L. Ron Hubbard delivered a series of lectures about dianetics and demonstrating audting in Camden in 1953.
He seemed like such a nice guy at first.
L. Ron Hubbard was wearing a naval officer’s uniform when he first knocked on the door of the stately house in the Westminster section of Elizabeth. The uniform made a good first impression on Jim Kellogg’s mother.
“One thing a landlord always worries about when you rent out a house is to not get a bad tenant,” recalled Kellogg when I spoke with him last week. “To show up in your naval uniform was to show you’re not going to be a bad tenant.”
Never mind that it was 1949 and the war had ended four years earlier. The man who would soon found Scientology liked to dress like a ship’s commander and would continue to do so for the rest of his life.
The question at the time was how to get the money to afford all those ships, mansions and other accouterments of the life Hubbard wanted to lead. That’s where the Kelloggs came in.
In 1949 the family was in the habit of spending summers at their Shore house in Bay Head, from where their father could take the train to his job on Wall Street. They figured it was a good idea to rent Hubbard their Elizabeth place for a few months. What could go wrong?
Nothing that summer. Hubbard was a good tenant. So when fall came and he asked if he might switch to renting the Shore house, they agreed.
It didn’t have much of a heating system, said Kellogg, who was 10 years old at the time. But that didn’t stop Hubbard from hunkering down and writing “Dianetics,” which quickly became a best-seller and later became the Bible of what was to become the religion of Scientology.
In 1996 the church put out a coffee-table book titled “Images of a Lifetime” filled with photos of Hubbard. One shows him standing in front of a massive beachfront house looking off into the distance with the all-knowing gaze common in photos of the great man.
The caption reads “Birthplace of the Book,” but when I showed it to Kellogg he noted that the picture is of the house across the street from the Kellogg house.
“I knew the family because they had a son my age,” he said. “No one there said he had ever lived there.”
The book has another photo of Hubbard standing in front of the wrong house. Why? Perhaps it was “the numerology,” said Kellogg.
For more on that, let’s get out our Bibles – the old ones. In the Book of Revelation, we find the prophecy that the followers of the Antichrist will be branded with the number “Six hundred threescore and six.”
If you ever find yourself wondering whether truth really is stranger than fiction, consider the address of the old Kellogg house on East Avenue: 666.
The house has changed hands several times since the Kelloggs owned it. A few years ago the Church of Scientology bought it and restored it to the condition it was in 1950, right down to the old furniture and TV set.
Far from being a Satanic cult, they make good neighbors, said Mayor Bill Curtis.
“They’ve been model citizens. They helped out everybody after Sandy,” said Curtis. “They did a great job.”
On the other hand, there are all of those revelations in “Going Clear,” the HBO documentary based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Wright about adherents being held against their will and so forth. Suffice it to say that Scientology is on the opposite side of the religious spectrum from that other great religion founded in Ocean County, Universalism, which began in the 1700s down the bay in Forked River.
But in the early days, said Kellogg, the problems the Elizabeth neighbors had with Hubbard revolved less around theology than hygiene. When the summer of 1950 arrived, the family went back to Bay Head and Hubbard went back to what that picture book describes as “his home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he woke one morning to find several dozen people camped among the hedgerows.”
In fact, it was not Hubbard’s home but the Kellogg home. As for the people, so many cars showed up that Kellogg recalls a neighbor saying, “I think he’s running a whorehouse.”
It wasn’t a brothel. It was worse. Hubbard had rented two other houses as well for the summer. There he put his adherents through a process in which they relived the moment of birth by giving up control of all bodily functions.
“When the owners of the homes returned at the end of the summer, my parents’ home was fine,” Hubbard recalled.” But the other two houses had undergone the birth experience and they smelled badly. The owners were not pleased.”
As for Hubbard, he headed west, leaving the homeowners with a heck of a cleaning bill. That nice guy in the naval uniform had turned out to be not so great a tenant after all.