33. What Canadian-born newsmaker of the 1920s inspired an Upton Sinclair poem and a character in a Sinclair Lewis novel, and was the subject of a 2012 Broadway play?
Answer to Canada Quiz #33
Aimee Semple McPherson.
Born in Salford, Ontario in 1890, Aimee Semple McPherson was widowed at age 19 while she and her husband, Robert Semple, were performing missionary work in Hong Kong. She settled in the U.S. and, pioneering the use of media, forged a career as one of the most popular evangelists of her time.
She developed a large following through her reputation as a dynamic revivalist and faith healer. In the 1920s she oversaw the building of the huge Angelus Temple in Los Angeles and founded the Foursquare Gospel Church.
Complex, charismatic and controversial, McPherson’s fame climaxed when she disappeared while swimming near Venice Beach in 1926. Presumed drowned, she caused a sensation when she reappeared one month later in Arizona, claiming to have been kidnapped and to have escaped through the Mexican desert. Investigators found inconsistencies in her statements, and theorized that she had been on a romantic liaison with her radio engineer.
The mystery has never been fully explained, but it has served as fuel for numerous literary efforts, including Upton Sinclair’s poem, An Evangelist Drowns, the character of Sharon Falconer in the Sinclair Lewis novel, Elmer Gantry, and the play Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, with book and lyrics by Kathy Lee Gifford. Pete Seeger also recorded the unsympathetic Ballad of Aimee McPherson.
- Aimee Semple McPherson, Wikipedia
- Aimee Semple McPherson, American Studies at University of Virginia
- Biographical documentary on Aimee Semple McPherson, YouTube