America Unanswered | Transcript [bonus ep]


00:00:00

NARRATOR

In October of 2011, 4 college students disappeared in the woods near Porter Township Pennsylvania while researching a documentary on children’s author Jakob Stanley. They remain missing to this day.


00:00:29

NARRATOR

Last month their recordings appeared online. If anyone has information on those missing or the identity of the person or persons who uploaded these files, please use the contact information provided. Anything submitted may be used in future episodes. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the podcasters and participants, and do not represent the official policy or position of the Iphigenia County Police Department of Porter Township Pennsylvania or its associates.


00:01:03

PROFESSOR WHITAKER

This week we are breaking from the recovered files of “Tell Me a Story: The True Life of Jakob Stanley” to share with you an episode of the 1985 investigative TV series “America Unanswered.” The show’s producers have granted us permission to re-air the program in the hopes that this episode entitled “Following The Light - Pennsylvania’s Croatoan,” will help provide insight into the relatively unknown religious sect "The Light" who ran Porter Township's Mendenhall Institute.


00:01:43

ANNOUNCER

The following episode of “America Unanswered” aired only once. The show was then abruptly cancelled. This is the only known copy.


00:02:02

AVO

This broadcast is about America's most infamous unanswered questions. The following should not be considered a news program.


MUSIC: [Unanswered Theme Music]


00:02:45

HOST

TONIGHT...on “America Unanswered” we travel to Porter Township, Pennsylvania, to explore the history of the Mendenhall Institute and its enigmatic founders: The Light. From their curious beginnings, to mysterious disappearance. Could you hold the key to unlocking the mystery of the Mendenhall’s vanishing staff and patients?


00:03:06

HOST (CONT’D)

The severity of these situations requires that great care be taken. These questions will be difficult to answer, but perhaps you can help. Join me and you might be able to answer America’s greatest unanswered questions.


[COMMERCIAL BREAK: 1]


00:03:44

HOST

Deep in the heart of Iphigenia county, lies the dairy farm community of Porter Township. This small town of only a few hundred inhabitants, is home to some of Pennsylvania’s darkest secrets.


00:03:59

HOST (CONT’D)

This is Grant W. Haas, a professor of arcane religions and one half of a husband-and-wife duo researching “The Light.” He and his wife, Occult Historian Addison G. Haas, have been hard at work on a book about the history of Porter Township, the Mendenhall, and this cabalistic group.


00:04:20

HOST (CONT’D)

Opening in 1901, the Mendenhall was built by the pseudoscientific spiritual ministry known as “The Light.” To this day little is known about this secret cult, but this couple plan on changing that.


00:04:36

GRANT

The Light has a very mysterious origin story. We know they referred to themselves as a “religious sect.” But they seemed to have been more of an amalgamation of religion and various pseudosciences, a spiritual ministry with elements of homeopathy and parapsychology.


00:04:55

ADDISON

They were particularly inspired by the works of German physician Samuel Hahnemann, he conceived of the concept of homeopathy. This speculates that what triggers symptoms of an illness in a healthy person, could also cure those symptoms in the infirm. “Like cures like.” Some historians have speculated it was Hahnemann himself who first started “The Light”, but we haven’t seen substantive evidence of that fact. I believe it was merely an acolyte, perverting Hahnemann’s theory of “similia similibus curentur” for their own megalomaniacal aims.


00:05:36

HOST

Megalomaniacal indeed. The Light first appears in recorded history by way of a flyer from the mid-1800s, advertising a faith-healing service.


00:05:47

GRANT

They began as a kind of “traveling tent revival.” For many years they traversed the U.S., led by an individual referred to only as “The Father.” - Hah, yes, not very original. - They offered to heal the sick and mentally ill with a combination of spiritualism, faith and pseudoscience, picking up new members as they traveled across the country.


ADDISON

Which on its own isn’t incredibly interesting, but what is interesting is that they would often take in those mentally ill patients themselves, and bring them along on their tour--


GRANT

--For a significant donation--


ADDISON

--Yes, for a significant “donation”, of course, the Light would take in the family member for “treatment.”


