Aimee Semple McPherson
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Aimee Semple McPherson (b. Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy, October 9, 1890 in Ontario, Canada - d. September 27, 1944) was a Pentecostal evangelist and the founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, today better known as the Foursquare Church.
In 1908 at age 17 she had a born again experience while attending a revival meeting led by Pentecostal evangelist Robert Semple. She soon fell in love and married him, but Robert Semple died in 1910 just after the two had arrived in China to be missionaries. Aimee returned to North America and soon remarried, and began preaching in tent revivals across the United States in which her faith healing practices, preaching with a megaphone out of the back of her car, and gimmicks such as boxing events (under the slogan "Knock Out the Devil") earned her a reputation as one of the prototypical Pentecostal evangelists, considered charlatans by much of the public. She was also one of the first radio evangelists, buying her own radio station in Los Angeles in 1924.
Ironically given her association with conservative evangelical Christianity and revivalism, she had some progressive elements. Besides the obvious -- being a woman evangelist at a time when that was considered unacceptable and even scandalous in some quarters -- she was also associated with the women's suffrage movement. But on the whole she was a forerunner of today's televangelism and religious right. She campaigned for prohibition and against the teaching of evolution, working together with William Jennings Bryan during and after the Scopes trial and holding large parades in Los Angeles and all night prayer meetings to support the creationist side in the trial. Later during World War II she would use her pulpit to hold rallies promoting the buying of war bonds.
She ultimately became best known for disappearing from public view on May 18, 1926 after supposedly going to swim with her secretary that morning. The media frenzy which followed had speculation she had either drowned or run off to have an affair with Kenneth Ormiston, the engineer for her radio station who had also disappeared at the same time. She turned up in Mexico a month later claiming to have been kidnapped and held for ransom. Her own version of the story not adding up, the city of Los Angeles attempted to prosecute her for obstruction of justice but eventually dropped the charges. The rumors and guesses continued to fly - she was having an adulterous affair, she had staged the whole thing as an elaborate publicity stunt, she had disappeared to have an abortion or plastic surgery - but the matter of what actually happened was never resolved. Who knows - maybe she was just "hiking the Appalachian Trail".