Yesterday, I went on a ghost tour of Seattle’s Pike Place market. I got a perspective of the market I’ve never had before. For example, our tour guide told us about how in the mid-eighties, the city let people purchase tiles for the market’s floor as a fundraiser to renovate the building. Nothing ghostly about this--I’d seen these tiles plenty of times, but I’d never noticed one that said “Heaven’s Gate 6-8-85.” I’d never heard of Heaven’s Gate before, but, according to our tour guides, it turns out that they were a pseudo-Christian cult that thought they could hitch a ride to space on the Hale-Bopp comet. They were recruiting members in Seattle in the ‘80s.
Heaven’s Gate was the third of three cult organizations started by Marshall Herff Applewhite. In 1975, Applewhite and his co-founder Bonnie Lu Trundle Nettles, Applewhite’s nurse following his heart attack, created the group Human Individual Metamorphosis and travelled to Colorado to await the arrival of a UFO. Applewhite and Nettles called themselves “The Two.” Undeterred after the space ship’s absence and Nettles’ death, Applewhite founded a group called Total Overcomers Anonymous in 1993.
Heaven’s Gate believed that a group of UFO’s from the Kingdom of Heaven came to earth about 2000 years ago. The leader of the group, “Do,” was given instructions from his female companion “Ti” to leave his extraterrestrial body behind and move into the human body of Jesus Christ. If this sounds a bit like Star Wars meets the Bible, that’s because it was.
In the 1920’s, inhabitants of the Kingdom of Heaven, including Do and Ti, returned to earth. They each inhabited a human body, but somehow the crew of this spaceship became scattered. The extraterrestrials held meetings to talk about their religion and eventually tracked down the rest of the crew members.
Applewhite changed the group’s name to Heaven’s Gate when they moved to San Diego. There, they rented a huge home, which they called a monastery, where all the members lived together. They lost most contact with their families and former friends. All of the members wore the same thing--black shirts with Mandarin collars and black pants. In preparation for the next world free of gender and sex, they were to remain celibate and eight of the members, including Applewhite, underwent a voluntary castration.
Heaven’s Gate also believed that if the members of the group, also the crew members of the space ship, committed suicide at a certain time, they would leave their human bodies for bodies of another dimension. They believed that the space ship that would allow them to enter their next bodies was hidden in the Hale-Bopp comet.
In March of 1997, 38 members dressed in black clothing and put on new black-and-white Nike sneakers and an arm band that read “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.” They put five dollar bills in one pocket and quarters in the other, apparently an admission fee to the space craft. Next, they committed suicide by ingesting cyanide or arsenic mixed with applesauce or pudding and followed it up with vodka. After eating the mixture, plastic bags were wrapped around members’ heads so they would asphyxiate.
Here’s the charismatic Marshall Applewhite, who died along with his members. Would you have been taken in?