GRANT

To put this in context, it was the late-1800s. The Civil War had only just ended and medical science, psychology - they were nowhere near where they are today. At the time, many medical conditions and mental health issues weren’t even known to be medical conditions and mental health issues. And families at the time were ill-prepared to provide proper care.


ADDISON

After such a devastating experience of mass death like the Civil War, people became extremely vulnerable to anyone offering answers. The Civil War was almost single-handedly responsible for the rise of spiritualism in America - just as World War I triggered its rise in Europe. - Those in mourning needed a way to process their loss, and spiritualism offered them more than the church could. Which makes what The Light did even more abhorrent. They knew people were at their most vulnerable, and they used that to their advantage.


GRANT

The Light were very shrewd. They knew exactly how to play to their audiences in different locations, even altering their name to appeal to a variety of crowds. For example, in the bible belt they were known as “The Light of His Word” and would lean into the Pentecostal, tent revival, faith-healing aspects of their “religion.” In the northeast, they were just referred to as “The Light” and would play into spiritualism and pseudoscience.


00:07:47

HOST

They must have made quite the impression because by 1897, they were financially able to begin construction on The Mendenhall Institute. But why Pennsylvania? And why was the small, undeveloped Porter Township in rural Iphigenia County chosen as their new spiritual home?


ADDISON

They were given the land. It was granted to them through a trust. But, there aren’t many records we can reference.


GRANT

Ah, we can theorize that there were possibly members of The Light who held high-level government offices in Porter Township, and that is how they received the grant. But, so far we’ve been unable to substantiate that... uh, possibility.


00:08:25

HOST

In our next segment, we hear the story from the inside ... as we speak to an employee of the ill-fated Mendenhall Institute...


[COMMERCIAL BREAK: 2]


00:08:57

CONNIE

The Mendenhall was founded on the idea that the best way to help the mentally ill is through solitude and physical labor. It’s why they had so much land... provided proper room for a farm. All their needs could be met in one place. Their very own one-stop shop.


HOST

This is Connie King, a former employee of the Mendenhall.


CONNIE

My family has worked there since the beginning. My mom worked there, my grandma worked there, my great grandfather worked there. You know, my grandma always used to say, “any job you did at the Mendenhall was God’s work.” From the doctors seeing patients to staff scrubbing the floors - we were all there to provide hope to the hopeless - give to those creatures the world had turned its back on.


00:09:47

HOST

Little did Connie know of the true intent of the Mendenhall’s creators.


CONNIE

They were very private and reserved, yes. There was a clear line between local staff and the nurses and doctors.


00:10:03

GRANT

Only followers of The Light were allowed to hold high-level positions at the Mendenhall. Locals were hired on as custodians and to do other menial jobs.


00:10:12

CONNIE

They were all so very dedicated. The core staff never left the grounds. Never. The locals would invite them out for dinner, a night off or this or that. And they wouldn’t go - they were very nice about it, no one was ever rude - all very respectful of each other.


ADDISON

The members of the Light lived on-site and were not permitted to leave the grounds under any circumstances.


CONNIE

...But it was the doctors’ and nurses’ dedication to those patients, that is what was really awe-inspiring.


GRANT

To clarify, no one who worked at the Institute was an accredited doctor or nurse. None of them had any sort of medical license or training.


00:10:59

HOST

In the early morning of November 6, 1981 the local employees arrived for work only to find a locked gate. They tried for several hours to enter, and to contact those inside, but to no avail. Eventually the police were called. Upon arriving, they were able to remove the gate and carefully entered the grounds.


ADDISON

This is where stories begin to diverge. Everyone interviewed seems to have conflicting accounts of the following events.


00:11:31

GRANT

Police say they cordoned off the entire site and none of the local employees were allowed to enter, while most employees clearly remember being on the grounds. Some even remember entering the buildings, helping police. Then of course there are the wild rumors that, since we can’t corroborate, we prefer not to talk about.


