On March 26, 1997 thirty-nine people were found dead inside a mansion in Rancho Sante Fe, California. They were all wearing identical clothing, had identical haircuts, and, except for two of them, they were each covered in a purple shroud. The group was Heaven’s Gate, a cult led by Marshall Applewhite, who was one of the 39 people found in the house. Over the course of a day, the group members had each ingested phenobarbital mixed with applesauce and vodka, and had covered their heads in a plastic bag to ensure their deaths. It is, to this day, the largest mass suicide in US history. Many people remember the Heaven’s Gate cult for the images of their bodies being discovered that were plastered all over the news in the early nineties (most notably their identical Nike sneakers), but the group had been around for almost 30 years before they decided to commit suicide together. Here are some interesting fact about Heaven’s Gate that you may not have known.
The group didn’t believe they were necessarily committing suicide.
Heaven’s Gate believed that there was a place called The Evolutionary Level Above Human, a physical place where they could go if they shed all attachments to the human world. For awhile, this meant giving up sex, belongings, individual interests and all relationships with family and friends, but eventually they came to believe they also needed to give up their human bodies, which they referred to as “vehicles”.
They believed that humanity had been corrupted by aliens a long time ago.
According to the belief system of Heaven’s Gate, they thought that evil aliens had taken control of human civilization and purposely led them away from the Kingdom of Heaven with distractions like money, sex, and attachment to physical things. But there were also other aliens, good aliens, that had come down to Earth from space and implanted themselves inside a human vessel to show humans the way to the Next Level. They believed that Jesus and their leaders Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles (who died of cancer before the mass suicide) were examples of these higher beings inside a human form.
According to Heaven’s Gate, the Hale-Bopp comet was the key to getting to the Next Level.
via: Getty Images
In 1997 the Hale-Bopp comet was passing by earth. It was the brightest comet ever to be observed in the 20th century. It was visible with the naked eye for 18 months. An amateur astronomer in Texas claimed that he had observed something following the comet, which he deduced to be a UFO. Heaven’s Gate believe his claim, and believed the UFO following Hale-Bopp was the gateway to the Next Level they had been waiting for.
The group was around for a long time before they committed suicide.
The two founders met at a psychiatric hospital in the early 70s. Applewhite was a patient, Nettles worked at the hospital. They founded the group and started looking for followers after creating a religious doctrine together.
After they collected members, the group went underground.
For awhile, Heaven’s Gate toured around the country giving lectures on their beliefs. But after a visit to Waldport, Oregon, they simply disappeared, along with many members of the town who had gone to one of their lectures. The group had decided they would be safer if they split up, so they started sending members to live all over the country.