But This Dream Seemed So Real

“Artificial lights may appear, claiming to come from heaven…”

—Ellen White, Elmshaven, 1901

America is a country of ghosts, a nation-state of the dead. Transient towns dot forgotten highways curving through bone dry deserts. Phantom smokers haunt empty parking lots atop desecrated graves with their blue hazes. Even the golden coast, the dreamy end of roads, is filled with fallen petals of old neighborhoods and times. Most Northern Californians can tell you what it’s like to have a burnt city pass over and linger in your lungs as a little limbo before completing its pilgrimage to the sea.

America’s ghost stories are different from other countries, whose ghosts are named and tied to histories of people and place. Our history is estranged from the dead it stands upon. Ghost stories need time to be told. With a couple of centuries, we are approaching an age of maturity to look back and see shapes form out of folklore and paranormal accounts.

An interesting and relevant example is the strange story of a Mexican land grant from 1841 given to a “Dr.” Edward Turner Bale. The land was called Rancho Carne Humana, and is still described as such in the Napa County Recorder’s Office. There are several rather unsatisfying theories as to why this place was given such a curious name. Edward Bale served as a surgeon to General Vallejo’s men in 1840 although it seems all of the medical training he may have received was shadowing the ship’s carpenter on a treacherous voyage from England to California.

The land was called Colijolmanoc by the Wappo people of Napa Valley and it is thought that perhaps Dr. Bale punned the Rancho Carne Humana from this name. That does not satisfy me, but who knows the possible puns in a valley full of Mexican military, Wappo smallpox survivors, and this eerie Englishman. Perhaps it was just a snide remark to his reputation as a surgeon. In a hauntingly premonitory twist of fate, survivors of the Donner Party — the group of Midwestern pioneers caught in the wintery Sierras on their way to California who had to survive the harsh elements by consuming their deceased fellow travelers — were recouped and hosted by Edward Bale at Rancho Carne Humana. Even though there is no explicit apparition tied to this history, the land itself seems to be present and participating in the stories upon it. And if you’re looking for a phantom, it won’t take you long to get a ghost story out of a Napa native: Victorian homes become crowded, memories of the slave trade are recounted by children, strange, red creatures haunt particular streets.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is very much a response to the ghosts of America. Very literal ones, in fact. The Fox Sisters heard their first spirit rappings in 1848 — only four years after Ellen White had her first encounters with the numinous — and within two years became famous for their public seances. Adventism and Spiritualism were sisters in the nineteenth century boom of religious innovation in America, both promising the potential for young women to be messengers of the beyond.

Of course, you don’t have to believe in ghosts in order to see them pass by. Even Ellen White, clairvoyantly gifted as she was, recalls paragraphs of a dream-state conversation she had with her recently deceased spouse, James. She recounts so in a letter to her son, Willie C. White, on a September Monday in 1881 from the Rollinsville post office in Gilpin County, Colorado, five weeks after James had passed. He communicates what you would expect to hear from a spouse beyond the grave, encouraging Ellen to not let others burden her with responsibilities:

“The Lord did not require us to carry so heavy burdens and many of our brethren so few. We ought to have gone to the Pacific Coast before and devoted our time and energies to writing. Will you do this now? Will you, as your strength returns, take your pen and write out these things we have so long anticipated, and make haste slowly?”

(It is interesting James makes no comment regarding the theological or doctrinal implications of this posthumous visit. I imagine if he did, it would be critiqued as counterintelligence from one of the deceptive spirits he and Ellen spent so much time writing and warning against. Is this ghostly omission a deliberate choice in paranormal church politics? Ellen reflects this spousal savvy by not lingering on the dream visit in writing. Recording it at all has attracted accusations of spiritualism and witchcraft from those who already see the Adventist Church as a cult. Nonetheless, the omission of doctrinal speculation, Ellen’s established clairvoyance, and the vividness of the dream (to an experienced visionary, no less), and its message leaves us to accept this story as data. Something happened here.)