CONNIE

We were all over - looking here, looking there. No, didn’t find anyone. The only place left to search was the staff residence. And I remember thinking the troopers aren’t ever gonna find it. It’s a maze to get down there, and always locked up tight. We never had any need to go in there, so the live-in staff were the only ones with keys. With the exception of ... my Gran. She had a key. When she first started working there, she found a key on one of the patients. At the time she was just 18 and terrified that they would think that she stole it and fire her. So, she did the only thing she could think of - Gran hid it in her bra, and went home and taped it under her ma’s china cabinet. And I still had that cabinet. So, without a thought, I took off for home, grabbed the key and led the troopers right to the staff residence.


00:12:52

HOST

And here is where the great mystery of the missing staff and patients begins.


[COMMERCIAL BREAK: 3]


00:13:21

CONNIE

When we got down to the staff entrance, it was all silent. Troopers were all looking at each other, like they knew this was gonna be bad.


GRANT

It’s worth mentioning, there were very few patients when the great disappearance occurred. But the live-in staff numbers had more than tripled over the years.


CONNIE

I unlocked the door, and we started going through the rooms. It was not at all how I had pictured it. Ya know, I thought it was gonna be spare, but still comfy like a fancy convent. But, no. It was set up like a military barracks. All these long rooms, with all these bunk beds all in a row. No decorations or pictures. Every bed exactly the same, every bed had the same blanket. We looked and looked and there was not a soul to be found. It was like right outta a horror movie.


00:14:27

HOST

This is known locally as Pennsylvania’s Croatoan. But unlike the lost colony of Roanoke, the staff and patients of the Mendenhall left no message carved in a tree. They simply... vanished.


ADDISON

Based on police reports, when they searched the grounds they found no one. No patients, no staff, even the barn was empty. And no sign as to what had happened to them - no records, no files, no charts. No food or supplies. It was like the building had never been occupied.


00:15:04

CONNIE

Then we finished looking through the staff quarters and we got to the entrance to the tunnel system... that’s - well, that’s when they sent us home.


00:15:17

HOST

Deep beneath the Mendenhall, lies a series of complex tunnels. This labyrinthine system is made of cut stone and spans the entire Institute, connecting all the buildings from below. However, they were not built for the Mendenhall.


ADDISON

The tunnels existed long before the Institute began construction. In fact the architect of the Mendenhall designed the entire facility around the layout of those tunnels.


00:15:48

HOST

All local land records before Porter Township’s incorporation in 1817 were destroyed in a courthouse fire. Because of this, the origin of the tunnel system is completely unknown. We only know they were there before the Mendenhall was constructed and are still there to this day.


00:16:05

CONNIE

And if I’m being honest, I was perfectly fine with not going into those tunnels. I wanted to get the heck outta there. It was just too eerie. Too quiet. And it was... And it was warm. It was just so warm. It was.. It was just so warm.


HOST

In our next segment, we will hear a story from a Porter Township resident, who came face to face with an escaped patient from the Mendenhall.


[COMMERCIAL BREAK: 4]


00:17:02

LEE ANN

It started out like any other day. I was up early brewing the coffee before the house was up. When I notice this movement in the backyard. And I couldn’t see because the lights were on in the kitchen. So, I turned the lights out. And I saw this half-naked woman standing out there in the backyard.


HOST

This is -


[Tape distorts]


GRANT

We believe that the tunnels held deep religious significance to The Light. But, we haven’t been able to figure out the exact connection. It could possibly have something to do with the origin of the stones.


HOST

The stones used for the construction of these tunnels, were cultivated from Porter Township’s own local quarry. It has long been believed that the town’s booming quarry industry began because of the tunnel system. But, evidently that was not the case.


00:18:01

ADDISON

Porter Township has the rather unsettling honor of being the only town in the state of Pennsylvania known for its many unofficial witch trials and the execution of hundreds of women.


[Tape distorts]


HOST

The woman would later be identified as Tandy Sewell, a patient who had just escaped from the Mendenhall Institute.


LEE ANN

My first thought was, “where are those girl’s clothes.” My next thought was “oh my, she must’ve come down from the Mendenhall.” That would happen every now and again. Oh, but, not in my backyard, but, you know.


[Tape distorts]


00:18:42

HOST

During the time of the famous Salem Witch Trials, witchcraft wasn’t even a capital offense in the state of Pennsylvania. But when the state’s founder, William Penn, died in 1718 all of that changed.


