When Boston’s war against the Antichrist was raging
The Satanic Temple, a self-described group of “politically aware, Civic-minded Satanists” based out of Salem, recently made waves in Arkansas, where they rallied in response to the construction of a Ten Commandments monument in Little Rock. Attendees showed up to the rally with horns, pentagrams, and other satanic imagery to confront the bible-gripping, God-fearing Christians who were unhappy with their presence.
While the Salem Satanists ruffled feathers down South—one state senator claimed the group was using “fake arguments and misinformation to take advantage of the good people of Arkansas”—around here they are largely accepted. It hasn’t always been that way, though. Salem’s notoriously intolerant history is well known, as are the travails of people in that city who had rather interesting convictions back in the day. Boston was the same, with a religious climate similar to that in Little Rock in 2018, right down to an irrational fear of Satan’s spawn.
In an issue of the Daily Globe at the dawn on the 20th century, ministers announced a “War on Satan” in light of what they perceived to be a time of great regional religious awakening. Representatives from several Christian denominations planned meetings to address their plans to move the city toward a holier lifestyle. Members of the general public were forbidden to attend and the press was told to stay away, though the invite list did include businessmen who were active in church circles. Some things never change.
The combination of religious fervor and the funding fostered by those businessmen led to a campaign led by ministers and moneyed interests to increase the number of hawkers on streets paid to hand out pamphlets. The resulting tracts featured “flaming statistics” that showed an apparent decrease in new converts, and encouraged those who were not active in the church to feel “a profound sorrow.” A classic shaming effort, it warned Satan’s disciples to vacate the city at once.
In time, despite the initial shade thrown at the press, the desperate men of God released a statement pressuring reporters to aid in the campaign as part of their own religious duty. The effort largely fell flat, though in time there would be yet another local theater in the war on Christ’s perceived opponents.
Roughly three years later, the so-called Holy Ghost and Us Society declared its own battle against satanic forces. Stationed on Mass Ave, a Maine native and reverend named Frank Sandford cultivated roughly half a million bucks (more than 10 million in today’s dollars) through his followers. As one columnist for Fibre and Fabric, a textile trade rag at the time, reported in 1900:
A gentleman who styles himself Rev. F. W. Sandford has come to this city, and opened up to “save souls.” I don’t know that there have been any souls lost here, therefore I do not know really the modus operandi. It seems to me that he is after a good living without … working.
Sandford discouraged life insurance, calling it a “sinful device of Satan,” and demanded that disciples turn over their policies to him, for they must sacrifice their all to God. Books other than the Bible were forbidden to be read by his followers, while he shared a similar disdain for the press, calling them “Satan’s slaves.”
Such sacrifices, however, weren’t required of Mr. Sandford. Through his own devilish work he procured a yacht and a sophisticated carriage, all while he established chapters all over New England.
More than 100 years later, it’s almost unbelievable that satanic worshippers of any degree—however in line with regional politics they are—are allowed their basic freedoms. Perhaps it’s because they’re not stealing life insurance policies.
Looking through old newspapers, it’s clear that there have always been unscrupulous cult leaders in Mass. For the most part, they’ve worked for Christian churches.