Less than ten years before that dream, in 1872, Ellen and James White set out to start a publishing house in the San Francisco Bay Area. They rode on the ferry from San Francisco to Oakland. I don’t know if the bay’s water was cleaner then than it is now. They might have chuckled over the apocryphal Twain quote around this time, that the coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco. Another apocryphal quote is attributed to Ellen on this ferry ride. The wintery summer fog must have lifted from the Bay. Perhaps the sun caught the sight of Oakland as it still does on a rare clear, crisp day. Willie and James Edson, their two sons, were with them, then 18 and 23 respectively. They probably heard the noises and cheers from the Shellmound Amusement Park, a new attraction to the San Francisco Bay. The park was named so because it was built on one the shellmounds of the Ohlone people of the East Bay, a coastal hillock that served as a village occupied 2,700 years before this afternoon, as well as a resting place for the community’s dead. James Edson was already married at this time, but it is easy to imagine the thrill such a sight would inspire in Willie, a single 18-year-old: the racetrack, the carousels, its two dancing halls, its shooting range. On this ride, looking with young, judicious sons onto the vibrant thrills of amusement parks built on ghostly grounds, far-flung hullabaloos across the water, Ellen turned to James and said, allegedly inspired, “Somewhere in Oakland is the place to locate the paper.”

James Edson White would continue to work in publishing, specializing in printing hymnals and music books both with the Pacific Press and then with his own J. E. White Publishing Company, a couple of years after his father passed and Willie had received the aforementioned letter of his mother’s dream. James Edson’s faith and fervor was reinvigorated in 1893 by an appeal written by his mother, unlastingly titled, “Our Duty to the Colored People,” penned at the beginning of her stay in Australia. Three years later, he and his wife would outfit a steamboat to be a traveling school, teaching illiterate folks along the Yazoo River to read and write. Their boat: The Morning Star. Forbidden knowledge in Mississippi.

Ellen returned to Oakland in 1900, shortly before the University of California excavated the site of the Ohlone Shellmound underneath the amusement park. The park would be closed in 1924 and the land would serve as an industrial plant until being demolished by the City of Emeryville Redevelopment Agency in 1999. Of course, demolition workers found Ohlone artifacts in the earth, like gold emerging from the sifting dirt of a prospector’s pan. And of course, despite protests, the site was redeveloped and presently serves as the Bay Street Shopping Center, Ikea and all. Another shellmound, a five-minute drive north in West Berkeley, was dated to be 5,700 years old, older than the Pyramids of Giza and Jerusalem. This shellmound sits under a parking lot across Spenger’s Fish Grotto, opened in the 1890s, closed in 2018. Ohlone descendants and activists recently succeeded in halting further development on the land just a year prior.

Ellen was 73 when she returned to Oakland, looking for a final resting home. She would have just missed the mysterious airships of 1896, reported from Sacramento to San Francisco. A Mr. R. L. Lowery said he heard a voice on the ship barking orders for higher elevation in order to avoid the church steeple, as it evaded the tower of a brewery. A couple of the reported sightings were later found to be fabrications and hoaxes. Critics would assume that therefore all of them must be publicity ploys by unscrupulous publications. However, we must mind that publicity stunts as such could only work if the public recognizes a subject they have witnessed and are perhaps seeking to know more. Again, something happened here. The memory of the mystery ships in the sky and their lonely lights at night evaporated from public consciousness, much like memories of the unnamed and unknown dead.

Ellen had a hard time finding a home in Oakland and went to the Rural Health Retreat in St. Helena to rest and see old friends. There she purchased a fully furnished home built by the railroad businessman Robert Platt, who in turn had received the land from his brother. The Elmshaven website alleges the original property that has since been divvied up into different parcels was an “abandoned Indian stronghold.” Ellen would continue to have visions in her home of Elmshaven, sometimes being surrounded by beings of light in her living room, late at night. She would write them down just like James asked in that dream twenty years ago.

Did I mention that Elmshaven stands on the edge of Rancho Carne Humana? The land had stories to tell. Ellen became one of them.

After fifteen years of living on this hauntingly curious parcel of land, Ellen became one of the ghosts. She passed away in Elmshaven on July 16, 1915, the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, prayed to by millions for the delivery of ghosts from Purgatory. Mount Carmel being the mountain upon which a prophet of God called fire from heaven.

