This is Lee Habib, and this is our American Stories. We tell stories about everything here on this show, from the arts to sports and from business to history and everything in between, including your stories.
They're some of our favorites. Our next story, well, it's one about service, love, and sacrifice. Let's follow Eileen Hall's incredible journey across Europe as she searches for her husband in the middle of World War II. Eileen was a member in the Women's Army Corps, or WAC. We got together with Eileen and her daughter Sherry, who both live in Canton, Ohio.
Here's Eileen. I'm from Canton, Ohio. I was born in 10-11-23, and my mother and dad had a restaurant in downtown Canton, and we had a hotel up above the restaurant, and that's where I was raised. We lived right across the street from McKinley High School, so all I had to do for high school was walk across the street and go to school.
After my mother made it to my high school graduation, and shortly after that, she passed on, and my dad remarried, and I felt very uncomfortable at home with a different mother, really. And you were working at? Yeah.
It's a long time. That's 75 years ago, you know, so I'm trying to remember a lot of it I'll never forget. And there I met a girl, and we became friends, and we worked in the stationary supply office. She had a boyfriend from Galion, Ohio, and every time he came up to see her, he brought his brother.
So she said, do you think you'd mind dating his brother if he brings him up? And I said, oh no. Well, that was it, because we just melded together, and it just worked out. But he was being drafted, like all the, he was going to be sent to Oklahoma.
So after my dad remarried, I just didn't feel comfortable at home. So I said, I think I always wanted to go to California. So I said, I think I'll go to California, because I've always wanted to go there. So I boarded a train, and it stopped in Oklahoma. And I thought, well, I'll just see, you know, him while I'm here.
So that's as far as I got. We got married. After I was there a few days, we had to go through blood tests, and it was really, you know, so and we were married in a parson's office.
And then it wasn't long after that, that he was sent overseas. So I thought, well, since I'm married to him, I'll go back home and see what I can do. You know, so I went back home and I decided to enlist in the service. So I went in downtown Canton where they had their recruiting office and told them I would like to join the Army.
Well, the Navy, I really wanted, but you couldn't get in that one until later. So I decided to get in the Army if I could. So even though I was married, I had to get my dad's consent because of my age.
I couldn't do it unless I had my parents consent. So I went to where he worked and told him and he said, Well, if I don't do this, you'll do something else crazy. So he signed.
He was a World War One veteran. So he signed. And I took it back. And after that, I got into basic training in Daytona Beach, Florida. From there, I was, they said, as we were being interviewed, the girls that had already volunteered said, You'll be sorry. And so, but I volunteered for everything. So I always got the pick of things that I wanted to do.
So I thought that was a good idea. From there, I was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia for driver training. And I led a convoy through Georgia as one of our tryouts, you know, to see how we did. And so and then we had to go in gas chambers and take off with a gas mask and stay for a few minutes, and then go out and catch your breath again. And then we had to lay down and they fired shots over us, you know, to see how we'd react. And then we had to go through other training, abandoning ship, we had to go, you know, to a top of the ship that would be and go down the sides.
And a couple of the girls were just terrified of doing it. So I helped along with them. And then after that was all done, I was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. And I was only there for a little while. The fellows in the barracks weren't used to having women there.
And boy, every time we'd walk out everywhere, guys walking with us. So but anyway, I volunteered, they asked for volunteers to go overseas. So I volunteered, but there were too many. So I wasn't going to get to go. But at the last minute, one gal dropped out. And so I took her place. And then it wasn't long after that, that we were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and boarded the Queen Elizabeth and headed for France.
So on a ship that in peacetime would accommodate two people, there were 24 whacks in one room. And then we went on and we landed at Glasgow, Scotland, in the Isle of Clyde. And there we were met with the Red Cross and Salvation Army and they gave us food and, and till they decided where we were going to go from there. And some of us boarded a train and headed for Sutton Coalfield, England. That's where I was going to be stationed for a while. And we've been listening to Eileen Hall's journey to find her husband in the middle of World War II, a great backstory. I can't wait to hear more.
Sure you can't either. When we come back, more of Eileen Hall's story here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.
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She wanted to be in the theater and volunteered for it. Let's pick up where we last left off. Some of us boarded a train and headed for Sutton Coalfield, England. That's where I was going to be stationed for a while. So that's where I had to drive a Jeep. I went through the motor course, so I was allowed to drive a Jeep and up to a two and a half ton truck. So I drove the, everybody in Sutton Coalfield in England had to list if they had a room available for GIs because they didn't want the women staying in rooms. They wanted the men to be there.
