Facial hair has become increasingly popular in Major League Baseball in the recent years. Many players have been in the focus of the media for their creative beards.
However, baseball beards can be traced back to over a century, to the House of David, a virtuoso team of religious eccentrics, that toured the country for almost five decades.
They were known for their Harlem Globetrotter-style “pepper” moves and for their long hair and beards and any player who was clean-shaven had to wear a false beard.
But what exactly was the House of David?
The House of David is a religious Christian society located in Benton Harbor, Michigan. It was co-founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in March 1903.
Benjamin said he found his calling after he dreamt that a white dove had perched on his shoulder and told him that he was the sixth son of the House of David.
It was an Adventist cult that sought to reunite the 12 tribes of Israel in anticipation of Jesus returning to Earth in the new millennium. Ben began to preach the gospel and managed to recruit several hundred members quickly.
Members relinquished all possessions to Purnell and they had to adopt a communal lifestyle and refrain from sex, haircuts, shaving and the eating of meat.
The sect began to attract the attention of locals in Benton Harbor who were curious about Ben’s followers. Their communal lifestyle also attracted tourists who came just to have a look at them.
More and more tourist were attracted by the sect and even more when Ben organized the sect’s musicians into a band and gave free concerts.
In 1907, Purnell bought some additional land and went about building a park, which he named “The Springs of Eden.” During
Purnell bought some additional land and went about building a park, which he named “The Springs of Eden.” During the 1930s, Eden Springs Park became known nationally and was hosting over 200,000 visitors every year.
Since Purnell was a big advocate of sports, especially baseball, a baseball field was built on the property around 1910 and House of David members played games against local semi-professional teams.
In 1913, the House of David went pro and they began playing amateur and semi-professional teams in Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.
The House of David entered a league for the first time in 1915 and won the Berrien County Championship in 1916.
In the early 1920s, the House Of David team began playing games around the country – known as barnstorming. They were a sensation in small towns all across the country.
The House of David ballplayers sported extra long beards and hair that flowed down to the belts on their heavy woolen uniforms. Their distinctive look is what made them a sensation all across the country.
They invented a game of “pepper” – a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters famed basketball weave. Crowds were dazzled as the touring players hid balls in their beards and performed tricks.
They were a sensation never seen before and at one point the House of David had three different teams touring the country.
Over the years, many big-leaguers played for the House Of David teams, including Grover Cleveland Alexander and African American league legend Satchel Paige, but they either had to grow a beard or wear a fake one.
Benjamin Purnell died in 1927 after he was convicted of embezzlement and the sexual assault of young girls in his commune.
After Ben died, Mary Purnell led one group, which moved across the street and became known as the City of David and another group was formed which maintained the original name.
The House of David team ceased existing in 1936 and the City of David stopped barnstorming in 1956, ending the sect’s involvement with baseball.