ADDISON

In 1718 the Pennsylvania Assembly adopted English law and created a new list of capital offenses which now included witchcraft. And Porter Township became a hub, of sorts, for the execution of witches.


00:19:11

HOST

But how does the town’s quarry come into play?


[Tape distorts]


LEE ANN

She must have seen me or saw the light go out, and she headed dead straight for the back porch.


[Tape distorts]


ADDISON

Even though witch-burning was popular, most of Porter Township’s first settlers were English, and it was a commonly-held belief in England that the only way to assure a witch could not come back from the grave was to place a large stone over the body of the deceased.


00:19:43

HOST

So, that is exactly what Porter Township did.


[Tape distorts]


LEE ANN

I try to head her off, but by the time I got there she was already on the porch, so I lock up the main door and I go and call the police.


[Tape distorts]


HOST

And since the practice of witch persecution was looked down upon by most of the state, believers in other towns traveled from all across Pennsylvania to bring their witches to Porter Township to be executed.


ADDISON

The high demand for witch executions and interring was looked upon as a business opportunity by the leaders of Porter. And thus the quarry was born.


[Tape distorts]


LEE ANN

Late that night, they come to find her at the base of Great Cliff.


[Tape distorts]


00:20:35

ADDISON

So, the misogynistic custom of persecuting women for witchcraft laid the entire groundwork for Porter Township’s financial stability.


[Tape distorts]


LEE ANN

She must’ve lost her footing - on account of having no shoes on - and just slipped right down. Gosh, I remember that day so well... It was the dead of winter. But it was so warm. So warm.


00:21:05

HOST

In our final segment, we hear the story of a desperate woman longing to discover what happened to her sister, who disappeared from the Mendenhall.


[COMMERCIAL BREAK: 5]


00:21:37

HOST

During their years of research, the team of Grant and Addison Haas have met countless family members of those whose loved ones never returned from the Mendenhall, but none so heartbroken as Dorothy Janson.


ADDISON

Dorothy Janson reached out to us several years ago. Her sister Alice was one of the patients who disappeared from the Mendenhall in 1981. She had heard about our project from the families of other victims and wanted to help us in any way she could.


00:22:10

HOST

Dorothy had contracted polio as a child and her only friend was her sister Alice. The loss was so great, she felt a desperate need to find out the truth. Alas, Dorothy Janson is no longer with us. But her story, and that of her sister Alice, lives on. The Haas’ have continued to carry the torch and have made it their mission to find out what happened to her long lost sister.


00:22:34

ADDISON

We conducted many interviews with Dorothy, and uh recorded her reading from the letters her sister which she had sent while she was still a patient at the Mendenhall.


HOST

The specific details of how The Light conducted their rituals is unknown. But based on information compiled from partial documents discovered in the tunnels of the Mendenhall, and additional letters from Dorothy’s sister, Grant and Addison Haas have developed a rough sketch of the internal structure and belief-system of The Light.


00:23:06

ADDISON

Their basic hierarchical framework can best be explained as a series of concentric circles with several “levels” within each. The goal being to rise within the sect, moving closer to the center as they became more “enlightened.”


00:23:25

DOROTHY

(reel-to-reel/reading)

“My dearest Dorothy, I write to you from a place of complete and utter joy in my impending enlightenment.”


00:23:35

ADDISON

The innermost circle is what they consider their spirit guide, a god-type figure on the other side of the mortal veil, referred to often as the Ayla, sometimes as the Esmeray.


DOROTHY

(reel-to-reel/reading)

“It is impossible to put these feelings into words, especially to someone who couldn’t begin to understand. How do you explain colors to those who cannot see? How do you explain music to those who cannot hear?”


00:24:06

ADDISON

The next circle of their hierarchy are for the “Head Masters,” lead by an individual referred to only as “The Father.” The father.


[Tape distorts]


ADDISON (CONT’D)

The work of members in this circle was to extract and interpret the knowledge from the other side through mediumship with members of the next circle, those known as the “Conduits,” who helped facilitate the word from the spirit guide. Then from there, the next circle were the “Apostles.” They disseminated the teachings from the “Head Masters” and were in charge of cultivating the “Flock,” choosing new possible “Conduits” for the “Head Masters” to use.