So that's what I did for a while and got them all done. And then I was sent, I drove a major there that, four of us were drivers and we all drove an officer. So I drove a major.
So we were on call 24 hours a day for whatever reason they wanted us. So, but, well, I had to drive in the fog so bad that I had to put my foot up. They drive on the left side on the curb so I would know where I was going.
And because of that, my left leg is not as big as my right one. It took that much, it froze, you know, and I had to go back to the barracks and they put me behind a bakery until I could thaw out to my leg. It was so frozen from driving. So we had gone through many air raids at night and one of the gals said, if I'm going to get killed, I'm going to do it right here. And so the rest of us decided we'd stay together. So that was it because there were nightly air raids, you know. So after I left England, I went to France and was with the post office there as a driver. So every morning I'd drive into Paris and you could, the streets were empty except for people going through garbage cans trying to get something to eat, people and dogs.
And that's something I'll never forget. And as I drove to the post office that I was at, just as I drove in, something cracked on the steering wheel and I couldn't steer it, but I was already there. So I was, I felt that was a blessing because if I'd done that out in the, you know, out on the streets, it would have been something else.
I have faith and I just felt I'd be protected whatever I did because I, if I volunteered for something, I felt that that's what I should do. So I just had a different life than some of the other whacks. The Battle of the Bulge was going on then and they were bringing the wounded into the hospital in Paris. And our commanding officer was called from, from the hospital and asked them to send some whacks down to help. They, wounded were coming in so fast. So our, our commanding officer called me and said, you know, gonna take some whacks to the hospital. So I got my ton and a half truck and loaded it with whacks and drove into the hospital in front of the hospital and walked in and here the GIs are all laying on the floor and you could just walk sideways.
And so they, we would kneel down and talk to them and take, you know, we all went and talked to each one and asked where they were from and just got them calmed down before. And then they finally found room for them all. So, but when I had time off, I was allowed to take the Jeep and I became acquainted with two fellows from Iowa.
And one was, had his left leg amputated below his knees so he was going to be sent home. And he said he hated to see, go home without seeing Paris. And I said, well, I'll see what I can do. So I went to my commanding officer, told her to the store and she says, you take a Jeep and show him wherever you want to go. So where there were two whacks in the back and me driving and him sitting beside me and I took him all over Paris.
So he was, you know, excited about that. And we kept in touch for years after I got home. So, but I got a letter from my husband saying he was going to be sent to the CBI.
That's the China Burma. And I thought, and I started crying and the officer was below me. And she came up and wanted to know why I was crying. And I said, well, my husband's going to be sent to the CB area.
And I said, I'd probably never see him again. And she said, I'll see what I can do. So she got me orders attached to Mark Clark's, but he never knew I was part of his service. So, but that got me to the airport and asked, you know, if anybody was going to Paris and there, there was a plane just out there that was going to be going to Italy. And I told my story to the guy at the desk. And so he said that plane right there, you can get on. So they put down the Bombay doors and I walked out and, and they went on one side and one on the other lifted me up and putting in where the gun turret is. And that's how I rode from there to, to Italy.
And I got off of the plane and I was standing on the road and I didn't realize right in front of me was the tower of Pisa because I didn't realize it was that big, you know? And so I walked out and I started hitchhiking and along came a British guy in a truck with three soldiers in the back. And one was, they were tending to one. And I said, what happened?
She said, he got hurt, but not by fire. I don't know exactly how I got hurt. And they're going into Rome. So they stopped for water and the driver of the truck had to come back and stand in front of me and so I could lean to the back because the people just came from everywhere and they wanted to touch me. And you know, and I, I didn't know what to do. So they looked out for me and then we left and went on to Rome, to the Red Cross there. And they put me up for the night. The next morning was a Sunday. So it was church. So I went down and went to church. And after a little while before church started, a fellow sat down beside me and he looked at my patch. He says, you're not from around here, are you? And I said, no, I, and I told him my story. He said, I'll see what I can do. So the next day he had gotten permission from his officer and he was able to take me from Rome to Milano.
