trance.

For six days and nights she remained expressionless having first succumbed to the religious fervor at her church on Tireman Avenue the evening of January 8th where she collapsed. Trances weren't uncommon to the parishioners of the congregation and she was taken to the parsonage of Brother Harold DeMille at the Full Salvation Union Church and prayed loudly about her limp body until 4:30 AM. She was later moved to a davenport in the sitting room of her family's Dearborn home where members of the sect kept vigil and prayed. She was unable to talk or move unless prompted by her cohorts in the union to share in their exhortations by slowly raising her balled fists into the air for upwards of 45 minutes at a time. This feat of physical strength was proof enough to the flock that she was performing God's will to save the country from sin.

After several days of nonstop prayer and a small media invasion she was finally confined to her bedroom for peace and quiet on orders of Dr. Martin R. Hoffman, a noted psychiatrist at nearby Eloise State Hospital. He had recommended that the dark-haired schoolgirl be moved to a hospital to settle her "hysterical twilight state" but her parents Laverne, an auto-worker, and her mother Myrtle believed it divine will that she not be moved. They also believed, along with other church members, that the spell would last a week and on the seventh day she would reveal a message directly from the Lord. Hoffman concurred with the former part of that sentiment but only due to suggestive rationalization since she had more or less been hypnotized to believe that.

When she finally awakened from the heightened state of religiosity her first words, after greeting her mother and brother Richard, detailed that tranquil and serene paradise where she wafted above as if on a cloud overlooking a peaceful valley abundant with flowers. While disembodied she had met the deceased 6 year old son of Doss Kilgore -- a sect leader who had led many of the vigils during her stricken state -- and Brother Gotfried, another deceased parishioner. Kilgore wept as her sweet voice recounted the visitation with the boy who had died many years before.

The family, which compared the girl to Joan of Arc, pronounced complete salvation and that the inborn carnal nature which afflicts us all had fled her body. The Union believed that salvation came in two stages, the first being conversion (which she had accomplished at the age of 14), and now that the second phase was completed she was fully saved. While recovering she openly contemplated whether or not to continue her education or to work for the church to spread the word and vision of the gospel.

Unsure of which divergent path to tread the choice would later be made for her as she continued to serve as a vessel for the higher power. During the next year and a half she would slip into several more trances. Though more abbreviated than that initial revelation these religious quests heightened her spirituality and lead the young woman into the church mission as a Sunday school teacher.

Later that year she married her sweetheart Elmer Wood -- who had faithfully stood vigil with the throng of believers during her trance -- and while with child she went into a long period of silence which lasted from February of 1937 to late September of the same year. Her only means of communications were via writing and she "talked" to her family through means of "drawing characters on her hand." Her family commented that "The Lord has something in mind." He most certainly did.


Detroit Free Press, July 29, 1938
The Lord may hath spoketh through Shirley but Mr. Wood did a little sowing of his own. Having wed Elmer in December in "a divine union" she had become his wife in more ways than marriage sometime around the previous Christmas when they conceived a child named Faith Anne. The wedding was likely an after-effect of their physical betrothal so as not to appear to be in sin. The child lived only 8 months, succumbing to a short illness in July of 1938. She was laid to rest in Dearborn Cemetery.



Claim Girl Slain By Power Of God;  The Telegraph-Herald, January 13, 1936

Detroit Religious Sect Prays Girl Into Deep Trance; The Ludington Daily News, January 13, 1936

Endless Prayer Fails To Awaken Young Girl; The News-Sentinel, January 13, 1936

Girl's Trance Inspires Michigan Sect's Fervor; The Milwaukee Journal, January 13, 1936

Unconscious Girl Remains In Trance; The Montreal Gazette, January 13, 1936

Worshippers Pray For Girl In Religious Trance For 5 Days; The Reading Eagle, January 13, 1936

Girl In 'Religious Trance'; The Reading Eagle, January 14, 1936

Girl In Trance Responds To Exhortations; The Youngstown Vindicator, January 14, 1936

Girl Is Still In Religious Sleep; The Meriden Daily Journal, January 14, 1936

Girl, 'Slain By The Lord,' Recovering From Trance; The Pittsburgh Press, January 14, 1936

Pray For Girl In 'Trance'; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 14, 1936

Religious Sect Continues Prayers At Bedside Of Girl Who Went Into Trance-like Sleep During Meeting; The Evening Independent, January 14, 1936

Religious Trance Stll Holds Girl; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 14, 1936

They Call It Religion; The Schenectady Gazette, April 1936

Detroit Girl Awakens From Coma After 6 Days; The Lawrence Journal-World, January 15, 1936

Girl Awakens After 6 Days In 'Trance'; The Meriden Daily Journal, January 15, 1936

Girl Awakens Fron Her Religious Trance; The Evening Independent, January 15, 1936

Girl Back from Trance, Describes Her Experiences; The Berkeley Daily Gazette, January 15, 1936

Girl Comes Out Of Coma; The Windsor Daily Star, January 15, 1936

Girl Finally Awakens From Autohypnosis; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 15, 1936

Girl In Trance Wakens, Reports 'Visions Of God'; The Miami News, January 15, 1936

Recovering From Trance, She Tells Of Happy World; The Reading Eagle, January 15, 1936

Religious 'Trance' Loses Hold On Girl; The Day, January 15, 1936

Dearborn Girl Out Of Trance; The Owosso Argus-Press, January 16, 1936

Shirley Tapp May Devote Life To Church; The Owosso Argus-Press, January 16, 1936

Trance Girl Comes Out Of Coma; The New York Post, January 17, 1936

Full Salvationists; Time Magazine, January, 27,1936

Where is Jimmie Kilgore Pt. 1; The Watchmen, August 1936

Where is Jimmie Kilgore Pt. 2; The Watchmen, August 1936

Shirley Tapp 'Slain' Again; The Windsor Daily Star, November 4, 1936

'Trance' Girl Case A Puzzle; The Telegraph-Herald, November 5, 1936


Lord Said To Have 'Silenced' Woman; The News-Sentinel, September 22, 1937

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