DOROTHY

(reel-to-reel/reading)

“My dearest Dorothy, Although the roaring of my distraught mind has not ceased, I have instead befriended it through the teachings of the Father. Using acceptance affirmations and daily sessions with the circle, I have found rule and profound peace.”


00:25:17

ADDISON

The outermost circle and lowest level in the hierarchy were called the “Believers” or the “Flock” and they constituted a majority of the members of The Light.


DOROTHY

(reel-to-reel/reading)

“My dearest Dorothy, I feel liberated. As if this burden is no burden at all, and should have never been seen as such. I no longer feel the shame I’ve carried with me my entire life. I am not what is broken, the world is broken. But we will heal it. We will spread the Light far and wide, bringing these revelations to this universe.”


00:25:59

ADDISON

It appears that The Light believed that the veil between the lands of the living and the dead was the thinnest for those who were considered to be “mentally ill.” So the mentally ill were ideal candidates to be used to contact the other side through a type of physical mediumship. Mendenhall patients that they deemed as having the thinnest of veils were usually used in this capacity, and therefore were indoctrinated into The Light as “Conduits.”


DOROTHY

(reel-to-reel/reading)

“Our work at the institute is of the utmost importance. And I have pledged to devote my entire life on earth and beyond to its teachings.”


00:26:45

ADDISON

We theorize that they considered that anyone could potentially be a Conduit - it was just whether or not they could realize their full potential. And let us not forget Hahnemann. “Similia similibus curentur” - “Like cures like.” So they believed that by surrounding themselves with the mentally ill that their own veils would become thinner. And then they, themselves, could become Conduits. That was the ultimate aspiration for all members of The Light.


DOROTHY

(reel-to-reel/reading)

“You see, when I cross, my spirit will continue this great work! Death is not an ending, but a continuation - a new beginning. Our bodies are mere shells, shells to be shed in order to reveal our true Light. Why mourn a broken shell left behind in a broken world? This energy is everlasting!”


ADDISON

By harnessing this power from the living and the dead, they seemed to be attempting to create a ... psychic battery, if you will.


[Tape distorts.]


ADDISON (CONT’D)

A battery so powerful that to any who wield it, death means nothing-


[Tape distorts.]


ADDISON (CONT’D)

(overlapping)

..death means nothing..., life means nothing. There is only The Light.


ADDISON (CONT’D)

(overlapping)

..death means nothing..., life means nothing. There is only The Light.


ADDISON (CONT’D)

(overlapping)

..death means nothing..., life means nothing. There is only The Light.


[Tape distorts.]


ADDISON (CONT’D)

There is only The Light.


[Tape distorts.]


[COMMERCIAL BREAK: 6]



00:28:43

HOST

Tonight’s stories are questions without answers, missing that crucial lead. Perchance one of our viewers might expose the truth. Perchance it’s you.


[TELL ME A STORY: OUTRO]


00:29:21

PROFESSOR WHITAKER

Thanks again to the producers of “America Unanswered” for allowing us to share this episode. We will return September 7th. In the interim, we will be updating this podcast feed with messages received via our tip line and any additional developments, so stay tuned. This has been “Tell Me a Story: The True Life of Jakob Stanley.” Thank you for listening.


00:29:54

NARRATOR

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the podcasters and participants. If anyone has information on those missing or the identity of the person or persons who uploaded these files, please use the contact information provided. Anything submitted may be used in future episodes.


[MUSIC AND CLOSING CREDITS]


00:30:20

ANNOUNCER

“Tell Me a Story: The True Life of Jakob Stanley” is a biweekly podcast produced by Sylvia Whittaker. Please, rate, review and subscribe. If you have information on the missing, know the identity of the person or persons who uploaded these files, have a theory about the case, or have had your own unexplainable experiences in Iphigenia County, Pennsylvania, we want to hear from you. Please record a message via our website. - www.jakobstanley.com - Messages may be used in future episodes. Voices will be altered and names redacted to protect your anonymity. For information on upcoming episodes, follow us on Instagram @JakobStanleyPodcast or on Twitter @InappropriateF




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