And on the way it started to rain and the fellow didn't know how to do the top to the Jeep. So I showed him how to do that and he took me up and my husband was waiting for me, waiting there. So we had our honeymoon on Lake Como and I had our own villa attached to a regular one, which is owned now by George Clooney.
And I'm sure George Clooney doesn't know it, but I'm going to write a letter to him sometime if he ever gets it. The Villa D.S.D. Yeah. So yeah, that was the fifth army rest camp. So we left from Le Harve on the E.B.
Alexander headed for the United States. As we pulled into New York Harbor, all the lights came on and they took us off the boat and fed us the best Thanksgiving dinner we ever had. So and from there we had to go to Fort Dix to get released from the army. And then I boarded a train for Canton, Ohio. And when I got to Canton, there there were my husband and my my dad and just welcomed me home.
He got home seven days before I did. But other than that, why I think my experience was something that not too many people have the opportunity to experience. So that's my love story. And I love to tell it. So and thanks for the opportunity to tell it. So that's it.
And that's it. And thanks for the opportunity to let us tell it, Eileen. And what a beautiful story about so many things, particularly just a sheer sense of adventure off to Europe to fight Nazis searching for each other, learning how to drive trucks and tanks, supply lines to defeat one of the world's worst enemies in history. Eileen Hall's journey to find her husband in the middle of World War Two.
Her story here on Our American Stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my state farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners, too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
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Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. This is Our American Stories and one of the things we love to do on this show is tell history stories. Our next story comes to us from Benton Harbor, Michigan and is a bit of local history you won't forget. Here's our own Monty Montgomery with a story.
In Benton Harbor, Michigan, there's an interesting story that started because of a Michigan eccentric. The media called him King Ben. They started calling him in the teens, they called him King Ben because he was mega wealthy and he ruled an empire very much like a Michigan Roman empire. I mean, who had that much wealth and that much success in America?
I don't know very many people. That's Chris Seriano, founder and curator of the House of David Museum in St. Joe, Michigan. A museum dedicated to an interesting bit of local history that got its start because of the so-called King Ben. Benjamin Purnell was born in Paducah, Kentucky in 1861 to a very, very poor family. He was the seventh son in the family. Grew up basically with nothing and was an intelligent child and loved to listen to the fire and brimstone campfire talks at night and that his father would give and the townspeople.
By the time Benjamin was 14 years old, he was extremely book smart and could basically memorize a book cover to cover. He was given the King James Bible for Christmas on his 14th birthday and he digested the whole Bible. At that point, he felt like he should be a messenger from God and like a missionary. When he was 16 years old, he met Mary Purnell, his wife, and then were itinerant preachers through the south up into the Midwest where he set down roots in Foster, Ohio. That's where he first started his first church. It was called the God House, a huge congregation of people, believers in his faith, which was a Christian communal celibate vegetarian lifestyle very similar to the Shakers is what he taught.
If you believed in all these things and were a Christian and believed in God and Jesus, that you would have eternal life of the body on earth, you would never die. It was in Fostoria that his daughter, Hetty, turned 14 years old. Hetty started her first job at a fireworks factory in Fostoria, Ohio. He announced to the congregation that evening that Hetty, he was proud of her, that she'd gotten a job and you could see the factory out the windows of the church. About halfway through his sermon, the fireworks factory caught on fire and actually blew up. It was very obvious that nobody survived that explosion to the people in the church.
Benjamin and Mary went over to the window and were quiet. Within a couple of hours, authorities came banging on the church door and wanted Ben and Mary to positively identify the remains of Hetty's body. He refused to acknowledge that that could be his daughter because of the fact that, here he is teaching, if you believe this faith that I'm sharing, you'll live forever. You'll never die.
You'll have eternal life of the body. There's no way that he was going to admit that his daughter was dead, especially to his whole congregation. Immediately after that was that the townspeople had to get together and have a huge funeral for Hetty. She was a very popular kid in town. It was the most decorated funeral in the history of that town.
It's not a small town. After the funeral, they stoned the church and drove Benjamin and Mary out of town. They didn't want them there anymore because they wouldn't partake even in their own daughter's funeral. At that time, Benjamin already had knowledge of the Albert and Louis Boschke who were considered the second leading wagon factory manufacturers in the country behind Studebaker. They were here in Benton Harbor, Michigan, extremely wealthy, extremely successful men with a lot of intelligence and a lot of connections. The biggest thing was they were already believing in this faith. When he arrived, he explained who he was and what he was doing, and they accepted him.
