The Rajneeshpuram – Schuylkill County Connection
My son recently recommended the six-part TV documentary series, Wild Wild Country on Netflix. The show revolves around a mystic cult led by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who promised inner peace and personal empowerment. In 1981 Rajneesh purchased tens of thousands of acres in Oregon with a goal of building a Utopian city. This evoked fears of a “takeover” of local government, especially when his disciples started bussing in homeless people, registering them to vote. The town previously known as Antelope would soon be renamed Rajneeshpuram.
What does this have to do with Schuylkill County? Well, in 1985 real estate in west-end Reilly Township was sold to company based in the Utopian city of Rajneeshpuram, Oregon. Newspapers featured articles on the sale and the reactions of local citizens. Some in the county believed that the sale was a Trojan horse which could end with an invasion of Rajneesh’s orange-robed followers who were rumored to be involved in a free love sex cult. The real estate closing occurred on April 8, 1985 at the Miners National Bank in Pottsville (now Santander). The Blackwood lands were sold by Ryon Realty Company to Hava, Ltd. The buyer’s representatives arrived from Philadelphia in rented Cadillacs and they were conservatively dressed except for the beads that hung from their necks that supported medallions featuring the likeness of their religious leader, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The sales price was $420,000 for 2,140 acres of both surface and mineral rights. One officer was a forty-something Swami Dhyan John (legally known as Dr. John Wally), who had been a financially successful Kansas City emergency physician before becoming the president of Rajneesh Investment Corporation and a trustee of the Rajneesh Modern Car Collection that held title to approximately 93 Rolls-Royces. Dr. Wally was listed as the only partner of Hava, Ltd. in the articles of incorporation filed in Harrisburg which listed the company address as Rajneeshpuram, Oregon. Subsequent documents filed in Schuylkill County courthouse also substantiated his authority. It remains unclear if Dr. Wally was investing on just his own behalf or on behalf of others and whether one of the others was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The limited partners were not revealed.
There was no overt xenophobic reaction locally after the sale, just some watchful suspicion that dissipated when not much occurred afterwards. It may have been because the Oregon-based organization soon unraveled, becoming embroiled in a large criminal investigation, part of which focused on what some say was the largest biological warfare attack in the history of the United States. The Schuylkill County Blackwoods land remained uninhabited. The only orange garments to be seen on the land in the future would be those worn by deer hunters. By 1987 the Utopian city in Oregon was bankrupt, its leader deported after attempting to rent a plane from an Allentown charter service to flee the country. His disciples disbursed in different directions and Rajneeshpuram’s name would revert back to Antelope. Pennsylvania Department of State on-line records indicates that Hava, Ltd. is “withdrawn…consolidated,,,inactive.” It’s Schuylkill County land holdings were sold in February 1999 for approximately $1.2 million. General Partner, Dr. Lally, is believed to be residing in Sedona, Arizona. Tremont still remains Tremont to this day, where, I was informed, inner peace can be had with a morning cup of coffee and a fasnacht at Behm’s Restaurant…or a visit to the Schuylkill County Historical Society & Museum.
Source: Allentown Morning Call, April 21, 1985