Fifteen years of visions from this solitary period of her life ask to be revisited and seen by more eyes. Starry beings in dark writing rooms in an elderly clairvoyant’s home in the woods. Early on in her Elmshaven writings, in 1901, she began the short entry quoted in the epigraph about artificial lights descending from the sky.

I was in Napa during the weeks it took the incinerated city of Paradise, California to march over Rancho Carne Humana towards the still buried shellmounds of the Bay. If Elmshaven did indeed stand on an “abandoned Indian stronghold,” I wonder what it was holding out against? And why was it abandoned? It could simply be smallpox or an inaccurate memory or a marketing attempt to further historicize a location. I visited my aunt as she recovered from surgery in the Adventist Health St. Helena, the Rural Health Retreat’s present name. Her window looked over the elm-covered hills. I didn’t, but the Elmshaven tour guides claim nurses from that hospital see a “heavenly glow” come from the property from time to time.

Of course, Ellen wrote virulently against non-Protestant spirit models and would probably object to any participation in these stories. But if we are to honor her, we must place her in a wider, human story as opposed to bottling her up in an Adventist vacuum. A human story we are still discovering. Something happened here. Something weirder than Adventism already is. Something that Adventism isn’t yet allowed to consider real. But something happened here.

Bryan Nashed is one of the cohosts of The Badventist Podcast. A graduate of La Sierra Academy, he studied English and Media Studies at UC Berkeley. He works at a nonprofit career center in San Francisco and attends the LIFE Adventist Church in Berkeley, CA.

Image Credit: Library of Congress (The San Francisco Call) / Wikipedia.org (Public Domain) / SpectrumMagazine.org

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10294

Quote of the day!
And yet-so many apply her universally, fatuosly out of context.
Perhaps it’s better that way…

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A tantalizing, quick, few words regarding the migration of peoples
on the earth. “Older than the pyramids of Giza and Jerusalem.”
The understanding of the Earth must have had a lot of lost memories.
It is known that the Chinese traded on the western coast of South
America many millennia ago.
The ability of travel that distance with accuracy is unknown to us as
to how they had the tools do so – longitude and latitude across such
a wide watery road.


It is such a pity, Steve, that the Library of Alexandria was burned and neglected. It contained a wealth of knowledge from antiquity that may have been lost forever.


"But if we are to honor her, we must place her in a wider, human story as opposed to bottling her up in an Adventist vacuum."

I don’t know if it could happen any differently (in an Adventist vacuum). After all, the longer time goes by…the harder it is to see any historical figure with their warts and all. They become more of a cypher of themselves as their deeds and accomplishments become more cultural folklore. I am sure that the same has happened with the other religious contemporaries of EGW such as Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy.

Adventism has a need to see and experience Ellen G. White as it serves both the Adventist culture and theology. Whatever the “real” Ellen was can only be viewed from afar over a hundred years ago…most likely no one exists that knew her well (or at all). But, we have her books and even that is problematic and is not “pure”. To be fair, I am not at all sure that all that Ellen intended has been borne out from the SDA need to be “right”.

Yes, “something happened” but I am of the opinion that we will never know the full story. It has been too long now.


Kim –
Yes, an ancient map of Antarctica drawn by Greek seamen was
discovered several years back.
On it outlined a portion of Antarctica land mass prior to all the
ice shelf. The accuracy of the drawing has been verified by
modern technology.


That’s fantastic…can you link to an article on this?

Don’t have one. Saw it on the internet though.

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I cannot believe that we are still having conversations about a prolific plagiarist, who this author now tells us had conversations with her deceased husband !

The something “ real “ that happened here were probably trance like states that accompanied petit mal epileptic seizures.

What a shame that no Loma Linda neurologists / psychiatrists were at hand to do electro encephalograms, skull MRIs and brain cat scans during her life time.

We should delegate our multiplicity of Adventist physicians / professors to come up with plausible explanations for this prophetic phenomenon…

Modern medicine might have elucidated much.

God certainly chose a most circuitous routing to deliver his messages to her — via contemporary other writers of her era. And husband and sons facilitated all this, together with an army of secretarial “ assistants “.
It is all rather sadly poignant and pathetic.


