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These bearded cultists were old baseball's answer to the Harlem Globetrotters

In 1903, Benjamin and Mary Purnell founded the Israelite House of David, a religious society in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

The House of David had many of the characteristics of a typical cult: a charismatic leader, apocalyptic beliefs, communal living, and strict prohibitions on sex, alcohol, and cutting one's hair.

But they also allowed women members to vote and hold office, ran an amusement park, sent traveling bands on the vaudeville circuit — and formed a sensational baseball team.

With their long hair and beards, the House of David players drew massive crowds as they barnstormed around the country.

19 PHOTOS
The House of David cult -- and baseball team
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The House of David cult -- and baseball team
BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN - C.1920. A group of House of David barnstorming baseball players pose for a photo in Benton Harbor, Michigan around 1920. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN - C.1910. The junior barnstorming baseball team called the House of David, representing the religious community of the same name from Benton Harbor, Michigan, poses for a team portrait around 1910. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
House of David touring poster with photos of the long haired players, was produced in Benton Harbor, Michigan, circa 1920. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR - C.1915. A long haired player for the House of David baseball team poses for portrait in Benton Harbor, Michigan around 1915. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR - C.1915. A long haired player for the House of David baseball team poses for portrait in Benton Harbor, Michigan around 1915. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 7/16/1920-New York, NY- Cookie Hanneford, the first baseman of the famous House of David baseball team, going after a swift throw. This is the first time the much talked of bearded baseball team has come east to perform before New Yorkers. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Tomorrow the famous team of the Israelite House of David will meet Heine Zimmerman's Bronx Club Nine in the first appearance of the former in this part of the country. This photograph, made at Bronx Field were the bearded players are in training, shows Faust, the House of David first baseman, putting the ball to J.L. Tally, their catcher, at the dangerous corner. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN - C.1910. The barnstorming baseball team called the House of David, representing the religious community of the same name from Benton Harbor, Michigan, poses for a team portrait around 1910. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN - C.1910. Four members of the barnstorming baseball team called the House of David, representing the religious community of the same name from Benton Harbor, Michigan, pose for a portrait around 1910. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN - C.1915. A group of House of David barnstorming baseball players pose for a photo in Benton Harbor, Michigan around 1920. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
The House of David baseball team, Benton Harbor, Michigan, circa 1918. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN - C.1920. A group of House of David barnstorming baseball players pose for a photo in Benton Harbor, Michigan around 1920. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
Portrait of baseball player Grover Cleveland Alexander (center) as he poses with unidentified teammates from the barnstorming House of David team, Benton Harbor, Michigan, 1931. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) The new Babe Ruth [at the ?]House of David brought baseball news during a game down in St. Petersburg, where he, just to be polite, donned fake beard and wore them through the game just to show how hirsute opponents feel at home.
BENTON HARBOR, MI - 1933. The House of David Barnstorming Baseball Club poses for a team portrait in their home grounds in Michigan during the summer of 1933, in a real photo postcard. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
Baseball player Grover Cleveland Alexander talks with teammates on the barnstorming House of David team, 1931. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Cookie Hanneford, the first baseman of the famous bearded baseball team of the House of David, going after a swift throw. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
BENTON HARBOR, MI - CIRCA 1930: The House of David Baseball team poses for a team photo around 1930 at their home grounds in Benton Harbor, Michigan. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
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Famous professional players occasionally donned fake beards and joined the team for games, including Grover Cleveland Alexander, Satchel Paige, and even Babe Ruth. (They considered signing the Sultan of Swat in 1934, but decided his hedonistic lifestyle would be a poor fit for the ascetic team.)

The hirsute athletes also popularized the art of the "pepper game," a collection of Harlem Globetrotters-esque antics where they juggled and tossed balls, made them vanish only to pull them out of their beards, and even played innings while mounted on donkeys.

Playing as far afield as Hawaii and Mexico, the House of David continued to draw crowds until the 1950s, when the splintering of the scandal-wracked commune and rise of Major League Baseball led to a decline in popularity.

While the baseball team is no more, fractions of the religious society, and the communes they built, still exist today.

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