Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > Holy City

Electronic data

  • 2021batesphd

    Final published version, 72.3 MB, PDF document

    Embargo ends: 11/10/26

Text available via DOI:


View graph of relations

Holy City

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2021
Number of pages615
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This three-part thesis begins with a 65,000-word novel entitled Holy City – named for a California town founded in 1918 by William E. Riker (1873–1969), the leader of a small utopian group called the Perfect Christian Divine Way. It was here that Riker brought Lucille Jensen Schutrum (1874–1950) as his wife, and where she spent most of her married life. The novel features two female points of view – that of Lucille Riker, and that of a fictional biracial divorcée named Clara Cercatore Spelman. One woman has found her place – or perhaps created it out of what her husband founded. The other is seeking a place to belong. One woman is free to speak – in letters, poetry, and essays. The other is silenced and eventually expelled.

Holy City is specifically about what happened and what might have happened in 1927 and 1928, when Riker was sued for $500,000 for breach of promise by Evelyn Rosencrantz, an aviatrix with whom he was having an affair. So, perhaps the novel is really about three women – two present and one absent, and the effects they had upon each other’s lives.

Hundreds of newspaper articles report on Riker’s car accidents, court cases, and grandstanding, but in his shadow is Lucille, who held Holy City together for thirty years. Lucille’s poetry and essays were published almost exclusively by the Holy City Press, but she also tried unsuccessfully to be published in a larger arena, sending hymns and popular song lyrics to music companies and a short story to a publisher. Everyone in the area may have heard of Father Riker, but now, seventy-one years after her death, hardly anyone remembers Lucille.

This project’s contribution to knowledge, then, is twofold: Firstly, it seeks to explore the character and actions of Lucille Riker, a previously unknown female writer, through the words she left behind. Secondly, it seeks to explore Holy City by bringing to fictional life the contents of the recently discovered papers of Irvin Bryant Fisher (1881–1980), Riker’s trusted first disciple. In these two ways, this PhD project contributes to the cultural historiography of religious sects in California at the beginning of the 20th century.

The novel is accompanied by a 30,000-word reflective thesis structured as a walk through the ruins of Holy City today. All that remains are the Riker home, some overgrown concrete foundations, and an airfield. The restaurant, bottling works, dance hall, dormitories, bar, print shop, market, and finally, the Headquarters of the World’s Perfect Government exist now only in yellowed photographs. The reflective thesis works via these physical remains to explore some of the ways in which the novel draws upon the once very real world that was Holy City.

The third part consists of a bibliography and an appendix, the latter comprising all of the works of Lucille Riker I have been able to locate, spanning the years 1916 to 1946.