I see it through a slightly different lens.
The way the early men of the church seized on the writings, devising a stream of money by creating publishing houses to print books and tracts to hire students to earn tuition money to go to in-house schools in order to become doctors, dentists and nurses for in-house hospitals(full circle!) perhaps was not Gods intention, at all. Not certain he envisioned his remnant would establish a highly profitable and huuuge “Health System” froma simple, accessible “health message”. Perhaps the pioneers were earnest in their zeal, but you know institutional creep. It can’t help itself, and soon gets so ungainly, and self preserving (despite the seve-lipschtick) and forgets its own purpose and inflates its status. We have risen pretty high-a fall is inevitable.

I sense that God is desiring to awaken reason within his flock so they can be honest witnesses-not respecters of persons, not mantra-repeating, proof-text spouting, ellen venerating automatons (sorry jeremy). Too many of us “vege-virgins” are still sleeping…sleep walking, sleep talking.

…but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly

I’d say, corporately, we need help with “Gods knot” of three cords-especially while we simultaneously almost demand obeisance to those writings in order to be “true adventists”.


See this link: I MISTERI DELLA MAPPA DI PIRI REIS di Diego Cuoghi


Kim, you are right. The full story may be buried forever.

Since the beginning, EGW has been the glue that kept the SDA movement unified. The spinning was around her, not around Jesus. The story about her call, the miracles that were reported (that didn’t necessarily happen), the “boox,” the glory of being the “remnant,” the GC’s power as being second only to God’s power - the whole enchilada - was what kept the Church homogeneously united. With only a few “dissidents” here and there along the way that were easily crushed if they asked too many questions - especially about 1844…

But then, bit by bit the myth :open_mouth: lost its magic power as many hidden facts surfaced throughout the years and could no longer be kept buried. Then, “The White Lie,” and Glacier View, and the documents about the 1919 Conference, and so many other issues… and hell broke loose!

The “dream that seemed so real” became a true nightmare for the traditionalists, the members of the Church that revered EGW and the Denomination itself. Reality hit hard and changed the Church’s landscape. And here we are…, still… unable to unite against discrimination of women and other issues. TW, saved by the Covid-19 for another two years, will gladly perpetuate his endless efforts to keep the Church… united. Even if it takes to order unity by a decree titled, “grave consequences”… As if such an executive order could actually be effective. Let’s pretend it is… :roll_eyes: Let’s just forget the past and move on!


IMO Adventism as an institution will never address the problems with EGW. Individuals will address the EGW issue and will vote with their feet and their tithe right out of the denomination. The organized church will try more and more to ignore EGW in the hope that the problems will be forgotten, and that she may be retained as a symbol without addressing the issue of her brain injury, the plagiarism and the likelihood that her “messages” were a combination of the brain injury and an over-active imagination spurred on by the religious climate of the day.


Because to do so endangers the institution.

The (pardon my analogy pls) DSA SDA’s (deep state bureaucrats entrenched in self appointed power) will never yield, for they have conflated the institution with the mission.


Smithsonian magazine might have such an article. I saw a mention of Antarctica in the current issue, but haven’t looked at the whole thing yet.


Piri Ries map of Antarctica


Thanks. Enjoyed reading about it again.
Information like this makes one wonder where the gold of
Solomon came from.
When I was taking a summer class at a Jr. College mid-70’s one
of the professors had cut out a very short blurb in one of his
professional magazines.
It was commenting on “indian scratchings on rocks in southern
Georgia”. the article went on to say that a professor who was
familiar with Hebrew writing of the time of David and Solomon
[about 1000 b.c.] saw them and said they were Hebrew and NOT
Indian. It was apparently put there by a Hebrew sailor [maybe sailing
with the Phonecians] who put graffiti on the rocks.
There is a story of Jews visiting Indians of the mid-U.S and they had
the teaching of a 7th day worship day when they were discovered by

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Let’s see. Indians visited by Hebrews. Sounds like Mormon yarns to me.

Just as persuasive as EGW’s claims that Jesus visited her home–in person, not just in visions–over a hundred times. and twice in a chariot.


Is there a good answer to the problems? Can the SDA Church carry on in a vibrant way if they admit the problems? Can they continue to hobble along, all the while trying to keep the truth tamped down? It’s like a constant game of wack-a-mole…

What’s to be done?


Thank-you…was interesting.