Book Review: The Vanishing Messiah: The Life and Resurrections of Francis Schlatter

The Vanishing Messiah: The Life and Resurrections of Francis Schlatter Book Cover The Vanishing Messiah: The Life and Resurrections of Francis Schlatter
David N. Wetzel
Biography & Autobiography
June 1, 2016
262
NetGalley

In 1895, an extraordinarily enigmatic faith healer emerged in the American West. An Alsatian immigrant and former cobbler, Francis Schlatter looked like popular depictions of Jesus, and it was said that his very touch could heal everything from migraines and arthritis to blindness and cancer. First in Albuquerque, and then in Denver, thousands flocked to him, hoping to receive his healing touch. Schlatter accepted no money for his work, behaved modestly, fasted heavily, and treated everyone, from wealthy socialites to impoverished immigrants, equally. He quickly captured national attention, and both the sick hoping to be cured and reporters hoping to expose a fraud hurried to Denver to see the celebrated healer. By November of 1895, it is estimated that Schlatter was treating thousands of people every day, and the neighborhood in which he was staying was overrun with the sick and lame, their families, reporters from across the country, and hucksters hoping to make a quick buck off the local attention. Then, one night, Schlatter simply vanished. Eighteen months later, his skeleton was reportedly found on a mountainside in Mexico’s Sierra Madre range, finally bringing Schlatter’s great healing ministry to an end.

Or did it?

Within hours of the announcement of Schlatter’s found remains, a long-haired man emerged in Cleveland to say that he was Francis Schlatter, and the next twenty-five years, several others claimed to be Denver’s great healer. In The Vanishing Messiah, a modern researcher painstakingly pieces together evidence from letters, newspaper reports, hospital records, mug shots, and published reminiscences of the healer to find out what really happened to Francis Schlatter after he left Denver in the middle of the night in November 1895. In doing so, David N. Wetzel uncovers a historical puzzle of lies, deception, and betrayal, and offers a tantalizing look into a nineteenth-century messiah and his twentieth-century reincarnations—one of whom may have been the healer himself.

my Review

Brilliant. Loved it.

I’d never heard of Francis Schlatter before reading this book, so I went in completely blind with the exception of the brief description on NetGalley. I was expecting this book to be half biography, half murder mystery. I was way off base. It was WAY better than that. I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone as I think it’s nice to go in blind, but I’ll just say that Francis’ story is all over the map (almost, literally). He was a fascinating character and I really appreciated how Wetzel portrayed him. Often authors seem to go into writing books with an agenda. I didn’t feel like Wetzel had any agenda in this book other than to tell Schlatter’s story as best as anyone can. There was no mocking tone in regard to Schlatter himself or his followers, and in the same respect, there was no idolatry either. I really appreciated that. It seems rarer and rarer in non-fiction these days.

I love that Wetzel included little extras, such as photographs and illustrations as well as a timeline in the back to help you keep on track.

I’d recommend this to any lover of non-fiction.

**I received this copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review** Professional Reader

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