They gave Ben and Mary over $400,000 at that time, which was fall of 1902, to acquire the land and begin life on Britton Avenue there in Benton Harbor. Life at the House of David basically consisted of a strictly Christian lifestyle. They were all vegetarian. They were celibate, so they could come to the House of David and join single, married or married with 10 kids.
It didn't matter. They did not live anymore with their spouse. So the men were separated in mansions, different from the women, even different from the kids. The kids lived in a building called the Ark, which is also a schoolhouse and a dormitory until they were 14 years old. Rules were that there was basically no contact with the opposite sex.
If you wanted to have lunch or dinner with your spouse, you could eat for 30 minutes in the married couple dining hall in the basement. The men could also not cut their hair or shave their beards. But despite these rules, countless people looking for a new life flocked to the House of David, many of whom were wealthy industrialists. They acquired people from all over the world, and they didn't focus on recruiting highly intelligent, successful people, but they were a magnet to those kind of people.
So those people from all over the entire globe flocked in. But when they joined, in exchange of life at the House of David, where you were given a place to live, a gorgeous place to live, you're given housing, food, clothing, in exchange for that, you gave them all your worldly possession. According to the people that I interviewed at the House of David, they felt that the biggest day in the history of the House of David was the day that 85 Australians landed in Benton Harbor. Amongst them were a husband and wife that owned a diamond mine. Along with them were world famous actors and actresses and musicians. And by the 1920s, it's documented that the House of David had over $35 million in the bank.
That's a lot of dough today. Along with cruise ships and trolley cars and bus lines and hotels and resorts around the world, and the diamond mine and a gold mine in western Oklahoma and a coal mine in Kentucky. The reason for the coal mine was because during World War I, when the government tried to ration the use of coal because of the war, Benjamin just went down and bought a coal mine and made it private. Because they generated their own power with coal, with giant coal turbine engines, they generated their own electricity.
So there was nothing that would stop them. And you've been listening to Chris Seriano, and he's the curator and founder of the House of David Museum in Benton Harbor, Michigan. And what a story you're hearing, folks.
And when we come back, more of Benjamin Purnell's story on Our American Stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time-consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try All-Free Clear Mega Packs. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs, which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that All-Free Clear Mega Packs, they have your back.
Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories and with Chris Soriano, founder of the House of David Museum in Benton Harbor, Michigan, telling the story of a religious colony in town at the turn of the century. People didn't want to sit around and just wait for paradise to come. They wanted to do something to occupy their minds and they were good at it. You had a job that you were given. Benjamin would interview you and try to figure out what your talents were and he was amazing at finding out someone's highest best use, even though maybe you didn't know it yourself. He had the financial wherewithal.
He had the power of people and the ability to take someone to the greatest in the world and the greatest in the nation. And because of that skill, the members of the House of David were able to create new inventions that they otherwise wouldn't have. Sometime in 1903 when a guy came and joined from Sweden that was an ice cream maker, he helped invent the waffle cone and then they introduced it to the St. Louis 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
There are people that say, no, this person made it or this person made it. But the House of David, in fact, did make their own waffle cone starting in late 1903 because they had cruise ships on the Great Lakes. They invented the cross propeller system because they lost some cruise ships from early storms that tipped them sideways because they were so tall and thin back in the day. They had 100,000 acres of farmland. So the quality of the fruits were very important to them.
Benton Harbor had the world's largest grower to buyer fruit market anywhere in the world and huge money. And the House of David had 100,000 acres of farmland, but they couldn't guarantee the quality of the fruit if it was a super hot sweltering day or maybe it was raining hard or maybe a frost was coming. So they thought, you know, we have to invent some way of securing our investment in fruit. So they built the world's largest cold storage building where people from the world's largest fruit market could pull off, pull up to the House of David cold storage building for pennies.
You could put your fruits and vegetables in the cold storage units, which would take the temperature down to a point where it would stabilize the quality as long as you wanted to from that day that you brought it there. So the next day that that fruit market was really popping and dollars were big and the buyers were big, the farmers would fly over to the House of David cold storage, pull their fruits and vegetables out. They looked exactly like they did when they dropped them off and they invented that and they were cutting edge on that. And so back in the sixties, when NASA was planning on sending people to the moon, the astronauts, they were trying to figure out a way, how do you make a full meal be able to go into outer space with the pressure and not explode and not screw up the astronaut's stomach if he does get it in there. And so they approached the House of David who in turn took that process with their own scientists down to a powder form.
So steaks, potatoes, whatever is on a full dinner plate, they made it into a powder form with the airtight wrap. And those little packets were what NASA sent to the moon with the astronauts House of David made. But the House of David's interest in travel wasn't just confined to outer space in the sea. It also extended to trains, miniature ones that you could ride on. In 1904, Benjamin and Mary Purnell traveled to the St. Louis world's fair.
There were so many reasons that they went there, but mostly to get ideas on how to do things to with crowds of people. It was during that time that they saw and they traveled on a little steam engine trains built by the Cagney brothers out of New York. And those steam engine trains in St. Louis were hauling millions of people all over into this world's fair during this whole year long event. So at the end of the world's fair, Benjamin bought one of those little steam engine trains, had it brought back to Benton Harbor, Michigan, taken apart every piece of it. And they recreated those trains, made them better, stronger, slightly bigger. And they built eight of them just exactly like that.
And from 1905 to 1908, by 1908, there was a fleet of eight 15-inch wide steam engine trains. Which were promptly put to work carrying passengers around their amusement park, something they inherited as a simple resort called Eastman Springs with the money their wealthy backers gave them when they first settled in Benton Harbor. The reason that they had the amusement park was basically because of the Australians, their desire to entertain. They wanted an avenue to be able to draw people in for the purpose of entertainment. And because the 85 joined on the same day that were world famous actors and actresses and vaudeville show people and musicians, they thought, what better way to use that Eastman Springs Park as to turn it into an amusement park. So in 1905, they started building the railroad around the amusement park. They started building the amphitheater, which was state of the art, world-class amphitheater. And they wanted to entertain people.
They wanted to get their message out through the form of music, basically. So when you arrived at the park by your trolley car or your bus line, you just thought that you were going to go to a show or, you know, you were going to listen to a band when in fact you got on their little miniature train to go into the park. You bought, you got the whiff of those waffle cones cooking and the homemade ice cream. You couldn't resist that like a Kilwin's times 10. So you got that for a nickel.
You went back in there and we got entertained. You got food for nickels to maybe a dime. You could drive the little race cars. You could go to the zoo. You could spend the night in their park hotel. You could eat at their vegetarian restaurant in the amusement park, but it was, they did it for an experience and for people to think of them as something more than just a fave. It was such a unique experience to see all these men with long hair and long beards, long beards and very humble Amish type people. And it was actually an awesome experience. I went there as a little kid and we went for years and it was a good feeling.
It was like an old grandpa standing there. They were very kind. They were very accommodating. They would answer any questions that you had.
They would help you with things. It was a unique experience and it brought people by the tens of millions. It was the leading amusement park in America only behind Disneyland. And that was only after 1952. Before that, from the time it opened in 08 until the early fifties, there was nobody that had more people attending an amusement park in America more than the House of David amusement park. You know, Walt Disney came here and studied the House of David in 1950-51 and he actually bought one of the House of David steam engine trains, one of the original ones, took it back to Anaheim, California with him where he created his own little railroad there at his property first and then later at Disneyland.
So it was a huge, huge success. But despite the continued popularity of the park, people didn't necessarily want to join it. And as a result of their belief in celibacy, one by one the members of the House of David, including Ben Purnell, passed away until the point where they had to close it. It had closed in 74. People would still wander through. You were allowed to go there and walk around and reminisce and feel your memories and stuff. They didn't keep you away. But it was closed. It was totally like an abandoned amusement park kind of thing. They closed everything down. They still ran a print shop.
They still had their art department building where they made their own beautiful statuary. They still participated in Blossom Parade floats and musicals and things like that. And they all just wanted to enjoy life quietly from there. You know, they were up there pretty good.
It's like a fairytale place in a way. They touched America in such unique ways. They definitely left their mark. They left a beautiful mark on the world. They touched people in unique ways. What they created will live on, you know, their inventions.
There's so many things that live on way past them. They invited us in to feel it, to experience it. But then we had to go home and they got to stay. They found a pretty dang cool way to live. And they were happy all the way until they closed their eyes. They really were. And you're listening to Chris Seriano, and he's the founder of the House of David Museum in Benton Harbor. The story of Benjamin Purnell here on Our American Story.
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